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Former LASD Commander Discusses Baca Leadership….Treating Locked-Up Kids Like Adults…LAPD Chief and the Game Anti-Violence Campaign….Reseda Church Holds Police-Community Town Hall

July 22nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

FOLLOWING FED JUDGE’S REJECTION OF BACA’S PLEA DEAL, FORMER LASD COMMANDER IN CHARGE OF MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL DISCUSSES BACA’S FAILURE TO MANAGE HIS UNDERLINGS

In an interview with KTLA’s Kareen Wynter, former L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Ralph G. Ornelas, says former Sheriff Lee Baca did not properly supervise the actions of his number two in command, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

“[Baca] didn’t do the one thing that was extremely paramount, was to manage the people below him,” said Ornelas, who was in command of Men’s Central Jail from March of 2011 until mid-2013.

At a sentencing hearing for Baca last week, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson dynamited Baca’s plea deal (a sentencing range of 0-6 months in prison). Now, Baca and his lawyers can either come back with a deal Anderson is more likely to accept, or withdraw the plea and go to trial.

Paul Tanaka was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison for the dual crimes of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice while a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the county jail system was taking place.

Ornelas, who testified against Tanaka, said Baca’s sentence needs to send a message. “It’s bigger than Baca,” he said.


LIZ RYAN: YOUTH DETENTION PRACTICES TOO SIMILAR TO ADULT PRISONS

A growing body of research on teenagers’ still-developing brains (notably the areas of the brain governing impulse control, critical thinking, and consideration of consequences), has led to major juvenile justice reforms at the local, state, and federal levels. Yet, the majority of juvenile lock-ups don’t reflect the fact that kids and teens are fundamentally different from adults.

Writing for Medium, youth justice advocate and CEO of No Kids in Prison, Liz Ryan, points out some of the ways that juvenile detention centers mimic adult prisons, and why the similarities—like solitary confinement, a focus on punishment, dehumanizing treatment, and rampant violence and victimization—are especially harmful to children. Of course, not every youth facility subjects kids to these injustices, but most do.

In California, it’s taken many years to improve conditions for locked up kids. In 2003, the nonprofit Prison Law Office sued the state of California over huge problems in the California Youth Authority facilities. In order to settle the case in 2005, the state agreed to “provide wards with adequate and effective care, treatment and rehabilitation services, including reducing violence and the use of force, improving medical and mental health care, reducing the use of lock-ups and providing better education programs.” It took the state more than a decade to implement the necessary reforms and end the lawsuit (like reducing use of force, overhauling education, and implementing evidence-based rehabilitation programs).

Here’s a clip:

Focus on punishment, not rehabilitation

Youth prisons were designed to serve as an alternative to adult prisons by having a more rehabilitative focus. It hasn’t turned out this way in many instances, even when the purpose of the juvenile facility is defined in a state’s statute to rehabilitate youth.

For example, in Connecticut, the Department of Children & Families (DCF) states that the mission of Connecticut’s youth prison, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS), “is to provide a safe, secure and therapeutic environment while providing opportunity for growth and success.”

This mission statement which promotes a rehabilitative approach is not consistent with the report and videotapes released by the Office of the Child Advocate last year documenting youth being brutalized by staff. These actions appear to be more about punishment than rehabilitation.


LAPD CHIEF AND RAPPER THE GAME TEAM UP TO CALL FOR AN END TO VIOLENCE IN LOS ANGELES

In a video released Wednesday, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and rapper the Game announced they would be partnering on a new anti-violence campaign.

The duo called for an end to bloodshed in the city. Chief Beck pointed out that of the nearly 1,000 people shot in 2015, close to 300 died, and 80% of both victims and shooters were young men of color.

“We have to stop killing one another,” the Game said.

Snoop Dogg and the Game led a peaceful march to LAPD headquarters earlier in July, and joined LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti for a press conference.


BRINGING COPS AND THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER TO TALK ABOUT POLICING

On Thursday night, the Reseda Church of Christ hosted a town hall for community members, city officials, police, and clergy to discuss race and policing to “facilitate healing and reconciliation” between law enforcement and communities of color.

The predominantly black congregation has lost two members to violent encounters with officers.

“For us to make progress, we’ve got to focus on the reduction of overall violence in these communities,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Bob Green, who spoke at the meeting.

LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar has more on the town hall. Here’s a clip:

In 1982, congregant James Mincey, 20, died after he was put in a chokehold by a Los Angeles police officer during a struggle in Lake View Terrace. The public outcry that resulted from the Pacoima man’s death prompted limitations on the use of the controversial technique by the LAPD.

On May 16, 2013, another congregant, Christian Eaddy, 25, was fatally shot during an encounter with Los Angeles police in Pacoima. His cousin had called 911, reporting that Eaddy was sticking himself with syringes and was armed with two knives. Police said Eaddy refused commands to drop the knives and continued to approach the officers before one used a stun gun on him and another shot him. Another cousin, however, said Eaddy was 3 feet away from officers when he dropped the knives and was shot, according to prosecutors who investigated the case.

Winrow said Eaddy had the mental capacity of a 10-year-old. No criminal charges were filed and the case is in civil litigation, he said.

The 63-year-old minister, who lives in Granada Hills, believes that more community policing as well as having more officers from the communities they patrol would help reduce such incidents.

“Sometimes we view people not in the same way that we view our own, and we become more likely to make mistakes of judgement,” Winrow said. “Those kinds of mistakes … can cost people their lives.”

MORE ON THE ISSUE OF POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONS

On KPCC’S Take Two, host Alex Cohen spoke with Jerry Hoffman, co-chair of the community police advisory board for the LAPD’s Northeast division, and Ruben Arellano, Sergeant at the Northeast division, discussed how to get involved and improve police-community relations through open dialogue and other tools. Sgt. Arellano suggests attending the community advisory board’s meetings and attending the LAPD’s community citizen’s academy—where, one night a week for 10 weeks, participants get special lessons on policing issues. Attendees learn about everything from traffic stops and chases, to how Internal Affairs works. Go take a listen.

Posted in LASD | 11 Comments »

Fed Judge Dynamites Baca Plea Deal, Says 6 Month Sentence Would “Trivialize the Seriousness” of His Offense”

July 19th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



JUDGE PERCY ANDERSON REJECTS LEE BACA’S PLEA DEAL

When the sentencing hearing for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca began on Monday morning in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, most of those in attendance were fairly sure they knew what to expect.

The room was packed with Baca supporters who had various kinds of personal ties to the former sheriff. Most of the supporters showed up at the downtown federal courthouse on Spring Street an hour early to make sure they got a seat in the courtroom before the place filled to overflow, which it did quickly. Tommy Lasorda, the beloved former manager of the Dodgers, was one of those waiting to enter.

One supporter brought with him a plastic bag full of enamel lapel pins, each formed in the shape of a small yellow ribbon tied in bow. The man went down the line passing out the pins to the crowd. One man who said he’d known Baca since middle-school, quick fastened a pin to his suit jacket. “I guess it’s just another way of showing support,” he said.

Eventually, a trio of federal marshals allowed everyone who could fit to file into the courtroom and get seated. By that time around two thirds of those gathered wore a yellow ribbon pin, excluding the press, and the smattering of lookee-loo attorneys who had wandered down from the building’s upper floors.

In February of this year, Baca pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal officials, having to do with his knowledge of hiding federal informant Anthony Brown, the threatening of a federal agent, and other forms of interference in a federal investigation into brutality and corruption by deputies the LA County Jail system.

It was an agreement that reportedly took much negotiation to wrestle to the ground. But, eventually the government and the defense were in accord, and Baca formally pleaded guilty to the single charge in front of Judge Anderson. Now all these months later, the deal was about to be finalized, once Anderson sentenced Baca.


THE BACK-TO-SQUARE-ONE OPTION

In most plea deals, when it comes time to sentence, the defense and the prosecution each make their pitch for the sentence they hope to sell to the court, then the judge delivers the sentence he or she deems just, and that sentence is binding.

But Baca’s agreement was a slightly different breed of federal plea bargain called an 11(c)1(C) agreement. This form of plea deal allows the government and the defense to agree upon a narrow range of possible sentences from which the judge may select. If the court doesn’t agree with the sentencing range, it may go outside the agreed upon parameter. Then the defendant must decide whether to accept the rogue sentence, or instead be allowed withdraw his or her plea, in which case everyone is back to square one. Commonly the judge stays within the agreed upon sentencing range since, in most cases, no one is all that interested in the square one option.

In Baca’s case, the agreed-upon sentencing range was 0 to 6 months —zero meaning probation only.

Thus, all that had to happen on Monday was for both defense and prosecution to make their respective pitches to the judge for their preferred sentences, and for Anderson to select the point on the 0 to 6 month continuum he believed to be the most appropriate for Baca.

But that was not what occurred.

As most of you reading this likely know by now, Anderson instead flipped the game table, took a blow torch to the sentencing spread, dynamited the plea agreement (or whatever other metaphor you prefer). He chose none of the above— which essentially rendered the carefully crafted 11(c)1(C) agreement null and void.

However, at the beginning of the morning, everyone was still blissfully ignorant of the curve ball that was coming.


A CRUEL PLACE?

When Baca entered the hallway outside Anderson’s court, stopping to greet be greeted by supporter after supporter, he seemed relatively prepared for whatever fate was going to be handed to him. (In contrast, when the former sheriff came to court back in February, he seemed on the verge of shattering.)

After some necessary legal remarks by the judge, Baca’s lead defense attorney, Michael Zweiback, got up with his client beside him, and made an eloquent case for the probation only alternative. Zweiback read excerpts from letters written by a wide variety of people whose lives Baca seemed to have touched or helped to make better, and listed Baca’s accomplishments.

Finally Zweiback laid out the Alzheimer’s issue, and why he believed his client’s condition would make a federal prison “a cruel place” for the former sheriff to be.

Unlike other sheriff’s department defendants the judge has sentenced, the defense attorney said, “my client is accepting responsibility” for what he’s done….

“We would urge this court not to incarcerate Mr. Baca. There is so much more that can be done for him and by him” if he is allowed to stay out of prison.


IT’S NOT ABOUT HIM, IT’S ABOUT JUSTICE

When it was the federal prosecutors’ turn, as they had in their sentencing briefs, the prosecution pushed for the full six months. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox praised Baca’s positive achievements, But “this is not all about Mr. Baca,” said Fox. “It’s about justice.” And about “deterrence,” and communicating to others that “they will be held accountable.”

When Baca lied to federal officials, he did so to protect himself from an indictment, Fox said “That’s not what a leader does. That’s what a coward does.”

The former sheriff also “ignored plenty of warnings that deputies in his jails were abusing inmates,” and then became “angry” when the FBI began investigating his department,” the prosecutor said. Yet Fox also made it clear that the government thought anything greater than a six month sentence for Baca was excessive, considering his medical condition.

Furthermore Fox said, the government believed that Paul Tanaka was “far more responsible” for the wrongs that had been done in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, than the former sheriff. He also pointed out that no other defendant involved in the obstruction cases has admitted to the court that they’d done anything wrong, save Baca. “They remained defiant throughout the process.”

After Fox sat down, Baca read a page long prepared statement in which he expressed regret about his actions. “I failed,” he said. “I did not lead. Instead I delegated the responsibility for this investigation. I should not have done that.


MEASURING THE HARM

Finally it was Anderson’s turn. And, as the judge began to talk, it quickly became evident that he was not happy with the sentencing choices the plea deal had given him.

A six month sentence, Anderson said, does not “fairly account for the significant harm” caused “by this defendant” and “under-appreciates this defendant’s culpability.” The guidelines agreed upon, the judge continued, “fail to fairly measure the culpability of this defendant….and the nature and circumstances of criminal conduct.”

Under Baca, said Percy Anderson, a grand jury investigation was derailed, jail deputies “were taught to how to cover up abuse by other deputies.” If an inmate disrespected a deputy, his fellow deputies were taught that they should beat the inmate badly enough “to put him in the hospital.”

While [in the agreement] the parties place no value on this harm,” Anderson said grimly, “I do.

“The behavior of the chief law enforcement officer on Los Angeles county” involves covering up abuse in the men’s central jail.

Yes, Baca has many accomplishments, Anderson said. “But those factors are greatly outweighed by other sentencing factors.”

Six months in prison, he said, “would trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

“…Thus this court rejects the plea agreement.”

And that, was that.


NOW WHAT?

Anderson informed Zweiback that Baca was not longer bound by the plea agreement, a fact of which Zweiback and his associates were already quite aware.

This meant he and his client could withdraw the plea, and the “court could impose a sentence that is “more severe than what had been agreed upon.” But Anderson declined to say how severe.

After Zweiback and Baca conferred, the defense attorney asked for a continuance.

It was agreed that everyone would return to court in two weeks, on August 1.

Outside the courtroom, Zweiback said that in seventeen years as an Assistant US Attorney, and 9 years as a criminal defense attorney he’d never had a deal rejected.

Between now and August first, Zweiback added, he will meet with the federal prosecutors and try to hammer out another deal that will work both the government and the defense—and, of course, for Judge Percy Anderson.

But, said Zweiback, “It may well be that nothing will satisfy the court except for a trial.”

Yet a trial is a risk for both the defense and the prosecution, said former Assistant U.S. Attorney Miriam Krinsky, who was also the executive director of the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence. “If they go to trial, that means first the government has to present its evidence to a grand jury and get an indictment. And the government may decide to indict on more charges.”

At the same time, Krinsky said, the prosecutors have indicated that their evidence on Baca is likely not as strong as it was on Tanaka and others.

So what kind of sentence would Percy Anderson like to impose? There is no way of knowing, of course. However, two different veteran attorneys guessed that a one or two year sentence. “And if you’re Baca, you take that deal,” one of the attorneys said.

Miriam Krinsky agreed “This judge is very aware,” she added, “that a lot of people got caught up due to Baca’s failure of leadership, and got much higher sentences” than he found in the now-rejected deal.


WLA’s photo of Baca and one of his attorneys was taken after his plea hearing in February 2016.

Posted in LASD | 77 Comments »

Inspector General Gives LA County Sheriff’s Dept. (Mostly) Good Grades in Report on Jail Force Investigations (Except for Those Pesky Bad Grades)

July 14th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


AUDIT OF USE-OF-FORCE INVESTIGATIONS INSIDE LA COUNTY’S JAILS FINDS MUCH PROGRESS, WITH MORE STILL NEEDED

In a first ever outside audit of the reformed process for investigating complaints by inmates alleging improper use of force inside Los Angeles County’s various jail facilities, Inspector General Max Huntsman gave the LA County Sheriff’s Department fairly good grades on its performance, with 12 areas that could use improvement.

The report, which was presented to a gathering of county officials on Wednesday, covered a period of from January 1, 2013, through September 30, 2014.

It should be noted that, this particular OIG’s report doesn’t look at the outcomes of the force complaints. Nor does it follow behind the department’s investigations to see if the the conclusions reached seem—well—correct. At this point, the OIG merely looked at methodology, to see if all the proper marks are being hit in the new and improved process of investigating force complaints, and, if not, making recommendations as to what ought to be done about it.

The audit looked at 14 “Objectives,” and found that, out of the randomly selected sampling of 57 investigations of force complaints, the majority hit most of their marks.

Yet, in certain categories, a percentage—and in some instances, a significant percentage—failed to appropriately comply.


NO FOXES MAY INVESTIGATE THE HENHOUSE

For example, one of the categories that caused the OIG concern was Objective 2, the no-brainer requirement that the supervisor conducting the investigation of a force complaint cannot be someone who was involved in that alleged force issue, or was a direct witness of the alleged use of force in question.

Out of the 57 cases audited, in four cases (7.0%) the investigation of allegation-of-force was conducted by a supervisor “alleged to have been involved in or a witness to the incident.”

The good news is that, in 53 out 57 cases, an appropriate supervisor did the investigating. The bad news is that there were any supervisors at all who thought it was a fine idea to investigate an allegation in which they were involved or were a witness.

Or as the OIG’s report diplomatically put it: “While the compliance percentage in this area was high, it is of such critical importance that any failure to follow policy in this regard requires correction.”


THE IMPORTANCE OF NOTIFYING INMATES ABOUT OUTCOMES OF INVESTIGATIONS

One of the categories in which custody personnel failed miserably pertained to a requirement that emerged as a consequence of the huge class action lawsuit, Rosas v. Baca, which species that:

“An inmate should be advised of the results of the Department’s investigation of the inmate grievance against personnel, but not any sanction imposed, within 10 days of the Department’s adjudication of the grievance.”

The notification must also be in writing.

Out of 57 cases, in two cases the inmate was properly informed regarding what happened with their complaint. In the other 55 cases, there is no evidence that the inmate was informed in writing, if at all.

Obviously, if an inmate files a force allegation in good faith, and hears nothing about the matter ever again, it does not exactly encourage the filing of force complaints—righteous or otherwise.

Or as the OIG’s report put it:

“The Office of Inspector General regularly hears that prisoners believe their complaints are disregarded or not conveyed. Failure to provide notice fosters such a belief.”


MEDICAL TREATMENT MATTERS.

Another area in which there was a 10 to 20 plus percent breakdown in compliance had to do with medical treatment for alleged victims of force.

Objective 5 specifies that jail personnel are required to make sure the inmate on whom certain categories of force was used—or allegedly used—is examined and treated by medical personnel—particularly if the inmate “alleges any injury and requests medical treatment, whether or not they have any apparent injuries.”

Out of the sample cases audited where medical attention would have been appropriate, in 11 percent of the cases there was no evidence in the report that the inmate had ever been examined by medical personnel. Nor was there documentation that the inmate had refused medical help.

Similarly, when it came to Objective 6, which “requires that the force package includes documentation showing suitable treatment from qualified medical personnel was sought and/or received,” in 12.5 percent of the cases audited, the appropriate documentation was nowhere to be found.

And, in that same vein, there is Objective 4, which specifies that the investigating supervisor is required to interview “the attending physician or other qualified medical personnel…as to the extent and nature of the suspect’s injuries, or lack thereof, and whether the injuries are consistent with the degree of force reported . . . .” When it came to this objective, a worrisome 21.8 percent of the cases the supervisors either failed to conduct the required interview, or failed to document ever having done so.

Interestingly, when it came to these medical issues, the Inmate Reception Center had the highest percentage of failures to comply, with Men’s Central Jail and Century Regional Detention Facility running in second place.


THE ART OF THE VIDEO INTERVIEW

A curious glitch in a few cases had to do with Objective 3, the requirement to interview the inmate making the complaint on video, and then to include the video in the investigative package.

In the cases of four investigations, there was no video interview of the inmate included at all.

(For the record, three of those four force packages sans video interviews were turned in at MCJ.)

Even in those cases where the interview or interviews were recorded on video and included in the report, a bunch of those were reportedly less than ideal. Here’s what the report said:

We noted in our review that several of the video interviews were dark, shaky, contained muffled voices, or did not include the subject of the interview in the video frame. For example, a sergeant conducting one interview videotaped only the inmate’s nostrils during the entire interview.Another video depicted the ground as the sergeant spoke with the inmate. In another, the voice of the sergeant and the inmate were muffled and barely audible.


TIMELINESS? NOT SO MUCH

And then there is that annoying timelessness requirement. To wit:

“The watch commander or supervising lieutenant shall prepare and submit a force package to the Unit Commander for all reviews of force not conducted by an IAB Force/Shooting Response Team as soon as possible, but no later than 21 days after the incident, unless otherwise directed . . . .”

How did the jails do? Not well. Less than half (46.5 percent) of the cases met the 21-day deadline, while 54.5 percent did not.

When we poked around a little more we found that, according to the report’s foot-noted fine print, the average amount of time it took the watch commander or supervising lieutenant to prepare and submit an allegation‐of‐force package to the unit commander was 69 days.

And the longest amount of time was….386 days— by which point, if there was any wrongdoing, the year-long drop dead date for such an investigation would—we presume—have passed.

So, yes, the OIG’s report suggests that much progress has been made since the bad-old-days when boxes full of force packages were blithely deep-sixed in cupboards and drawers by certain high ranking supervisors, and inmates who attempted to report bad uses force were not-so-gently discouraged from doing so with threats and pernicious forms of retaliation.

And, the reply from Sheriff McDonnell sent in response to the Inspector General’s recommendations, we learn that many of the concerns had already been corrected in the time between the reporting period and now.

But, while the change is cheering, there’s still some healthy room for improvement—much of which seems to be already moving forward.

Posted in LASD | 4 Comments »

Sentencing of Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca Postponed for One Week

July 9th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca was originally due to be sentenced on Monday, July 11 in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson.

The sentencing hearing has now been rescheduled for Monday, July 18, at 8:30 a.m., still in front of Percy Anderson.

In mid February of this year, Baca pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when officials questioned him in the course of a wide-ranging investigation into “corruption and civil rights violations” in the department he’d led for fifteen years.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation into brutality by deputies in the county’s large jail system.

In fact, Baca has now admitted, he gave instructions that the officers “should do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Her being Agent Marx.

According to Baca’s plea deal with the U.S. Government, his proposed sentence will be between 0 to 6 months in a federal prison. But Judge Anderson has the option of going outside the parameters of the deal and could give the former sheriff as much as five years in a federal lock-up. However, if the judge were to go beyond the 0 to 6 boundaries, it would render the plea deal null and void.

Then Baca and his attorneys would have to decide whether or not they wish to take the risk going to trial, or simply accept a greater sentence than that agreed to in the deal.

The the fact that the former sheriff has been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease, may also be a factor in Baca’s sentencing. (WitnessLA broke that story in May.)

The ongoing exchange of legal briefs and expert opinion on the matter of Baca’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis is the reason for this latest delay.

More details soon.


Photo of Lee Baca by Saxon Brice

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 14 Comments »

9th Circuit Hears Appeal Arguments for 7 Former LA Sheriff’s Deputies – UPDATED

July 5th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday morning, July 5, attorneys for former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy James Sexton,
and six more department members who were convicted of obstruction of justice in a trial separate from Sexton’s, tried to convince the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that their convictions should be overturned, and that U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson should be replaced in any future proceedings, should Sexton or the six be retried.

Most of the former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who have been convicted by federal prosecutors, are similarly appealing their cases (unless, like former sheriff Lee Baca, they have taken a deal, in which case appeals are precluded).

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and his attorneys, unsurprisingly, filed an appeal before the sun went down on the day of his conviction.

But the appeals of Sexton and the six others—namely former LASD members Gregory Thompson, Stephen Leavins, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig, and Maricela Long—were the first to actually appear in front of the 9th Circuit. Thus the arguments put forth by the defense and countered by the prosecution, were both interesting, and closely watched.

The defendants’ attorneys traditionally are given very little time to make their legal pitches in front of the three-judge panel, which heard Tuesday morning’s cases for Sexton and the six others, so presentations have to be brief, persuasive and to the point.

In the cases of all seven, attorneys argued, among other things, that the defendants didn’t really obstruct justice, but were following lawful orders.

Among the issues that seemed to catch the attention of the 9th Circuit panelists are the following:


JUROR NUMBER FIVE

In the trial of Greg Thompson, et al, one issue flagged by the defense had to do with the dismissal of a certain juror, by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, who presided over all trials pertaining to the alleged obstruction of the FBI’s investigation into corruption and brutality inside the LASD-run LA County jails, which included the hiding of a federal informant from his FBI handlers in an operation that came to be known, unofficially, as Operation Pandora’s Box.

Here’s the deal:

On the fifth day of jury deliberations, Juror Five sent a note to Judge Anderson asking to be dismissed from the panel.

Jurors, of course, can be legally and appropriately dismissed for a host of reasons. That is why any court is wise to have a good supply of alternates on hand.

In the trial of the six, one juror had already been dismissed earlier in the deliberation process because she suddenly had an emergency that affected her childcare situation. No one raised any particular objection to her exit. Emergencies are emergencies.

(We were to learn later that this mom juror was reportedly leaning strongly toward acquittal, so her dismissal was bad luck for the defense. But those are the breaks, not grounds for appeal)

A few hours later, however, a second member of the jury panel, Juror Number Five, sent the note to Judge Anderson. It read as follows:

Due to duress, I would appreciate your consideration in accepting my resignation from this case. Always loyal to our justice system and the privilege to serve my decision has been clouded with fear of retaliation.

Juror Five was an anxious-appearing woman who always seemed to keep her distance from the rest of the pack, when it was time for the jury to leave the building.

According to the defense’s initial brief, the judge asked the juror if she feared “retaliation” from an “outside source.” But reportedly, that wasn’t the issue. She said, the defense writes, that her feelings would not affect her ability to deliberate personally. But she did not believe that there was a fair exchange of ideas among he panel, and she was also doubtful that a fair and impartial verdict could be reached. (Or words generally to that effect. )

In their second brief, the defense went further:

Two things, taken together, make Juror Five’s dismissal unlike what occurred in any of the cases cited by the government, or any case of which Defendants are aware. First, juror dismissal usually results from a claim of misconduct made by another juror or jurors. Here, no one complained about Juror Five, she raised her concerns with the court. Second, after discussing her concerns with the court, Juror Five stated, repeatedly, that she could continue with deliberations, and there was no good reason to doubt her – after all, it was she who raised her concerns with the court. On the other hand, there was ample reason to believe that her initial request to be excused stemmed from a dispute amongst jurors about the merits of the case. (Ital. from WLA.)

In other words, the defense suggested that the judge improperly and unnecessarily dismissed Juror Five, who was distressed—not because she was fearful for her safety, or because she personally could not continue deliberate fairly and impartially—but because she was in disagreement with the majority, which upset her.

To put it another way: Juror Five, had she not been dismissed, arguably could have produced a hung jury, and thus a mistrial. (The defense attorneys did not say this directly, but the possibility was implied.)

The defense attorneys say more in their briefs (the second of which you can find here), and several of the court watching attorneys who were present when the dismissal occurred mentioned that they thought letting Number Five go could cause Judge Anderson problems on appeal.

The panel seemed very interested in this issue, and two of the judges asked a string of questions. What those questions portend is impossible to say.


TO EDIT OR NOT TO EDIT

When it was Sexton’s teams’ turn, his attorney, Tom O’Brien, focused primarily on two issues, both having to do with Sexton’s grand jury testimony.

The first of the two issues, had to do with editing, in particular whether Judge Anderson allowed the prosecution to introduce an improper and misleading edit of Sexton’s grand jury testimony that essentially changed its meaning by excluding certain contextual sections that, according to the defense, would have given the jury a different and, by definition, more accurate view of what Sexton did and didn’t know.

(James Sexton, we should remind you, was tried twice. The first trial resulted in a mistrial caused by a hung jury, which was evenly split, six to six.)

In the first trial, according to Sexton’s defense team, the prosecution read a mostly intact portion of Sexton’s grand jury testimony to the jury, which—in both trials—they characterized as a confession.

In the second trial, a portion of grand jury testimony was also presented. But in trial number two, the defense contends, the original text was selectively edited.

“Selectively editing the transcript—-including significant context–—allowed the jury to be misled,” the defense wrote in their briefs, and reiterated to the three 9th Circuit judges Tuesday morning.

This is from one of their briefs, which were delivered to the panel weeks ago:

“Similarly, the Government eliminated numerous other statements clarifying Sexton’s intent and knowledge behind his alleged confessions. As described in the Opening Brief, the Government withheld from the jury numerous statements regarding Sexton’s actual lack of foundation for his alleged confessions, such as: ‘there were rumors,’ ‘we as young deputies were speculating,’ ‘I was not privileged to the entire information,” “I had conversations about this with . . . my peers and just trying to establish what we were doing,’ ‘innuendo,’ ‘we’re baby faced in there,” “I’m not going to detain a U.S. Attorney at gun point’….and so on.

To make their point clearer still, the defense included the following:

One of the justices asked a number of questions about why the editing made such a big difference, while the other two judges made notes, their expressions impassive.


THE LEGALITY OF BEING A TARGET

The second issue in Sexton’s attorneys emphasized, both in their briefs, and in oral arguments, was the idea that the prosecution grievously erred when it reportedly failed to appropriately notify Sexton that he was a target before he testified twice under oath in front of the grand jury, particularly the first time.

(Interestingly, Sexton testified that first time without an attorney, because his lawyer from the deputies’ union, ALADS, failed to show up. But that’s another issue altogether, and not relevant to the appeal.)

In any case, believing himself to be a cooperating witness, not a potential defendant, Sexton didn’t demand to have an attorney present. Nor did he invoke his 5th Amendment rights, or claim a faulty memory when answering questions that could have put him in legal jeopardy.

Here’s a clip from Sexton’s attorneys’ argument:

A target must be notified of his status and rights prior to being subpoenaed for Grand Jury testimony. That did not occur here. The Government specifically advised Sexton, and his counsel, that he was not a target of the investigation (a claim that was false). (Sexton’s prior counsel stated under penalty of perjury that “it was obvious to me that I had been misled and James Sexton had always been a target defendant”).

By its own admissions—particularly given its reliance on the evidence at trial—the Government believed it had sufficient facts linking Sexton to a crime. It, therefore, had a duty to notify Sexton (or counsel) of his target status prior to obtaining a sworn “confession.”

Using that first Grand Jury testimony as a “confession,” wrote the defense, without letting Sexton know he was a target, is the equivalent of introducing a confession obtained by questioning a suspect without a Miranda warning.

The attorneys for Sexton and for the six will likely argue other points. But, as mentioned above, these are the legal questions we’ll be watching with the most ardent interest.

The prosecution replied to all of these and other points in their various briefs, and in Tuesday’s arguments.

Tuesday morning we will see how the 9th Circuit’s panel reacts.

By the way, the three judges who listened to Tuesday’s arguments and who will decided the fates of the seven defendants are:

1. Judge Ferdinand Francis Fernandez, a 1989 G. H. W. Bush appointee, stationed in Pasadena
2. Judge Richard Clifton, a 2002 G. W. Bush appointee, stationed in Honolulu
3. Judge Michelle Friedland, a 2014 Obama appointee, stationed in San Francisco

More in a while.

So, stay tuned.

Posted in How Appealing, LASD | 25 Comments »

LA Supes Vote to Analyze LASD Deputy Probationary Training After IG Report Finds Problems

June 30th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department may be failing to weed out problematic or underperforming deputies during the standard year-long probationary training period, according to a report from Inspector General Max Huntsman presented to the LA County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

The board approved a motion by Supervisors Hilda Solis and Michael Antonovich to direct Sheriff Jim McDonnell to report back with a plan for ensuring that the probationary supervision period “is a meaningful part of the employee selection process.”

After deputies graduate from the Academy, they must complete a one-year probationary period, which is spent in the Custody Division. First, they attend a four-week, classroom-based training course to prepare for work in Custody, then they are divided up among the county jails.

After that, new deputies spend 12 weeks in an on-the-job training program under the guidance of Training Officers. During this time, the TOs are expected to assess and give trainees feedback regularly, and complete bi-weekly evaluations of the deputies’ training progress.

At the 90-day mark, a unit commander (usually a captain) must review a trainee’s work habits and performance, with a focus on “issues such as honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, and character, and any other characteristic” that would show whether a deputy was fit for a law enforcement career. If the trainee passes the assessment, he or she moves on to an assignment within the jail. Thirty days before the probationary period is up, the unit commander must complete a final evaluation of career performance to determine whether the deputy will move on from probation. This is a crucial step, because during the probationary period, deputies do not have the same protections held by permanent LASD employees, and if trainees do not meet department policy standards, they can be “released.”

None of the LASD Academy’s 334 Deputy Sheriff Trainees (DSTs) who graduated in 2014 were eliminated for poor performance.

Over the last two years, the department has reportedly revamped it’s hiring practices in order to get a large number of recruits through the door quickly.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who was sworn in on December 1, 2014 (and has had the task of reforming a department plagued by abuse and misconduct scandals), has said he only wants to hire officers with a strong moral character. “While we’re heavily recruiting and we want to be able to fill the ranks, we’d rather work short than hire the wrong people,” McDonnell told the LA Daily News last year.

A veteran LASD manager, now retired, said that in the past, under former Sheriff Baca’s rule, there were too few background investigators to handle the number of LASD applicants, and some applicants that should have been disqualified were hired (despite objections from investigators) in order to quickly increase the sheriff’s department ranks.

The IG’s report took an in-depth look at 16 of the deputies’ probationary training files. According to the report, 9 out of 10 evaluations of new deputies on probation occurred after the one-year deadline, leaving no way to get rid of any unfit trainees—which is the main purpose of the probationary period. Those final evaluations are supposed to be completed a month before the end of the probationary period. The untimely assessments were reportedly completed between 1.5 and 5 months after the end of the probation period. Some were never completed. Moreover, many of the written evaluations included non-specific, cut-and-pasted comments about the trainees.


AN INDIVIDUAL TRAINING STORY

In one particularly alarming case reviewed by the IG’s Office, a problematic trainee was passed around among several Training Officers like a hot potato, but still managed to finish his probationary period. The deputy’s first TO wrote that the trainee was “not comprehending the importance of having knowledge of department policy and unit orders,” and not taking his TO seriously, despite multiple conversations about the issue.

After a pile of similar reviews, the department moved the deputy to a new TO, with similar outcomes. The deputy was passed to a third TO who said the trainee was “not taking his position here at Men’s Central Jail as a Deputy Sheriff seriously” and that his “integrity is a major concern not only in his role as a Deputy Sheriff but also for the safety of his partners.” The department sent him to yet another TO, who was able to push the deputy through the training program 10 months into his probationary year.

The deputy finished his year, and did not receive a final assessment. “Even though this DST received rigorous evaluations over the course of his probation that revealed the significant likelihood that he was not a fit for the position of Deputy Sheriff, the Department nonetheless failed to take advantage of the opportunity to release a low-performing employee before he obtained the substantial rights provided by civil service protection,” the IG’s report said.


THE RECOMMENDATIONS

IG Huntsman recommends certain clarifications on current custody training policies, like actually defining what a “meaningful” assessment entails, as well as what specific competencies a trainee should have (with measurable benchmarks) in order to move on to patrol.

The report also recommends that each deputy trainee be assigned to one dedicated Training Officer for their entire probationary year, and that custody training officers receive a boost to their salary for their extra responsibilities.

Huntsman makes a good point, said our veteran source. “But it is not as easy as it seems.” Making sure there are enough seasoned, capable training officers in Custody, which has in the past not been considered a coveted assignment, he said, “will take some real leadership, standards and honest assessments of employees.”

Unfit deputies should actually be let go during their probationary period, the report says, and higher-up commanders—rather than captains—sign off on each trainee’s completion of probation 30 days before the end of the year.

Sheriff McDonnell only agreed with the recommendation to review department policies, including defining “meaningful” training. McDonnell did not agree with the other recommendations—assigning a trainee to one TO for the whole year, releasing unfit deputies, and moving evaluations up to the commander level—citing staffing issues.

The Supervisors voted to have Sheriff McDonnell report back to the board within 60 days with a plan for implementing the first recommendation, as well as options for achieving the remaining recommendations (and what each option will cost), and any other recommendations for improving the department’s probationary training system.

Posted in LASD | 23 Comments »

Former LA Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Gets 5-Year Sentence & Scorching Lecture

June 27th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced
former Los Angeles County undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, to five years in federal prison for the dual crimes of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Before his forced retirement in August 1, 2013, Tanaka was the second-in-command of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department—according to many, the real power behind the throne—and was widely considered to be the person mostly likely to replace Lee Baca as sheriff.

Instead, Tanaka, 57, is scheduled to self-surrender to federal marshals on August 1 of this year. (Unsurprisingly, his attorneys have already appealed his conviction, which will likely put off any self-surrendering for a while.)

In the minutes before the stony-faced Judge Anderson actually announced Tanaka’s 60-month sentence, the judge first took time to deliver a scorched-earth speech to the defendant about his “abuse of the public trust” and the “incalculable harm you have caused this community.”

And that was just for openers.

It helps to know that, in addition to Tanaka’s trial, Anderson, who was nominated to federal bench in 2002 by George W. Bush, presided over the previous obstruction of justice trials that resulted in the conviction of seven department members for attempting to derail the FBI’s investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system, which is overseen by the sheriff’s department. Anderson also presided over the plea deal and sentencing of former deputy Gilbert Michel, who was caught in an FBI sting for accepting a bribe from an inmate in return for bringing said inmate a contraband cell phone. (The inmate, Anthony Brown, turned out to be a federal informant.)

And Anderson managed to yank former sheriff Lee Baca’s plea hearing away from another judge to whom it was originally assigned. Thus it will be Anderson who will sentence Baca on July 11.

In short, this means that Percy Anderson is far more familiar with the facts of Tanaka’s case, and those cases that surround it, than even the best informed and most diligent jurist would ordinarily ever be.

This has turned to be bad news for Tanaka, for whom Anderson reserved an unusually strong expression of censure.


A FRACTION OF THE PROBLEM

Anderson’s lecture of the about-to-be-sentenced Tanaka covered a lot of ground, including the fact that the judge found the defendant “evasive, combative and not credible” when on the stand in trial.

Most of the judge’s remarkably detailed criticism, however, had to do with the principles with which Tanaka allegedly “operated in his career.” The former undersheriff, said Anderson, “rewarded loyalty over honor,” and “derailed the careers” of anyone who got in his way. Anderson referenced such controversial Tanaka hallmarks as his infamous “work the gray” statements, which Anderson said communicated that “deputies would not be held responsible for aggressive behavior.”

Similarly, the judge said that Tanaka’s management style “undermined the authority of supervisors” who attempted reform, and “set the stage” for “an environment of aggressive deputy conduct,” and an “us versus them mentality” that resulted in hospitalized inmates, and falsified reports, to cover-up the LASD-perpetrated jailhouse brutality.

The evidence is “overwhelming,” said the judge, that the defendant “made no attempt to investigate and build cases against corrupt deputies.” To the contrary, Tanaka and his coconspirators attempted to convince witnesses “not to cooperate” with the FBI, seeming to focus only on “avoiding embarrassment” for the LASD.

“The most troubling thing about this troubling chapter” in the sheriff’s department’s history, Anderson told the former undersheriff, “is that your efforts to shield dirty deputies has been largely successful,” despite the government’s multiple convictions of deputies for brutalizing inmates.

“Those convicted deputies are a small fraction” of a “deputy culture” that Tanaka allowed to thrive, Anderson said. “Some of those deputies, remain with the department,” and have risen to high levels. As a consequence, Anderson said, “the public has little confidence” that the problem has been rooted out.


NO REMORSE

During much of this disquisition, Anderson stared down at Tanaka from the bench with the ferocity of a large-winged raptor, noting pointedly at one juncture that “you have shown no remorse.”

When U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker held a short post-sentencing press conference on the steps of the court building, her words echoed those of the judge. “His actions harmed the sheriff’s department, harmed law enforcement everywhere and the good men and women who strive every day to uphold their oaths and serve justice,” said Decker. “The sentence today demonstrated that, indeed, no one is above the law.”

In sentencing Tanaka, Anderson went above federal guidelines, which reportedly call for 41-51 months in prison. The 60 month sentence that Anderson finally imposed, was the term the prosecution had requested. Still, one got the sense that, while Anderson thought the five year stretch sent a strong message, he wouldn’t have minded going higher.

Tanaka—who wore a closely tailored black suit for the packed hearing, along with what appears to be one if his favorite ties, an elegant blue on blue striped number that went with his baby blue shirt—was stoic and mostly expressionless when the sentence was announced. In fact, perhaps the only time he spoke was when the judge asked him if he understood that if he violated his bail conditions in even the tiniest of ways, bail would be revoked.

“Yes, sir,” said the former undersheriff.

Tanaka’s family arrived in force for the hearing and, both before and after sentencing, did their best to offer Paul and each other steadying support.

Other court watchers mostly commented on Judge Anderson’s unusually vivid pre-sentencing tongue-lashing.


SENDING A MESSAGE

“I think that the judge made a very strong statement today,” said former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Miriam Krinsky, who was the executive director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, and served as an advisor to Sheriff Jim McDonnell during his first year in office. It wasn’t so much about the case, she said. “It was really an indictment of an entire career and a culture of lawlessness that Paul Tanaka allowed to fester,” “I think the judge sent a strong message that this kind of gross abuse of the public’s trust by those whom we trust with keeping the community safe will simply not be tolerated.”

Anderson also seemed to be making the point, said Krinsky, that Tanaka’s policy of sidelining anyone who attempted reform, may have produced as situation where, those department members already convicted for wrongdoing, “may be merely the top of the iceberg in terms of misconduct.” And that there may be others in the department “who share the views of those who have been criminally convicted.”

It’s clear, said Krinsky, “that this is the beginning not the end of a process of reform and transformation of this department.”

Tanaka’s attorneys, Dean Steward and Jerome Haig, also spoke after the hearing. They said they were “very disappointed” at the sentence, of course, and that they completely disagreed with the judge’s pre-sentencing remarks.

But they are also “very optimistic about our client’s chances on appeal,” said Haig. In fact, the attorney remarked as we chatted, that the fact Judge Anderson chose to allow a line of questioning about Tanaka’s Viking’s tattoo into the prosecution’s cross examination during the trial “is a big part of our appeal.”

In other words, the drama continues.

In the meantime, a three-judge panel at the 9th Circuit will hear the appeal of the seven department members previously convicted of obstruction of justice on July 5th.


Full updated story published at 7:45 p.m.

Posted in LASD | 73 Comments »

Former Sheriff Lee Baca’s Alzheimer’s Confirmed by Court Filings

June 20th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Court filings released today have confirmed the story that WitnessLA
broke last month, that former sheriff Lee Baca is suffering from early state Alzheimer’s.

Prosecutors wrote in a sentencing-related memo just released that this diagnosis should not prevent Baca from being sentenced to prison.

More soon.

Posted in LASD | 21 Comments »

Attorneys for Paul Tanaka Fight for Probation Only, Saying Former LA Sheriff Baca Was the Real “Ringleader”

June 20th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



WHO’S THE BOSS?

“The truth is that the crimes charged in this case were planned, directed and carried out by Leroy Baca, the former Sheriff for the County of Los Angeles. None of this would have happened if Baca had simply cooperated with the FBI at the beginning.”

Last week we wrote about federal prosecutors’ argument that former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka should be sentenced to 60 months—or 5 years—in federal prison when he comes before U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson on Monday.

Tanaka, as most readers know, was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, on April 6, having to do with what the feds contend was Tanaka’s involvement in attempting to derail a federal investigation into abuse of jail inmates by sheriff’s deputies and other departmental wrongdoing. Judge Anderson is due to sentence Tanaka on June 27.

This week we have the defense’s argument about sentencing, in which Tanaka’s attorneys, Dean Steward Jerome Haig, argue that their client should have no prison time, but only probation, that if anybody deserves a stretch in a federal lock-up, it is the former-undersheriff’s boss, former sheriff Lee Baca.

When the presented their sentencing memo two weeks ago, the prosecutors contended that the former undersheriff, more than the sheriff, was “in charge of” the obstructive operation, was “involved in all aspects of the obstruction,” and he “set the tone of the operation early and repeatedly with his ‘F**k the FBI’ statements.

“While defendant claimed at his and three previous trials that he had only limited involvement in the conspiracy,” they wrote, “the evidence showed instead that he was the ringleader from the beginning.
”

In their sentencing brief, the defense argues energetically otherwise. If there was any “ringleader,” they wrote, it was the four-time elected sheriff of Los Angeles County, Lee Baca.

“Baca himself told federal officials that he, Leroy Baca, called the shots on the Brown/cell phone incident.” The “boots on the ground” in the matter of hiding federal informant Anthony Brown, writes the defense, were the six department members already convicted of obstruction, “who were simply following Baca’s orders.” These facts, they write, “could not be any clearer.”


BACA’S “ISSUES”

One of the most interesting moments in the defense’s sentencing brief comes when defense attorneys Steward and Haig compare the government’s suggested 5-year sentence for their client with the 0-6 month sentence to which the feds have agreed in their plea deal with Lee Baca.

“In their sentencing memo,” the defense writes irritably, “the government feigns concern about disparity in sentencing. And yet they offered and agreed to a deal, that if accepted by this Court, gives Leroy Baca the gift of no more than 6 months in jail, while they gleefully request 5 years for Mr. Tanaka.” (The ital. is ours.)

And then there is this: “The government may respond that Baca is different, as he has issues that were submitted to this Court under seal, and revealed to the defense. However, these alleged facts fly in the face of Leroy Baca’s speech and acceptance of honors from a local religious group last month.”

As for Baca’s “issues,” reference to which are under seal, but were “revealed to the defense,” we again presume that Steward and Haig are talking about the report that the former sheriff is suffering from Alzheimer’s and that his lawyers have argued that this purported diagnosis should figure into his sentencing. (WLA broke that story here.)

The defense then cites a lively interview Baca gave to the Jewish Journal after he was honored on May 29 by the local LA group, Congregation Bais Naftoli, for “his years of friendship to the Jewish community.”

The defense seems to infer that if Judge Anderson buys Baca’s contention that he can do no prison time because he is too incapacitated by Alzheimer’s, then they’ve got some nice swamp property they’d like him to buy, or possibly a bridge….


SUBPOENAS AND THREATS

To bolster their contention, that Tanaka’s involvement was peripheral, that at most he was simply a conduit for the sheriff’s directives, the defense cites, among other things, a Sept. 26, 2011, letter from the former sheriff to then-U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. The letter was written after all the actions that caused the obstruction charges were already over, yet it is indeed a remarkable document.

In his correspondence, Baca expresses his state of pique over subpoenas for records the department has received from the FBI as part of the feds’ continuing investigation into brutality and corruption in the jails. Baca objects to the subpoenas, and tells U.S. Attorney Birotte that the FBI is, in fact, unqualified to investigate brutality in the jails, that the LASD alone has the experience and the know-how to do such an investigation.

“Due to the FBI’s aforementioned incompetence in investigating alleged civil rights violations concerning force taken by deputy sheriffs,” Baca writes, he wants the US Attorney and his office to “ameliorate”—AKA dial back—support from the federal investigation into wrongdoing in his jails, and instead “support the Sheriff’’s Department’s investigation to it’s conclusion.”

And, just to make sure Birotte gets the picture that he better get with the program and dump the FBI’s probe into department wrongdoing, in favor of the LASD’s far superior work, Baca threatens to pull the sheriff’s department out of all the “many ongoing joint missions” in which the department participates with the FBI “due to the breach of trust that will take time and corrective action to heal.”

If you’d like to read the entire letter, you can find it right here.


ENTER: THE JUDGE

So what will Judge Anderson make of all this?

There is no way of knowing, of course. But perhaps the U.S. District Court Judge will decide that he does not need chose send either Baca or Tanaka to prison, that he can select Door No. 3, and give healthy prison sentences to both of the once allies, now enemies.

We will learn the answers to these sentencing questions on June 27, for Tanaka, and July 11, for Baca.

Oh, yes, and on July 5, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the appeal of the cases of former sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, and the six former department members convicted of obstruction of justice, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, Stephan Leavins, and Gregory Thompson.

So stay tuned!

Posted in LASD | 18 Comments »

Bribery-Taking LA County Deputy Gets a Surprise Sentence, Causing Some to Ask What it Means for High Profile Sentences Still to Come

June 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


A SURPRISING TURN OF EVENTS HAS COURT WATCHERS GUESSING

On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Gilbert Michel to six months in a federal prison, plus two years probation.

The sentence was a surprise to most of those observing.

The federal prosecutors had consistently pushed for prison time for other former LA Sheriff’s department members who had been convicted in the last few years. But in the case of Michel, who had cooperated with the feds from nearly the beginning (once he was caught), the government asked Judge Anderson for a sentence of four months of home detainment, which would allow him to continue to work to support his family.

And, for a moment it looked as the sentencing might go as expected. The government, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lizabeth Rhodes and Brandon Fox, explained its position, citing Michel’s high level of cooperation, how he had taken responsibility for his offenses, and his concrete efforts to reboot his life.

“There needs to be a balance between personal responsibility and cooperation with the investigation,” said Liz Rhodes.

When it was his turn, Gilbert Michel read with apparent sincerity from a prepared statement, choking up several times as he did so.

“Five years ago, I made a decision that was very wrong,” he read. “In my arrogance, I took a bribe. I not only thought I could get a way with it, I thought I would not be held accountable for it.

“These decisions that I have made have not only affected myself, but my family, and the citizens of Los Angeles County.

“I want to apologize to my family, mainly my children, for not setting the example I should have set for you. I hope you’ve learned from my wrong decisions….

“To the citizens of Los Angeles County I am truly sorry for my misconduct. I took an oath to honorably perform my duties as a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, and I failed you….

“I humbly accept whatever punishment I am given.”

As he read his statement, Michel looked sober and sorrowful, yet self-pity seemed notably absent

(click to enlarge)


CRIME AND CONSEQUENCE

To remind you, Gilbert Michel was the deputy who, in July and early August of 2011, accepted cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent whom he believed was the friend of a jail inmate named Anthony Brown. In return for the money, Michel agreed to bring a contraband cell phone into Men’s Central Jail, and to give the phone to inmate Brown for his use.

For still more money, Michel further contracted to recharge the phone and return it to Brown, never sensing that Brown was a federal informant, and he, Michel, had just landed smack in the middle of an undercover sting designed by the feds to catch corrupt deputies—like himself—-who were willing to break the law in return for cash. The sting was part of a larger undercover FBI investigation into deputy brutality and abuse toward inmates.

In a deal struck with federal prosecutors six months later in January of 2012, Michel pleaded to one count of bribery, and agreed to fully cooperate with the government’s investigation into corruption and brutality inside the department’s troubled jail system.

“Cooperation” involved disclosing what he knew about deputy wrongdoing inside the jail, including his own misdeeds. It also meant testifying under oath at two federal trials involving former department members, one of them, the trial of Paul Tanaka, the other the trial of the six former department members convicted of obstruction of justice in what has become unofficially known as Operation Pandora’s Box.


BEATINGS & LIES

Although Michel was not charged with abuse and brutality against inmates, he admitted to abuse in multiple interviews with the FBI, and also under oath in his lengthy testimony at both the Tanaka trial, and the earlier joint trial of six former department members.

In the trial of the six, Michel’s testimony was dramatic and harrowing. He testified that, shortly after his graduation from the department’s training academy, he worked the 2000 and the 3000 floors Men’s Central Jail where as part of his initiatory training he learned the “right way” to cover up unjustified beatings and abuse of inmates. In testimony that spread over two days, Michel’s described details of the individual beatings of inmates he’d been present for, or administered himself.

His testimony portrayed, not merely his own mistreatment of prisoners, but pointed beyond itself to a subculture of deputies inside the jails who engaged in routine brutality against inmates. The brutality was accompanied, according to Michel, in many instances, by the falsification of criminal charges against those same inmates, when such charges were needed to cover deputy violence. Michel’s testimony further suggested that such behavior went on virtually unchecked by jail supervisors and LASD higher-ups.

Even if inmates wrote up complaints, said Michel, they were often intercepted by deputies who had access to the complaint box.


THE JUDGE RULES

On Monday morning, after everyone else had finished speaking, and it was time for the Anderson to hand down a sentence, Anderson’s expression was grave. He spoke of
“the seriousness of this offense,” the bribery itself, and “the fact that the offense involved repeated” behavior. And, then, although Michel wasn’t charged with anything more than the single count of bribery, Anderson brought up the physical abuse visited on inmates, that Michel had testified about twice in his courtroom, (Anderson presided over all four of the obstruction of justice trials.)

The defendant was a law enforcement officer, said Anderson. “He broke his solemn vow to uphold the law…victimized those he was sworn to protect… abused the public trust….Not only did he bring shame on the sheriff’s department, but on law enforcement in general.”

Then after a long pause Anderson got to the point. “The court finds that the defendant’s conduct does require a period of incarceration.”

Physical abuse of inmates, Anderson said, was “rampant and unchecked” and “went all the way to the top of the department.”

Department members “behaved no better than the inmates they were assigned to guard.”

Thus, due to the “need for deterrence,” and for “a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the offenses….six months of incarceration is appropriate.”

Anderson gave Michel a little over a month to get his affairs in order, telling him he must self-surrender by noon on July 26.


A GHOST OF SENTENCING FUTURE?

When those on the court benches filed out into the hallway after the hearing was over, one of the main topics of conversation other than the surpise sentence itself, is what it might mean for future sentencing. Did Anderson’s significant deviation from the prosecution’s request presage a similarly non-lenient view of, say, the upcoming sentencing of former sheriff Lee Baca on July 11, and also that of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka at the end of this month.

“If I were Lee Baca, I’d be concerned,” said one attorney who observed the Michel sentencing hearing.

“This judge wants to know that you get it,” agreed former Assistant U.S. Attorney Miriam Aroni Krinsky. “From what we’ve seen today, I don’t think he’s going to go easy on former sheriff Baca.”

A few minutes later still, Michel stood in the sun outside the federal court building on Main Street and told reporters that he does get it.

“I made a mistake. I did wrong. This whole thing has been a life changing experience for me,” Michel said. “I’m ready to take what the judge gave to me, and move on with my life. It’s a fair sentence. It was totally fair and justified.”

As for the “rampant and unchecked” abuse of inmates by deputies that Anderson and others have mentioned?

“There is an arrogance about the department where I worked….,” Michel said, his wife close beside him. “It was everywhere. We thought that we ran the jail. That it was our jail, that we controlled the jail. Nobody else did. It was arrogant.” We worked there. But” the jail “doesn’t belong to the deputies. It belongs to the people of Los Angeles. But that’s not how we saw things.”

Posted in LASD | 11 Comments »

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