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Sheriff Lee Baca


Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton is Convicted

September 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday afternoon Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was found guilty of obstruction of justice by a jury of seven women and five men.

The verdict was a surprisingly swift one. After closing arguments for the four-and-a-half-day trial, the jury left Judge Percy Anderson’s courtroom a few minutes after the noon hour Tuesday to begin deliberation, and returned with their decision at around 2:20 p.m. that same day.

Deputy Sexton—a former eagle scout with a West Point appointment who once interned for Vice President Joe Biden and was recently awarded a master’s degree at the University of Southern California—was 25 years-old and three years out of the sheriff’s academy when the events resulting in the charges against him took place in August and September of 2011. He received Tuesday’s news accompanied by his wife, brother, mother and father, plus a contingent of somber-faced LASD deputies, most of whom appeared to be close to Sexton in age.

Sexton’s father, Ted Sexton, a long-time former sheriff of Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, moved to Los Angeles in 2013 to work for Lee Baca and the LASD when the scandal-beleaguered Baca had fallen out with his once-close undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and reportedly was desperate to hire someone whom he felt he could trust.

James Sexton is the seventh LASD sworn officer to be found guilty of obstruction of justice in connection with the FBI’s investigation into civil rights abuses by sheriff’s deputies inside LA County’s troubled jail system.

Specifically, Sexton was found guilty of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

The trial that culminated Tuesday, was the second time that Deputy Sexton was tried for the same charges. His first go-round, which took place in May of this year, resulted in a hung jury, that split six-six.”

Paul Tanaka, who testified at both of Sexton’s trials and is running for sheriff, is believed to still be the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation by the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

When asked about the significance of Sexton’s conviction, government prosecutor Brandon Fox said that the verdict showed that, “…no matter if you’re low or high in the rank, if you commit a crime, the jury’s going to hold you liable for that crime. It’s not an excuse to say, ‘I was just this low level guy and other people told me to do this. And I didn’t exercise my own judgement.’

“I think something that all these convictions mean,” Fox said, is that its not okay to simply remain silent and to not disclose criminal acts that are going on. The thin blue line does not benefit anybody.”

Sexton, added Fox, confessed in his grand jury testimony to all the crimes of which he was charged.

“One of the differences between this trial and the first trial is that we provided evidence that Mr. Sexton is not a naive junior deputy.”

Of course, part of Sexton’s defense in his first trial had little to do with the following-orders-strategy, but pertained to the fact that he had reportedly cooperated with the FBI for over a year, meeting with federal representatives, either by phone or in person, at least 37 separate times. In this trial, however, most of the references to Sexton’s cooperation were prohibited.

As for those at the other end of the LASD chain of command, like Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka, who arguably issued the orders for whom the now-seven department members have been convicted, Fox declined to comment in any detail, but said he would welcome information from those to whom orders in question were given.

“I think here’s the message: to the extent that you’re following orders if you know that they’re unlawful, you’re going to be charged and if you’re charged you’re going to be convicted and if you’re convicted you should talk to us and tell us if there’s anybody else who ordered what you did.”

Sexton will be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on December 1. The other six defendants will be sentenced on Monday, September 22, at 8:30 a.m.


AND IN OTHER LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT TRIAL NEWS: THE SEXUAL HARASSMENT TRIAL INVOLVING LASD LT. ANGELA WALTON AND LASD COMMANDER JOSEPH FENNELL, BEGINS WEDNESDAY MORNING

We will have more on that trial later this week.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 25 Comments »

Deputy James Sexton Trial, Day 4: Should the Prosecution Be Able to Edit Testimony?

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



On Friday, the final “witness” for the prosecution in the retrial
of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was James Sexton himself.

Well, a version of James Sexton, at least.

As they had done in Sexton’s first trial, the government finished up its case with someone from the prosecution’s camp reading an excerpt from Sexton’s November 28, 2012 grand jury testimony, while Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes played her part as the prosecutor asking questions.

At Sexton’s first trial, the approximately 75-minute dramatic recreation provided the prosecution with plenty of legal ammunition since, in it, Sexton cheerfully admitted to such things as having helped to hide inmate Anthony Brown. Yet the testimony seemed to produce a variety of effects on its listeners, in that Sexton’s answers were nuanced and detailed, and appeared to be very candid, rather than defensive or guarded, as if he was doing his best to be helpful to the feds, overly so, really–—never suspecting, one presumes, that he would be indicted and that much of many of his words would be used as evidence against him on some future day court.

Interestingly, the jurors for that first trial took the grand jury testimony so seriously that, as they were deliberating, they asked to have the whole thing read to them, one more time. Then, although six of those jurors voted to convict, six voted to acquit.

Friday’s grand jury presentation was structured in much the same way as that of the first trial, with someone reading Sexton’s part, and prosecutor Liz Rhodes playing the prosecutor. Again, the reading was taken from Sexton’s November 28, 2012, grand jury appearance. (Deputy Sexton appeared in front of the grand jury twice, first in August 2012, then in November, more than a year after the events in question took place in August and September 2011.)

Yet Friday’s excerpt was quite a bit shorter than that of last May, lasting around 45 minutes, not the 75 minutes of the first trial. More importantly, various topics, contexts and shadings of meaning present in the first trial’s version, are absent from the second.

They have been edited out.

For instance, in a couple of instances in the first trial, Sexton talked about orders that he had been given having come from higher up than just his then immediate boss, Lt. Greg Thompson; that the orders were coming from Paul Tanaka, and/or Lee Baca. He also talked about how, in some cases, he and other deputies had to use Tanaka’s name to get others to cooperate.

In the version read on Friday, the references to higher ups, to the “big bosses,” or to Tanaka or Baca, are cut—leaving the impression that Sexton is not merely one more team member following orders that come from the department’s highest levels, but more of a planner and an originator of strategies, along with Lt. Greg Thompson, Deputy Gerard Smith and Deputy Micky Manzo—three of the six who have been convicted.

In another instance, a paragraph is deleted that explains the fact that the adversarial attitude to the FBI expressed by some of the OSJ personnel—namely by deputies Smith and Manzo—was not one shared by Sexton and his closer friends on the squad, and that they’d talked with each other about this division.

(Operation Safe Jails, or OSJ, was where Sexton worked in 2011, and was the squad that was tasked with hiding federal informant Brown.)

When the qualifying statements that separate Sexton and his buddies from this adversarial attitude toward the feds are edited from Friday’s version, one is left with the impression that the attitude is pervasive throughout the squad and that Sexton surely shares it—giving his actions with Brown a critical intent that might otherwise be absent had the edits been restored.

In other cases, some of Sexton’s impressions are made to appear as solid knowledge, rather than the gossip-driven surmises, or conclusions likely drawn after the fact, that they are shown to be in the longer, less-edited versions.

And so on.

In other words, a strong argument can be made that these and other similar edits change the context and meaning of some of Sexton’s testimony in very crucial ways.

Certain of the changes that the snips produce are subtle, but cumulatively they could make a difference to a jury.


THE LAWYERS OBJECT

So is all this snipping and trimming fair-minded?

Sexton’s attorneys say no, and point to legal precedents that agree with them.

In a motion in Limine [a pretrial request] made in August, Sexton’s lawyers asked the judge to fix the matter by ordering that the problematic cuts be put back in. The motion reads in part:

Deputy Sexton will and hereby does move for an order requiring the Government to present an accurate rendition of his testimony before the Federal Grand Jury on the grounds that the excerpts of testimony offered by the Government are misleading and incomplete and that Deputy Sexton will be prejudiced by the Government’s failure to include testimony (included in his first trial) regarding (a) the fact that Deputy Sexton was acting on orders issued by the command and control structure of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (“LASD”); (b) the fact that Deputy Sexton did not have credible, first-hand knowledge necessary to find him guilty of obstruction of justice; and (c) the fact that Deputy Sexton offered demonstrably mistaken testimony regarding the facts of this action. Failure to include this testimony suggests, contradictory to his testimony as read into the record at the last trial, that Deputy Sexton was not acting on orders from LASD authority reaching as high as Sheriff Leroy Baca, and that Deputy Sexton was aware of certain facts of which he had no knowledge. This renders his testimony, as heavily edited by the Government, misleading.

Judge Anderson evidently sided with the government that the cuts were fine. Thus the edits remained.


AND IN OTHER SEXTON RETRIAL NEWS….PAUL TANAKA

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka will testify Monday morning. Unless something changes, however, it now does not appear that former sheriff Lee Baca will be called.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 40 Comments »

Deputy James Sexton Retrial, Day 3: The Prosecutors’ Case….Prop. 47 Would Save LA Big $$ Says Report….and More

September 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday, after the testimony of multiple witnesses,
the prosecution neared the end of its presentation of its obstruction of justice case against Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton.

This is the second time Sexton has been tried on the same charges. In May, his previous trial resulted in a hung jury that was split 6 to 6.

The prosecutors worked to set a context for the charges against Sexton when two FBI agents—Special Agent David Dahle and Special Agent Leah Marx—testified about the importance of the government’s civil rights investigation into reports of alarming brutality by deputies against jail inmates along with other forms of corruption by LA County Sheriff’s Department members, especially those stationed in Men’s Central Jail.

Both Dahle and Marx also testified about the ways in which members of the department reportedly attempted to obstruct their investigation after their confidential informant, jail inmate Anthony Brown, was discovered to have a contraband cell phone that he was using to contact the FBI as part of an undercover investigation into wrongdoing inside the jails.

In order to demonstrate this obstructive activity and intent, prosecutors presented such evidence as audio clips of recently convicted department members, Deputy Gerard Smith, Deputy Micky Manzo and Lt. Stephen Leavins, interviewing Brown a few days after the discovery of the cell phone, and trying to get the inmate to reveal what he’d been telling the feds, while also expressing irritation that “somebody else”—namely the FBI—had come in to “clean our house.”

In addition, the prosecutors played the video of Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long waylaying Agent Marx outside her apartment and threatening her with arrest.

And there was more of that nature.

Yet surprisingly little of the evidence and testimony presented in the last two days has had anything directly to do with James Sexton, who is accused of helping to manipulate the department’s computer system in order to deliberately hide federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers.

On Friday, the feds plan to read sections from one of Sexton’s 2012 grand jury appearances, in which—a year after the the Anthony Brown affair took place—the deputy is self-incriminating in what the defense will argue is his eagerness to help the feds, whom he then believed did not regard him as a target.

The grand jury testimony is at the center of the government’s case against Sexton.

Then the government will rest, and it will be the defense’s turn.

Former undersheriff and current candidate for sheriff, Paul Tanaka, will be called as a defense witness, among others. It is still unclear whether or not former sheriff Lee Baca will also take the stand.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….NEW REPORT SAYS PROP. 47 COULD SAVE LA COUNTY $175 MILLION

A new report from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice examines the potential county-level savings and jail population reductions resulting from Proposition 47, the Safe Neighborhoods and Schools Act. The report contends that Los Angeles County would save $100 million to $175 million per year, with between 2,500 and 7,500 jail beds freed. (LA County jails currently release approximately 1,500 people early each month due to overcrowding.)

According to the report, Proposition 47, which will appear on the November 4 statewide ballot, would reduce the status of certain low-level property and drug offenses from felonies or wobblers to misdemeanors.

The report also estimates that San Diego County would save between $28.4 million and $49.7 million, and San Joaquin County between $6.8 million and $12.0 million, per year with the implementation of the proposition.

(The CJCJ report used Los Angeles, San Diego and San Joaquin counties as examples to look at the potential savings for all California’s counties.)

The report calculates that the state-level savings would range from $100 million and $300 million—$$$ that would then be transferred to a fund that would support victim services, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs, school truancy and drop-out prevention.


LASD OVERSTATES NUMBER OF VIOLENT CRIMES, REPORTS IG MAX HUNTSMAN

After learning that the LAPD was misclassifying violent crime as minor crime, the LA County Supervisors, led by Supervisor Mike Antonovich, asked Inspector General Max Huntsman to take a look at the LA Sheriff’s Department’s reporting.

Huntsman found misclassification at the LASD too but, weirdly, the trend seemed to be to overstate the number of violent crimes, rather than the reverse. Moreover the errors seemed to be something that could be cured with better training, and did not appear to be deliberate manipulation.

Out of all the LASD’s stations, only Marina del Rey had zero errors.

The LA Times’ Ben Poston has the story. Here’s a clip:

An initial review of crime statistics at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department released Thursday found that the agency tends to overstate violent crime.

An audit of 240 assaults from six sheriff’s stations found that department personnel misclassified more than 31% of minor assaults as serious offenses, while incorrectly filing about 3% of serious attacks as minor ones.

The report was issued by Inspector General Max Huntsman, the newly installed Sheriff’s Department watchdog….

[BIG SNIP]

The overreporting errors at the Sheriff’s Department occurred primarily at the initial crime classification stage when deputies make a decision on how to title a crime report, according to the audit. Deputies commonly classify an assault case as a felony when the crime could be charged by prosecutors as either a felony or a misdemeanor, the inspector general’s report states.

In one example, Huntsman said, a deputy initially classified a domestic violence incident as an aggravated assault because the victim was struck repeatedly and sustained a bump and cut on the head. The case should have been filed as a minor assault. To meet the FBI’s definition of aggravated assault, a victim must suffer serious injury, such as a broken nose or a cut that requires stitches.

Of the six sheriff’s stations analyzed, Marina del Rey was the only one with zero errors. The other stations — Century, Compton, East L.A., Lancaster and South L.A. — overreported between 25% and 50% of aggravated assaults during the one-year period reviewed. Meanwhile, the Century station underreported 15% of its serious assaults as minor offenses.


DEFENSE DEPARTMENT HAS ISSUED 12,000 BAYONETS TO LOCAL POLICE DEPARTMENTS SINCE 2006

Last month, President Obama asked for a review of what equipment the federal government has been supplying to local law enforcement agencies across the country.

NPR decided to take a look at what the president’s report might find. Their story appeared more than a week ago, but we didn’t want you to miss this rundown on bayonets and MRAPS distributed.

FYI: Los Angeles, it seems, has been a big winner in the world of combat gear distribution.

Posted in Department of Justice, FBI, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 28 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Retrial, Day 2 – Opening Statements

September 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



We’ll have more on the retrial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton
later in the week. In the meantime, take a look at this story by Douglas Morino of the Los Angeles Register about Day 2 of the proceedings.

The day featured opening statements by the prosecution and the defense, plus testimony from FBI Special Agent David Dahle.

Here’s a clip:

Jurors began hearing evidence Wednesday in the retrial of [James] Sexton, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson. Sexton’s first trial ended in May with the jury deadlocked 6-6.

U.S. prosecutors say Sexton was part of an effort to block a federal probe into allegations of corruption and deputy violence against inmates inside the county’s jails. The conspiracy stretched through a roughly two-month period in 2011 and was aimed at blocking FBI agents from interviewing Anthony Brown, an inmate providing information about corrupt deputies and other misconduct, prosecutors said.

“James Sexton and his co-conspirators took steps to ensure the evils and troubles inside the jail system would never see the light of day,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the jury of five men and seven women in his opening statement. “The defendant knew what the goal was – he titled it ‘Operation Pandora’s Box.’”

Thomas O’Brien, Sexton’s attorney, said the deputy was simply following orders that came from the Sheriff’s Department’s highest levels – former Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka – to protect Brown, a career criminal facing a 423-year sentence in state prison, from other inmates and rogue deputies who labeled him a “snitch.”

“A junior deputy is facing charges for doing nothing more than following orders and keeping an inmate safe and out of harm,” O’Brien told jurors during his opening statement….

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 25 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton ReTrial, Day 1: What Jurors Won’t Hear & Possible Arrest Warrants

September 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



THE JURY IS SELECTED & THERE IS TALK OF WHAT TESTIMONY THE JURORS WON’T HEAR

Tuesday, September 9, was Day One of the retrial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, and the main thing that got accomplished was the selection of the jury, which is made up of seven women and five men.

Both the prosecution and the defense thought the court would manage to choose the jury panel, plus two alternates, and still have plenty of time for each side to deliver 30 minutes worth of opening statements. But it was not to be.

The attorneys also figured that Judge Percy Anderson would likely rule on the series of motions made by the prosecution having to do with areas of evidence and testimony that the government wanted excluded, even though most of the topics, material and possible witnesses had been part of the defense’s case in Sexton’s first trial, which ended up in a hung jury in late May of this year and thus a mistrial.

But Percy didn’t rule on those motions either.

In a hearing last month, however, Anderson had given a pretty good indication of how he was leaning.


A STORY WITHIN THE STORY

In fact, one of the stories of this trial is likely to be an analysis of exactly what Sexton’s newly selected jury will not be allowed to hear, that the jury from his first trial was able to take into account in their deliberation.

For instance, if Judge Anderson rules the way he previously indicated he was leaning, only 7—or at the most 8—of the 37 times that Sexton was interviewed by the FBI as a cooperating witness may be disclosed or mentioned to the jury. The rest of the deputy’s instances of cooperation with the feds are excluded.

Sexton’s extensive cooperation with the feds is one of the things that the prosecution reportedly believes was much of why six members of the jury in Sexton’s last trial voted to acquit him.

The defense has argued that, since Sexton’s cooperation with the FBI has much to do with the mindset and context in which the deputy made statements to the grand jury, which are the heart of the prosecution’s case, the facts of Sexton’s extensive cooperation cannot be excluded. Nevertheless it appears that much of that cooperation is on the road to being nixed for this trial.

Another likely forbidden topic will be former sheriff Lee Baca’s emotional reaction to learning that the FBI was poking around with an undercover investigation into wrongdoing by LASD deputies in what he regarded as his jails. (Baca was extremely pissed off.)

For instance, the jury may hear about orders Baca gave to Paul Tanaka and others pursuant to the discovery of what the feds were doing, but not the fact that he was demonstrably angry when he gave the orders.

Also likely excluded will be the fact that, prior to the incidents on which the indictments are based—i.e. the hiding and moving of federal informant Anthony Brown—Sexton applied for jobs to a list of law enforcement agencies, including the FBI.

One more topic slated for exclusion is the matter of the reported threats had been receiving from members of the sheriff’s department began he began cooperating with the feds. According to the defense, Sexton had been threatened to the degree that the feds expressed concern about Sexton’s safety. (Interestingly, the threats were convincing enough that Sexton is the only one of the LASD’s federal defendants who was allowed to keep a firearm. He kept two of his guns. All the other defendants, had to surrender their firearms.)

We’ll talk more about these exclusions if and when they occur as the trial goes on.


WITNESSES & ARREST WARRANTS

On Tuesday, at the very end of the day a weird moment occurred when prosecutor Brandon Fox announced that one of the government’s witnesses, Deputy Jason Pearson, who is a work teammate and friend of Sexton’s, had—in a fit of fury at the feds—talked about not showing up on Wednesday, despite being subpoenaed. Fox said that the judge might need to issue an “order” on the matter. Some speculated that this meant an arrest warrant.

Others figured that—once the anger was passed—Pearson would just show up.

On the topic of witnesses, both Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka are still on the witness list for the defense. Of course, whether one or both will be called, remains to be seen.

Opening arguments will be presented Wednesday. Then the government will begin calling witnesses.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 19 Comments »

Sentencing Postponed for Six Members LA Sheriff’s Department Convicted of Obstruction of Justice

September 5th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Sentencing has been postponed for six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who were convicted
of obstruction of a federal investigation in connection with hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his fed handlers.

The six defendants—LASD deputies Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long, Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, and Gregory Thompson, a now-retired department lieutenant—were originally scheduled to be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson next Monday, September 8. But on Wednesday afternoon Anderson signed the order to postpone sentencing for two weeks, until Sept. 22.

The postponement was granted at the request of Deputy James Sexton and his attorneys, led by Thomas O’Brien, who contended that the sentencing of the six LA Sheriff’s Department members was bound to draw extensive press attention, thus making it challenging for Sexton—who is about to be retried for the same obstruction of justice charges of which the six were convicted—to find the kind of untainted jury pool necessary for a fair trial.

Sexton’s trial (or rather his retrial, since he was already tried for this whole mess once, resulting in a 6-6 hung jury) is set to begin on September 9, the day after the six defendants were originally scheduled to be sentenced.

The prosecutors objected to the postponement, pointing out, in essence, that there had been plenty of press about the indictments, et al, before the previous trials of Sexton and of the six, and yet no one had complained of a tainted jury. “In neither trial did any juror indicate that they had been prejudicially exposed to media coverage of the trial…” the prosecutors wrote. And Sexton’s attorneys hadn’t given any reasons why this trial would be any different.

Yet, it didn’t appear that their hearts were really into their objections.. After all, with the sentencing postponed they could use that same day for trial prep, which presumably wouldn’t hurt.


SO WHAT KIND OF SENTENCES COULD THE SIX LASD DEFENDANTS RECEIVE?

The government filed its sentencing reports and recommendations for each of the six defendants last month, and the sentences requested are sobering.

The suggested sentences for the two deputies and one of the sergeants are the lowest.

For Deputy Mickey Manzo who, together with Deputy Gerard Smith, was on the team that reportedly hid Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, the feds requested 30 months, or two and a half years.

The recommendation for Gerard Smith, who has a special needs child, is slightly shorter at 28 months, or two years and four months.

When it came to Sergeant Maricela Long, who—along with Sgt. Scott Craig—was involved in the investigation of FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, the feds went back up to 30 months.

They viewed Long’s partner, Sergeant Scott Craig, with far more severity. Craig was the person who threatened FBI Agent Marx with arrest, and also appeared to deliberately try to persuade deputy Gilbert Michel not to talk to the FBI. (Michel was the guy who accepted a bribe to smuggle a cell phone into Anthony Brown.) Craig also took the stand in his own behalf and said things that the prosecutors maintained were “demonstrably false,” thus were “further acts of obstruction.”

With all that in mind, the government asked that Craig’s sentence be 51 months, or 4 years, three months.

Surprisingly, the government requested a longer sentence for Craig than they did for retired Lt. Gregory Thompson, who actually ran the Operation Safe Jails team that hid Anthony Brown, and he was the guy for whom Smith, Manzo and Sexton worked. Thompson’s suggested sentence was 48 months, or 4 years.

The feds reserved its very longest suggested sentence for Lt. Stephen Leavins. Leavins, who was the supervisor for Craig and Long, also allegedly attempted to persuade Michel and others not to talk to the FBI. Like Craig, Leavins took the stand for himself, and denied wrong doing, for instance, claiming that he moved Anthony Brown only for Brown’s own safety, when other factors suggested the main purpose was to keep Brown away from the feds, all of which added up to perjury said the prosecutors in their sentencing memo. More than Craig, according to the feds, Leavins told some true doozies when he was on the stand, claiming to be at meetings where others testified he could not have been, claiming other officials said things that, they and others flatly denied, and other alleged falsehoods.

For Leavins, the feds requested a sentence of 60 months or 5 years.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 38 Comments »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Will Call Lee Baca to Testify in Upcoming ReTrial

August 26th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday, LASD Deputy James Sexton and his attorney, Thomas O’Brien, were in court
as Judge Percy Anderson decided what evidence would and would not be permitted to be used for Sexton’s defense in his retrial scheduled to begin on September 9.

Although Anderson did not issue final rulings on all of the day’s motions, for the most part he appeared to lean toward excluding what the prosecution wanted excluded.

He did appear to mostly agree, however, that Sexton’s attorneys could call former Sheriff Lee Baca as a witness.

Sexton, if you’ll recall, was one of seven members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department indicted for obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding federal informant and then jail inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers in the summer of 2011.

Deputy Sexton was already tried once on obstruction charges this past May. The trial resulted in a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury, with a split of 6-6.

Initially, it was not clear that the prosecution would try Sexton a second time. Yet, after the government got guilty verdicts in early July against the six other department members charged with obstruction, federal prosecutors announced they were going to go ahead and retry the deputy.

Although Sexton will be retried on charges similar to those of which the other six were convicted, his case is dissimilar in significant ways, in that he was far lower on the food chain that the two lieutenants, two sergeants, and two deputies who were convicted, and are scheduled to be sentenced next month.

Also, unlike the others, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews.

(The deputy talked with the FBI so much, in fact, that, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, FBI agents gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them.)

Interestingly, among the elements from the last trial that the prosecution wishes to exclude from Sexton’s defense in the second trial are the details of this cooperation.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 87 Comments »

Merrick Bobb’s Final Report is Candidly Scathing About Paul Tanaka…Among Other Topics

August 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


For 22 years, Merrick Bobb has been the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors’ special counsel
when it comes to oversight of the sheriff’s department.

Bobb issued his last report on the department on Thursday. Now all oversight of the LASD will be left up to Inspector General Max Huntsman, who has yet to completely gear up.

Bobb’s work provided the very first long-term civilian oversight of law enforcement in the nation’s history. There were many areas in which Bobb and the 1992 Kolts commission were able to achieve important change, as this final report points out.

Under Lee Baca, however, the cooperation that Bobb and his command staff had enjoyed under Sherman Block, began to wither.

“While relationships remained cordial with Baca,” in the jails, Bobb writes, “an anti-reform counter movement took over as certain recent Undersheriffs rose to the forefront and Sheriff Baca’s and the Supervisors’ attention seemed to be focused elsewhere.”

The report continues: “…brutality seems to have festered in the jails. Across the Department, deputies were affirmatively encouraged to ‘work in the gray zone’—an apparent green light for unconstitutional or near-unconstitutional misconduct.”

Work the gray was, of course, one of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s signature phrases, a phrase that he has repeatedly maintained had nothing to do with suggesting that deputies cross the line into illegality, although multiple independent sources suggest otherwise.

Under Baca, Bobb writes, “accountability for discovering and dealing with actual or potential misconduct was not very high on the list of priorities….”

This disregard by Baca and Tanaka for holding deputies accountable for their misconduct, Bobb writes, all but called for the involvement of the FBI to discover “….what was going on in front of their eyes.”

Bobb takes Baca to task for allowing his underling, Tanaka, too much power. Yet he reserved the bulk of his criticism regarding the problems with the department, for the former undersheriff himself.

“To say that Sheriff Baca over-delegated to Paul Tanaka understates the matter. Paul Tanaka has been considered by some to be bright, good with numbers and budgets, and skilled at handling fiscal crises. Nevertheless, with regard to police accountability, reform, rewarding constitutional policing, and engendering the active support and trust of the ever-diversifying community, the man seemed to avoid evolving substantially from his days as a Lynwood Viking.” [WLA's ital.]

“Lee Baca placed great importance on loyalty to subordinates and the duty to mentor future leaders. Paul Tanaka managed to repay Baca’s loyalty, quick promotions, and sustained mentoring by undercutting the Department’s moral authority and mocking the values that Lee Baca so often professed to be central to his vision.”

And during all this time, the board of supervisors, by and large, Bobb suggests, did nothing.

The creation and selection of an inspector general—Max Huntsman- is meant to signal a new kind of oversight of the sheriff’s department. It has also meant the elimination of Bobb’s role as special counsel and the similar elimination of Michael Gennaco’s Office of Independent Review, (OIR).

Yet, it remains unclear how successful Huntsman will be able to be considering the fact that Bobb’s reports of problems and wrongdoing were so cheerfully ignored year after year, with no consequence whatsoever for the sheriff and those to whom he delegated.

In November, of course, we will have a new sheriff, and that sheriff will likely be Jim McDonnell, a man who has repeatedly made clear that he welcomes aggressive oversight. McDonnell was even strongly in favor of a civilian commission, in addition to an IG, an option that the board of supervisors voted down this week.

Yet, it was also this week that Paul Tanaka announced in a tweet that he was still running for sheriff, providing a potent reminder that we cannot have a system of departmental oversight that is dependant on the goodwill of the sheriff for its effectiveness or lack thereof, as has been the case in the past.

Such an arrangement—as this and other reports from Merrick Bobb vividly attest— can easily lead to catastrophe.

Under Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka, catastrophe arrived.

There is much more to Bobb’s report, including an analysis of litigation against the department, a look at employee discipline, an update on the canine units, and a critique of the LASD’s strategy of gang enforcement.

The section on gang enforcement, in particular, is well-informed and thoughtful in its analysis, and should be scrutinized carefully by the next sheriff for its usefulness, as the points that it makes are remarkably consistent with what we have heard over the past decade from community members who live and work in the Los Angeles neighborhoods that are the most adversely affected by gang violence.


A large thank you to Merrick Bobb for his 22 years of commitment to improving the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for the people of LA and for the men and women who protect and serve at the LASD.

Posted in FBI, Gangs, LASD, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 51 Comments »

Why the FBI Kept the LA Jail Abuse Investigation a Secret from Baca and other Top Brass…and More

July 24th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

FBI DOCUMENTS EXPLAIN WHY BUREAU KEPT SHERIFF’S OFFICIALS IN THE DARK ABOUT JAIL INVESTIGATION

The FBI chose not to tell former LA Sheriff Lee Baca and other top department officials of the bureau’s recent investigation into alleged misconduct in county jails to keep the department from obstructing the probe, according to a packet of FBI documents and emails obtained by the LA Times.

The LA Times’ Cindy Chang and Jack Leonard have more on the matter. Here are some clips:

In explaining the need for secrecy, federal agents wrote that the Sheriff’s Department had interfered with previous FBI investigations. The agents described instances in which sheriff’s officials allegedly retaliated against an informant, denied agents access to a key source in jail and prevented a federal task force from gaining access to “jail communications.”

The FBI documents allege that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka thwarted an investigation into suspected contraband smuggling by a deputy at Pitchess Detention Facility.

According to one memo, sheriff’s officials prevented FBI agents from interviewing an inmate who had been cooperating.

“LASD, specifically Tanaka, made it difficult for the FBI to pursue an effective investigation and the case was eventually closed,” the memo said.

There are other justifications for the secrecy, according to the FBI documents. For instance, Baca’s nephew, Justin Bravo, a deputy with a questionable past who worked in the jails, was suspected by the FBI of “egregious” inmate abuse:

Jail inmates told the FBI that the nephew, Justin Bravo, was the leader of a group of deputies who carried out unprovoked assaults, according to one FBI record.

Bravo was hired by the Sheriff’s Department despite his alleged involvement in a fight with San Diego police and arrests on suspicion of drunk driving and burglary, The Times reported last year. In 2001 in North Carolina, Bravo pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor involving a car break-in.

More recently, Bravo was put on paid leave in connection with a criminal probe by the Sheriff’s Department into whether he had abused an inmate. He was disciplined and is back on the job, according to a department spokeswoman. She declined to elaborate, citing confidentiality laws.

Richard A. Shinee, Bravo’s attorney, said the description of his client as an “egregious inmate beater” was based on unreliable second- and third-hand accounts.

The documents also pointed to a long-rumored “pay to play” culture within the department, including allegations that Baca handed out concealed weapons permits to campaign supporters, that LASD members pressured tow truck companies for donations in exchange for contracts with the department, and that Tanaka specifically tried to steer garbage removal contracts as a Gardena city councilman:

According to an FBI case summary, sheriff’s captains were ordered to collect $10,000 per station from tow truck companies that had contracts with the stations. The donations went either to Measure A, which would have raised the county sales tax to pay for more law enforcement officers, or to a campaign fund backing Tanaka’s successful run for Gardena mayor, the FBI contended in the documents.

An unnamed towing company official told investigators “it was known in the towing industry that if you wanted a contract with LASD you had to donate money to local politics,” according to the case summary.

Also according to the summary, Waldie terminated a towing company’s contract after the owner spoke to the FBI about the alleged pressure to donate.

Waldie, who retired in 2011, called the allegation “absolutely preposterous.”

In an interview with KPCC’s Frank Stoltze back in May, former sheriff candidate Todd Rogers said as a captain he was leaned on by a superior officer who wanted him to award an exclusive contract to a towing company that had supported Sheriff Baca. Here’s a small clip from the interview:

Rogers says the superior officer, whom he declines to name, noted that captains hold the authority to choose which companies receive lucrative Sheriff’s Department towing contracts in their jurisdictions. He wanted Rogers to “strongly consider” giving an exclusive contract to a company the assistant sheriff described as “very supportive of the department and the sheriff.”

“I didn’t want the one tow company,” Rogers said. “I told him no.”

We took a quick look at Tanaka’s sheriff campaign donation lists. The most recent contribution report (mid-May) available to the public includes a few towing company donations.

And while there may be more, we found entries on pages 6, 7, 9, 11, 12, and 17 of this March 2014 donation report.

Here’s another donation from April of this year.

And if you skim through this 2013 list, you’ll find another towing company donation, and other interesting contributions.

There’s a lot more, so be sure to read the entire Times story. All this information from the FBI cannot help but raise one obvious question: what—if anything—does it suggest about possible future indictments?


FEDERAL JUDGE GIVES LAWSUIT AGAINST CALIFORNIA PRISONS’ RACIAL LOCKDOWN TACTICS CLASS ACTION STATUS

U.S. District Judge Troy Nunley granted class action status to an inmate’s lawsuit challenging a California prison policy of putting prisoners on lockdown by race after a fight breaks out involving even one member of a racial group. For instance, when individual Hispanic inmates fight, all inmates labeled by the CDCR as Hispanic can be locked down and deprived of things like yard and recreation priveleges, phone calls, and family visits.

The Associated Press has more on the ruling. Here’s a clip:

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2008 by one inmate, Robert Mitchell, after he and all other black inmates at High Desert State Prison in Susanville were locked in their cells following a fight. The legal challenge will now apply to all male inmates.

Gangs in California prisons typically are based on race, and fights often involve members of one race against one another. State law says the department can target specific racial and ethnic groups only when necessary to prevent further violence, and the response must be “narrowly tailored.”

The U.S. Justice Department last year intervened in the case, saying the practice violates the equal-protection guarantee of the 14th Amendment. Attorneys say no other state has a similar policy.


PROSECUTORS READING DEFENDENTS’ PRISON EMAILS WITH THEIR LAWYERS

The NY Times’ Stephanie Clifford has a story highlighting the emerging problem of federal prosecutors reading emails between federal prisoners and their lawyers, and using the correspondence to their advantage. Defense lawyers argue that the emails are the only efficient means of communication with the clients to whom they are trying to provide adequate representation, and should remain under the protection of attorney-client privilege.

Here are some clips:

The extortion case against Thomas DiFiore, a reputed boss in the Bonanno crime family, encompassed thousands of pages of evidence, including surveillance photographs, cellphone and property records, and hundreds of hours of audio recordings.

But even as Mr. DiFiore sat in a jail cell, sending nearly daily emails to his lawyers on his case and his deteriorating health, federal prosecutors in Brooklyn sought to add another layer of evidence: those very emails. The prosecutors informed Mr. DiFiore last month that they would be reading the emails sent to his lawyers from jail, potentially using his own words against him.

Jailhouse conversations have been many a defendant’s downfall through incriminating words spoken to inmates or visitors, or in phone calls to friends or relatives. Inmates’ calls to or from lawyers, however, are generally exempt from such monitoring. But across the country, federal prosecutors have begun reading prisoners’ emails to lawyers — a practice wholly embraced in Brooklyn, where prosecutors have said they intend to read such emails in almost every case.

The issue has spurred court battles over whether inmates have a right to confidential email communications with their lawyers — a question on which federal judges have been divided.

[SNIP]

All defendants using the federal prison email system, Trulincs, have to read and accept a notice that communications are monitored, prosecutors in Brooklyn pointed out. Prosecutors once had a “filter team” to set aside defendants’ emails to and from lawyers, but budget cuts no longer allow for that, they said.

While prosecutors say there are other ways for defense lawyers to communicate with clients, defense lawyers say those are absurdly inefficient.

A scheduled visit to see Syed Imran Ahmed, a surgeon accused of Medicare fraud who is being held at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, took lawyers five hours, according to court documents filed by one of Dr. Ahmed’s lawyers, Morris J. Fodeman. The trip included travel time from Manhattan and waiting for jail personnel to retrieve Dr. Ahmed.

Getting confidential postal mail to inmates takes up to two weeks, Mr. Fodeman wrote. The detention center, like all federal jails, is supposed to allow inmates or lawyers to arrange unmonitored phone calls. But a paralegal spent four days and left eight messages requesting such a call and got nowhere, Mr. Fodeman wrote.

Posted in CDCR, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, race, Sheriff Lee Baca | 110 Comments »

Mystery Message in the Sky Over LASD Headquarters

July 10th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Around 2 PM Wednesday, just at the time when the Sheriff Department’s executive planning committee was scheduled to meet,
A mystery banner was flown behind a small plane repeatedly over Los Angeles sheriffs department headquarters in Monterey Park.

The banner read: EPC: LEADERS DON’T FEED DEPS TO FEDERAL WOLVES

For those unfamiliar with the term, the Executive Planning Committee, or EPC, is exactly that, the inner circle of command staffers who meet on a regular basis with the LASD’s top brass—the sheriff and assistant sheriff—to talk about the running of the department.

Shortly after the banner appeared a crowd of department members and staffers spewed from the building to gaze skyward and snap cell phone photos.

Rumors circulated quickly about who could have hired the banner-flying airplane, which was in the air a bit over an hour.

Some said it was the LA County deputies’ union, ALADS, which was tired of paying the growing legal bills for deputies who were indicted. (It should likely be mentioned here that, the union has declined to pay any part at all of James Sexton’s legal representation. But that’s another subject altogether. In any case, the illogical rumor circulated.)

Others said it was an ominous warning sent by persons unknown urging department members to return to the code of silence and to cease and desist talking to the FBI “wolves” about any kind of wrongdoing committed by those in the LASD.

Still others said the plane was hired by a group of Tanaka supporters, hoping to protect their man from legal action against him by warning people not to testify or cooperate with the feds against him in any way. (Although how this airborne message would be an effective means of delivering such a warning is unclear.)

Our department sources, however, tell us that these rumors are all complete nonsense, that the banner’s appearance was paid for by an unnamed group of deputies who reportedly work within the LA County Jail system. Their point, as we understand it, was caused by anger that those indicted—and in the case of six of the defendants, convicted—-on the obstruction of justice matter were taking the hit for those higher who gave the crucial orders, all of whom still seem to manage to be in possession of a get out of jail card.

Or something like that.

That’s all we know at the moment.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 48 Comments »

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