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Sheriff Lee Baca


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 | 17 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 | 109 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 »

Childhood Trauma Often Mistaken for ADHD….The Feds Officially to Retry Sexton…..The Question of Charlie Beck’s 2nd Term…NY Wants to Raise Age of Criminal Responsibility

July 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


HOW CHILDHOOD TRAUMA IS OFTEN MISTAKEN FOR ADHD

One in nine U.S. Children are diagnosed with ADHD—attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder. There have been many theories as to the reason for this consistent rise in the prevalence of the disorder. Now researchers are beginning to wonder if perhaps inattentive, hyperactive, and impulsive behavior is often not ADHD at all, but a mirror of the effects of trauma and stress—a form of PTSD—that is misdiagnosed when pediatricians, psychiatrists, and psychologists are simply going for the familiar label rather than seeing the true underlying cause.

Rebecca Ruiz delves into the issue in a story that has been co-published by The Atlantic and Aces Too High. It’s a must read.

Here’s a clip:

Dr. Nicole Brown’s quest to understand her misbehaving pediatric patients began with a hunch.

Brown was completing her residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, when she realized that many of her low-income patients had been diagnosed with attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

These children lived in households and neighborhoods where violence and relentless stress prevailed. Their parents found them hard to manage and teachers described them as disruptive or inattentive. Brown knew these behaviors as classic symptoms of ADHD, a brain disorder characterized by impulsivity, hyperactivity, and an inability to focus.

When Brown looked closely, though, she saw something else: trauma. Hyper-vigilance and dissociation, for example, could be mistaken for inattention. Impulsivity might be brought on by a stress response in overdrive.

“Despite our best efforts in referring them to behavioral therapy and starting them on stimulants, it was hard to get the symptoms under control,” she said of treating her patients according to guidelines for ADHD. “I began hypothesizing that perhaps a lot of what we were seeing was more externalizing behavior as a result of family dysfunction or other traumatic experience.”

[SNIP]

Dr. Kate Szymanski came to the same conclusion a few years ago. An associate professor at Adelphi University’s Derner Institute and an expert in trauma, Szymanski analyzed data from a children’s psychiatric hospital in New York. A majority of the 63 patients in her sample had been physically abused and lived in foster homes. On average, they reported three traumas in their short lives. Yet, only eight percent of the children had received a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder while a third had ADHD.

“I was struck by the confusion or over-eagerness–or both–to take one diagnosis over another,” Szymanski says. “To get a picture of trauma from a child is much harder than looking at behavior like impulsivity, hyperactivity. And if they cluster in a certain way, then it’s easy to go to a conclusion that it’s ADHD.”


IT’S OFFICIAL NOW: THE FEDS WILL RETRY SEXTON

In a hearing held at 3 pm Monday in front of Judge Percy Anderson, Prosecutor Brandon Fox announced that, yes, the government had decided to go another round in trying Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton for obstruction of justice for his part in allegedly hiding inmate and federal informant Anthony Brown from any and all federal officials.

The trial is set to begin on September 9, 2014.

Fox also notified the judge of his intent to file a motion limiting testimony on Sexton’s contacts and cooperation with the FBI, which the prosecution reportedly believes was much of why six members of the jury in Sexton’s last trial voted to acquit him.

The defense is likely to argue that, since Sexton’s cooperation with the FBI has much to do with the mindset and context in which the deputy made incriminating statements to the grand jury, which are the heart of the prosecution’s case, the facts of Sexton’s extensive cooperation cannot be excluded.

We will know what the judge rules later this summer.

Three more federal trials of LASD department members, all of them indicted for brutality and corruption in the LA County Jails, are scheduled for the coming year, according to the US Attorney’s Office.

In a case that will come to trial November 4, 2014, Deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez are accused of punching, kicking and pepper spraying an inmate who was handcuffed and shackled with a waist chain, then lying about their actions in a report that, in turn, caused the inmate to be falsely criminal charged.

In a case that will come to trial January 13, 2015, deputies Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum are charged in a six-count indictment with civil rights violations, assault and making false statements in reports. The indictment also alleges (among other things) that Brunsting, a training officer, frequently used deputies whom he was training to file reports that covered up abuse. The victims were inmates at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.

A third jail brutality trial is scheduled for March 3. This indictment charges a sergeant and four deputies with civil rights violations, alleging that Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala, Fernando Luviano, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, and Noel Womack, arrested or detained five victims—-including the Austrian consul general—–when they arrived to visit inmates at the Men’s Central Jail in 2010 and 2011. In one of the four incidents, the victim suffered a broken arm and a dislocated shoulder that has left him permanently disabled. In another incident, the Austrian consul general and her husband were handcuffed and detained.

The six department members convicted last week will be sentenced on September 8, 2014.

Deputy Gilbert Michel, of the phone smuggling case, will be sentenced on September 15, 2014.


AFTER BUMPY PERIOD WITH CIVILIAN BOSSES, LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK IS BACK ON SOLID GROUND

It was assumed that popular LA Chief of Police Charlie Beck would easily get a second term at the job. Then this spring, the LA Police Commissioners started to express concerns about a series of controversies. Between then and now, Beck has done much to mend and strengthen relationships, and thus he seems once again back on solid footing.

He wants a second term because he has a lot more to do, he says. Now it reportedly looks as though he’s going to get one—which is as it should be. (Firm constructive criticism is one thing, however, replacing Charlie Beck at this juncture would have been, in our opinion, unnecessary and destructive.)

The LA Times Joel Rubin has the details on this story of how things got off track, and now are back on. Here are some clips:

Charlie Beck received a blunt message from one of his civilian bosses as he prepared to request a second term as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department: He was no longer a shoo-in for the job.

Police Commissioner Paula Madison demanded a meeting with Beck in April and told him she was concerned about a recent string of controversies and his apparent lack of transparency with the five-member oversight panel he reports to.

“When I stepped into this role, I didn’t expect that we would be looking for a new police chief, but now we may need to consider it,” Madison recalled telling Beck.

Other commissioners shared her concerns. Some were displeased enough with Beck that they alerted Mayor Eric Garcetti, who appoints the commissioners and wields considerable influence on their decision. The mayor, in turn, summoned the chief.

[SNIP]

Before the recent tension with his bosses, Beck had cruised relatively unscathed through his first term in a period of relative calm for the scandal-prone LAPD. Beck established himself as a capable leader and oversaw continued declines in crime, according to department statistics.

He guided the department through budget cuts that included the near elimination of cash to pay officers for overtime. As many of the department’s roughly 10,000 officers accumulated hundreds of hours of unpaid overtime, Beck oversaw a plan that forced large numbers of them to take time off each month in lieu of being paid cash. The strategy strained resources as Beck and his commanders scrambled to make do with a depleted force.

Beck, when he thought it was necessary, did not shy from confrontations with his officers and the union that represents them.

[SNIP]

Decisions Beck made on discipline set off his recent clash with the commission. In February, he opted not to punish a group of officers involved in a flawed shooting, which drew a public challenge from Soboroff. A few weeks later, members of the oversight board, along with many officers, criticized the chief for not firing Shaun Hillmann, a well-connected cop who was caught making racist comments.

Those controversies were followed the next month by revelations that officers in South L.A. had been tampering with recording equipment in patrol cars to avoid being monitored. Commissioners demanded to know why Beck had left them in the dark about the matter and questioned whether the chief was committed to working with his civilian bosses….

Read on.


NEW YORK GOVERNOR DETERMINED TO RAISE THE AGE OF CRIMINAL RESPONSIBILITY

Supporters of raising the age of criminal responsibility in New York have science and statistics on their side when it comes to the reasons to avoid trying most youth as adults, but will they manage to get legislation passed to actually raise the age?

Roxanna Asgarian from the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange explores the pros and cons of raising the age in New York.

Here’s a clip:

In April, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced the members of the Commission on Youth, Public Safety and Justice, created in part to address raising the age of criminal responsibility. Today, New York and North Carolina are the only two states where young people 16 and older are automatically treated as adults.

“Our juvenile justice laws are outdated,” Cuomo said in his State of the State address this year. “It’s not right, it’s not fair — we must raise the age.”

The commission is tasked with serving up concrete recommendations about raising the age and juvenile justice reform by December. Alphonso David, the governor’s deputy secretary of civil rights, said the commission has to strike a balance.

“When we think about criminal justice reform we are addressing two platforms: reducing recidivism and ensuring public safety,” David said. “We are very focused on advancing both objectives, so recommendations would likely factor in both goals.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, FBI, juvenile justice, LA County Jail, LAPD, LASD, PTSD, Sheriff Lee Baca, Trauma, U.S. Attorney | 2 Comments »

Feds Plan to Retry LA Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton (But Will There Ever Be Indictments Up the Ladder?)

July 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Thursday of last week, two days after a federal jury found six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department guilty of obstruction of justice,
attorney Thomas O’Brien learned that federal prosecutors are planning to retry O’Brien’s client, Deputy James Sexton.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, was tried in May of this year on the same allegations of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for which the six were just convicted. But in the case of the 28-year-old deputy, the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6-6, producing a mistrial.

In many ways Sexton’s case is similar to that of Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, the two deputies who were just convicted (along with two sergeants and two lieutenants).

Like Manzo and Smith, Sexton works for Operation Safe Jails (OSJ), the elite unit tasked with, among other things, developing informants among the various prison gang populations inside the county’s jail system.

And, like Manzo and Smith, Sexton was an active part of the team that hid federal informant and inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers, albiet, at a far more junior level.


AND YET THERE ARE DIFFERENCES

Despite the similarities, Sexton’s case also is significantly different from the case arrayed against Manzo and Smith in several ways. For instance, unlike the recently convicted deputies, Sexton originated no relevant emails, he never interrogated federal informant Anthony Brown, he was not present at high-level meetings, like the meeting on August 20, 2011, called by Sheriff Lee Baca, with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and other command staff in attendance, where Smith and Manzo were also present, and crucial discussions occurred. Unlike Smith or Manzo, his name is never listed in pertinent emails as being someone in a position of authority.

Perhaps most importantly, unlike Smith and Manzo, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews with the feds, many of the interviews with FBI special agent Leah Marx.

The deputy talked with Marx and company so much, in fact, that, according to agent Marx’s testimony, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, she and her team gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them. (The FBI reportedly grew concerned after it learned of what it believed were genuine threats against Sexton and his OSJ partner, Mike Rathbun, by department members, due to the two deputies’ whistleblower actions on another unrelated LASD case.)

In addition to providing information and documents to the feds, Sexton also testified twice in front of a grand jury, and did so without any apparent effort at self-protection.

In short, Sexton fully admitted his part in the operation that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box—obligingly describing the hiding of Brown in colorful detail. Sexton also characterized the hiding of Brown as being part of an “adversarial” attitude in which “the adversary was the U.S. government”—aka the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It was ‘bring out the smoke and mirrors’” he said.

The center of the prosecution’s case at the last trial was this grand jury testimony along with similar statements Sexton made to special agent Marx.

After the last trial resulted in a hung jury, juror Marvin Padilla said that it was Sexton’s grand jury testimony that got him and some of his fellow jurors to vote for acquittal.

“I just did not find it credible,” said Padilla. “I think these are conclusions he reached in hindsight a year later,” not when the actions were actually occurring. “Nearly all of Sexton’s narrative at the grand jury seemed like 20-20 hindsight.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT & A TOXIC CULTURE

After the verdict came in last Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte held a short press conference on the court’s steps in which he talked about a “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity,” said Birotte, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

Monday at around 3 pm, James Sexton and his attorneys will meet with government’s prosecution team before Judge Percy Anderson to discuss whether or not the government will indeed refile charges on the deputy in the hope of convincing a jury that, Sexton, like the other six, acted as if he was “above the law.”

If so, a new trial could take place as quickly as this September.


LOOKING DOWN & LOOKING UP

Meanwhile, Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former Assistant United States Attorney and the executive director for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, explained why the government has likely decided to have another go at Sexton, and what to expect at a second trial.

“It is not surprising that the government would elect to retry Deputy Sexton given the decisive conviction of the other six defendants on all counts,” said Krinsky.

“The government may well believe that equities support a retrial and that a new jury should have the opportunity to determine whether Mr. Sexton should also be held accountable for his alleged participation in this conspiracy.”

Krinsky noted, however, that any retrial of Sexton will be “challenging” in the light of what she described as the deputy’s “limited role in the conspiracy and his immediate and prolonged cooperation with the government.” It was these factors, she said, “that undoubtedly resulted in jury nullification that accounted for the first jury’s inability to reach a verdict.”

The next time around, Krinsky said, “we can expect the government to present more robust evidence at any retrial (just as they did at the trial of the other six defendants) regarding the backdrop of excessive force in the jails and the systemic failures at LASD” that “…didn’t simply justify, but in fact compelled, the FBI to engage in an undercover operation that involved the unorthodox smuggling of a cellphone to an inmate.”

Of course, the mention of “systemic failures” and “a toxic culture” at the LASD cannot help but raise the question that must loom as a backdrop to any discussion of refiling on Sexton, namely whether or not the government intends to move up (instead of merely down) the ladder of command to file on those who actually gave the orders, and set the cultural tone that has, thus far, resulted in seven federal indictments for obstruction of justice, and six felony convictions.

More as we know it.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

WLA on Which Way LA? on KCRW 89.9 FM

July 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday night, WitnessLA was on KCRW’s Which Way LA? with the always excellent Barbara Bogaev
(who was standing in for Warren Olney).

It was a quick news segment in which we talked about the just handed down six guilty verdicts in the LASD federal trial, recorded as I was standing outside in the hot, noisy and windy steps of the federal courthouse after the verdicts had come in.

So if you’d like to listen you can find the podcast of the broadcast here.

KCRW FM is at 89.9 FM.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

THE JURY SPEAKS: Six Guilty On All Counts – What the LASD Verdict Means

July 2nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


THE JURY SPEAKS

After nearly five days of deliberation—which included twice having to start over when first one panel member had to be replaced, then a second—the federal jury delivered its verdict: Each of the six sworn members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on trial for obstruction of a federal investigation were found guilty on all counts.

Those convicted include deputies Gerard Smith, 42, and Mickey Manzo, 34, sergeants Scott Craig, 50, and Maricela Long, 46, Lieutenant Stephan Leavins, 52, and Gregory Thompson, 54, a now-retired lieutenant.

All six defendants could face a maximum of fifteen years in federal prison. Scott Craig and Maricela Long could have an extra five years tacked on for the charges of making false statements to federal agents.

After the verdict was announced, the defendants reacted with expressions that ranged from stunned to stoic. Many of the family members who had attended every session of this fascinating but emotionally grueling month-long trial, struggled with tears.


“WE DIDN’T WANT TO HARM ANYBODY….BUT WE HAD A JOB TO DO”

According to the trial’s Juror No. 1, a truck driver named Ron (who declined to give his last name), he and his fellow panel members did their own wrestling with the human side of the verdicts.

“The biggest thing was how it was going to affect all these people’s lives,” he said. “Each of us went through that. We didn’t want to harm anybody.”

Yet, once they removed emotions from their task, Ron said, he and the rest had little difficulty with the facts of the case. “We had a job to do. And the evidence we had was pretty definite. They went over the line.”

Ron said that the jurors understood the contention of the defense that the various defendants were simply carrying out the orders of others. “But once your orders become you breaking the law,” he said, “that’s a problem. They went over the line when they began to hide “AB” as we got to call him, [federal informant] Anthony Brown, they began to do things outside the law.”


CRIMINAL CONDUCT AND A TOXIC CULTURE

At 4 pm on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte emerged with the prosecution team beside him, and made a statement on the steps of the courthouse in which he talked about “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“These defendants were supposed to keep the jails safe and to investigate criminal acts by deputies,” said Birotte. Instead they “took measures to obstruct a federal investigation and tamper with witnesses…. While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

In May, the trial of a seventh defendant, Deputy James Sexton, who was also accused of obstruction of justice in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown, had ended in a mistrial with the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6 to 6. In the case of Sexton, however, jurors voting to acquit pointed to the fact that the deputy had cooperated with the FBI for more than a year.


GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS

One of the reasons this trial has been important is that, in both both content and outcome, it points beyond itself to a host of additional issues.

As a consequence, in the days before the verdict, some of the trial watchers familiar with the workings of the U.S. Attorney’s office talked about the larger implications of possible verdicts. For instance, as one trial watcher explained, Tuesday’s string of guilty verdicts strongly suggests that a local agency should not attempt to derail the investigation of a federal agency into wrongdoing by the locals simply because the locals don’t like the way in which the feds are poking into their affairs. A string of innocent verdicts could have set a very different kind of precedent.

Another thing this trial has done is to paint yet one more vivid picture of–as U.S. Attorney Birotte put it—the “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” that was, and still is, corroding the innards of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, despite the majority of decent cops who fill its ranks.

Candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, issued a statement Tuesday that pointed to this issue. “This is a devastatingly sad day for our entire County,” said McDonnell. “The LASD has lost the respect of too many in our community as well as the confidence of the dedicated men and women within the Department itself….”

The big question is, of course, now that they have this matched set of six convictions, will the federal prosecutors move up the LASD ladder and attempt to indict those who—according to testimony by multiple witnesses heard throughout this trial—actually gave the orders that resulted in six department members losing their careers and potentially facing serious prison terms?

Specifically, will the feds try to indict former sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is now running for sheriff?

Plus there are others like ICIB Captain William “Tom” Carey who are hard to ignore.

It is likely that, as the trials for some of the others of the total 21 department members indicted for brutality in the jails or other forms of corruption unfold in the coming year, the pressure on federal prosecutors to bring cases against those recently at the department’s top will continue to grow stronger.

Manzo, Smith, Craig, Long, Leavins and Thompson remain free on bail, and are scheduled to be sentenced on September 8 by United States District Judge Percy Anderson.


AND FOR OTHER ACCOUNTS OF TUESDAY’S VERDICTS BE SURE TO CHECK STORIES BY:

Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez for ABC7

Rina Palta for KPCC

Victoria Kim and Cindy Chang for the LA Times

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 103 Comments »

LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial: Closing Arguments, Part 2

June 25th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


SIX SEPARATE DECISIONS

Monday was the second and final day of closing arguments in the obstruction of justice trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of deliberately getting in the way of a federal grand jury investigation into widespread brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system.

On Friday, the prosecution delivered its initial closing followed by hour-long presentations by each the attorneys for three of the six defendants, Lt. Greg Thompson, Lt. Steve Leavins and Deputy Mickey Manzo.

Monday, attorneys for Deputy Gerard Smith and Sgts. Maricela Long and Scott Craig presented closings for their clients, followed by a rebuttal by the prosecution.

(Since the prosecution has the burden of proof, prosecutors get the last word.)

A trial of this kind is a challenging one for the jury because, although it is a single proceeding in which all six defendants are charged with the offenses of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, the prosecution’s allegations of how that obstruction took place are substantially different for each of the six. This means, of course, that the jury must make an individual decision for each defendant about guilt or innocence. In other words, all could be found guilty, or all acquitted. Or the jury could come up with mixed results, finding some guilty, others innocent.


NOT HIS CALL

The first up among Monday’s lawyers was Bill Genego, the attorney for Gerard Smith.

In August 2011, said Genego, Deputy Smith’s commanding officer directed that Anthony Brown be isolated, that no one have access to him without the okay of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

(The suggestion that Tanaka loomed over much of the action as an unseen shot caller was something that Genego made reference to several times.)

“Gerard Smith did his job. He did not obstruct justice. He did not commit a crime.”

Interestingly, both Genego and Deputy Mickey Manzo’s attorney, Matt Lombard, have not spoken much throughout this trial, and their clients names have been largely absent from testimony, at least when compared to mentions of the other four. It is a strategy that the defense clearly hopes will pay off for the two deputies who, although they have now been placed in the narrative during the government’s closing, still could seem to the jury to be peripheral, because of their absence from much of the action described during these last three weeks of trial.

In his closing on Friday, Lombard labeled Manzo as “the fall guy,” a low-ranking department member taking orders from his superiors — orders that came from the very top of the sheriff’s department.

Monday, when Bill Genego’s turn came, he painted a similar picture of his client for the jury, contending that, while Smith was a trusted deputy, he was nothing close to a decision maker, that over and over again he had to ask his boss, Greg Thompson, about anything outside the scope of his orders.

It was not Smith’s decision to move federal informant Anthony Brown nor to change his name, Genego said. When Brown’s inmate file—his “jacket”—was moved and given to Lt. Leavins (which the prosecution has suggested was done to make it un-findable by the feds), “that was not Deputy Smith’s call.”

At the August 20, 2011, meeting called by the sheriff that set the hiding of Brown in motion, Smith was present but mostly as a bystander, said Genego. “The sheriff was upset,” he said, “and Paul Tanaka said this is one of the most important investigations in the history of the department…” But Smith was not involved in all the communications that followed.

When, three days later—after the FBI managed to get in to see Brown and was tossed out—”Greg Thompson and Paul Tanaka decided to move him. That was not Deputy Smith’s call.”

to be on Brown at all times, he organized the detail.

“Could he choose not to follow that order?” asked Genego.

“Not his call.” It was a mantra Genego repeated throughout the closing.

“He wasn’t on the task force. He’s not on any of those emails. He had no corrupt purpose. Gerard Smith did his job,” attorney Genego concluded. “He did not commit a crime. He is not guilty.”


WHERE IS BACA? WHERE IS TANAKA?

Michael Stone, Scott Craig’s bow-tie sporting attorney, and Maricela Long’s attorney, Angel Navarro, continued the defense theme of officers following what they believed were lawful orders, stressing that Sheriff Baca and Paul Tanaka were briefed all along the way.

“On August 18, a lawful criminal investigation was ordered,” said Stone, referring the initial meeting in which Baca set in motion the hiding of Brown, ostensibly for his protection, and the probe into the undercover operation led by FBI special agent Leah Marx.

“Conducting a lawful investigation is not a conspiracy.”

After Scott Craig and Maricela Long were assigned to that criminal investigation, “…did you ever hear any evidence that Baca put the brakes on? ” Stone asked. “No. Because it didn’t happen.”

The two sergeants were “worker bees” doing what they were asked to do, he said.

Stone had a somewhat harder time defending Craig against the government’s allegations that he had deliberately tried to persuade deputies Gilbert Michel and William David Courson not to talk to the FBI. The jury had, by this time, had clips of Craig’s and Leavins’ interviews with both men played for them repeatedly. Craig’s interactions with Michel, were particularly hard to dismiss as nothing more than interview techniques designed to get Michel to feel comfortable, which is how the defense portrayed Craig’s side of the conversation.

Both Craig and Long alone are also charged with lying to federal agents, an allegation that stems from the twosome’s visit to Marx’s home where Craig told the FBI agent that he was “in the process of swearing out a declaration for an arrest warrant for you,” a threat that Long later repeated in a phone conversation with Marx’s FBI boss.

Craig and Long’s attorneys claimed that the arrest threats were were genuine, even though the sergeants would later learn that they had no jurisdiction to make such an arrest (and their grand jury testimonies on the matter were somewhat contradictory).

After all, said Stone, “Baca believed that the FBI agents violated the law.”

It was time for Sheriff Baca to put on his big boy pants and take control of the situation,” said Stone, as he came to the end of his closing.

And then he repeated the question that continues to hang like smoke over this trial.

“Where is Baca? Where is [ICIB Capt. Tom] Carey? Where is Tanaka?”


FOREST GUMP

When prosecutor Brandon Fox began the government’s rebuttal, he talked at first, not about the allegations at hand, but about the “widespread abuse of inmates,” about “jail visitors being assaulted” when they came to see family members, about “false cases” filed against inmates to cover up assaults by deputies, and other allegations by such groups as the ACLU “going back years.”

“Deputies knew they could beat inmates with impunity” said Fox, because LASD executives “didn’t know or didn’t care about the abuse—either possibility equally damning.”

And so the federal government investigated.

“Mr. McDermott said that there was no evidence that this investigation needed to be done,” Fox continued, referring to Lt. Greg Thompson’s attorney, Kevin McDermott, whose closing was Friday.

And once the LASD learned that the feds were probing, “their purpose was to get the federal government out, to get the grand jury out.”

But “that’s not their choice,” said Fox.

And if the LASD felt “disrespected” because they weren’t told all about the government’s undercover investigation…

“That’s not their choice.”

Agent Leah Marx’s investigation was an operation that was approved all the way up to Washington D.C., Fox told the jury.

“It was her work that helped open up Pandora’s Box.”

This was no “turf war” as some of the defense attorneys had argued, he said. It was “a one-sided war on the FBI, on the federal grand jury, and the US Attorney’s Office.”

Fox recapped the government’s reasons for the charges against each one of the six but he was the most scathing when it came to Lt. Steve Leavins.

On Friday, Leavins’ attorney, Peter Johnson told the jury that his client represented “leadership, integrity, excellence and service.”

Fox now listed the words for jury members:

LEADERSHIP
INTEGRITY
EXCELLENCE
SERVICE.

Then he went about dismissing Leavins’ claim to the qualities, erasing all but the first letters of each word as he did so, leaving only….

L
I
E
S

It was a parlor trick, but an effective one when followed up by an account of how Leavins gave misleading testimony about the supposed approval of his actions by deputy county counsel Paul Yoshinaga, and the OIR’s Mike Gennaco, claims that fell apart under further examination, and rebuttal testimony from Gennaco. After that, Fox reminded the jurors how, in another instance, Leavins tried to change his testimony altogether to claim that a significant meeting in late August 2011 between Baca and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte and others—in which Birotte had told the sheriff in so many words to “But out” of the federal investigation—-had occurred instead, a month later, at the end of September,* when it would have better suited Leavins case, nevermind that Leavins appeared not to have been present at the second meeting at all.

Leavins was “the Forrest Gump” of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, quipped Fox, claiming to be everywhere, whether he was or not.

As for the fact that, as defense attorney Stone had pointed out, the primary order-giving higher-ups of the LASD remained conspicuously unindicted, Fox said, “to the extent they’re ever charged, that’s for another jury to consider on another day.”

The case went to this jury of six men and six women on Tuesday.


*We originally wrote that the second meeting Leavins said he’d attended was in early October, which was not correct. He testified that it was at the end of September.

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

LASD Obstruction of Justice Trial – Closing Arguments: Part 1

June 23rd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


“Hide the informant, silence the witnesses, and threaten the federal investigator,
” said prosecutor Maggie Carter on Friday morning as she laid out the government’s case in three hours of detailed chronology. “”The defendants declared war on a federal grand jury investigation. And they can’t do that.”

And so closing arguments began in the obstruction of justice and corruption trial in which six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are accused of hiding a federal informant from his FBI handlers, endeavoring to prevent witnesses from cooperating with a federal grand jury investigation into corruption and brutality in the LA County jails, and threatening an FBI agent with arrest.

Defense attorneys arguing in behalf of three of the six defendants, told the jury on Friday that the men they represented were following legal orders given them by then Sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, orders that they had no cause to doubt, and that they were in no position to challenge or refuse.


THE GOVERNMENT’S CASE

The government, on the other hand, worked to show that each defendant made a conscious choice to participate in actions that deliberately and repeatedly attempted to derail a federal grand jury investigation into alleged widespread corruption and brutality inside the LA County jails, an investigation that included the undercover operation in which an LASD deputy smuggled a contraband cell phone to federal informant Anthony Brown in return for a bribe.

“They wanted to clean their own house,” said Carter of the LASD. Sheriff’s officials did not want another agency opening up their “Pandora’s Box,” which would release a multitude of ills, thus embarrassing the department,” Carter said. “Troubles would be exposed and the LASD would look bad.”

And so the defendants and others repeatedly—and illegally—threw rocks into the path of a federal investigation, according to the government.

KABC’s Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez have an unusually good take on the first half of closing arguments that occurred on Friday and will conclude on Monday. Here are some clips:

Carter described to jurors how the discovery of a contraband cell phone at Men’s Central Jail in August of 2011 went from “not that big of a deal” to something one defendant called “the important investigation in LASD history.”

What changed? Sheriff’s Department investigators had linked the smuggled cellphone to the FBI and learned it was part of their federal civil rights investigation at the jail. FBI agents had recruited inmate Anthony Brown to become their informant. Brown would use the smuggled cellphone to report to his FBI handlers in real-time and document any brutality he witnessed by jail deputies.

Once the phone was found and Brown’s cover was blown, high-level meetings were convened, policies were rewritten, and unlimited overtime was authorized for a team of deputies tasked with guarding the inmate 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

There is no real dispute in this case that inmate Brown was hidden, his name was changed and records were falsified. The question is why? What was the intent? Did the six defendants conspire to keep Brown away from his FBI handlers, and stop or delay his testimony before a federal grand jury? Or were they simply trying to guard Brown against possible retaliation from deputies and inmates who might view him as a snitch?

By late August 2011, “the witness tampering was in full swing,” according to Carter, who argued the defendants wanted to discourage witnesses from cooperating with the FBI.

In one recorded interview, Sgt. Scott Craig can be heard telling Deputy Gilbert Michel that the FBI is “screwing with you,” and “is going to manipulate you like you’re a (expletive) puppet.” Jurors heard Craig giving Michel a direct order: Do not talk to the FBI.

Three more defense arguments will be heard on Monday, after which prosecutor Brandon Fox will present the government’s rebuttal.


WE’LL HAVE MORE ON OTHER TOPICS TOMORROW….BUT IN THE MEANTIME, THERE IS THIS FROM THE LAT’S JIM NEWTON:

PROTECTING KIDS HAS TO COME BEFORE WORRIES ABOUT COUNTY LIABILITY. (IT’S SAD THAT SUCH A THING HAS TO BE STATED, BUT REGRETTABLY IT DOES.)

Here’s a clip from Newton’s excellent column:

Twenty years ago, in a closed court session convened to decide parental visitation issues for a young boy, a Los Angeles County social worker made a statement that startled even the judge. The social worker described a meeting on the boy’s situation in which a question was raised about whether a county report gave sufficient weight to allegations that the boy had been molested. At that point, she said, county lawyers intervened to warn that changing the report could raise “concerns for liability against the department.”

In this case, the social worker’s supervisor changed the report despite the warning. But the notion that county attorneys would raise an issue of financial liability when a child’s well-being was at stake disturbed the judge that day, according to a transcript of the session, and it continues to enrage the boy’s mother.

The proceeding, like almost all such hearings at the time, was not public, and I can only report on it now because the boy’s mother last week provided me with that transcript. (At her request, I’m withholding the names of those involved, because of the sensitivity of the subject.) Her son is now grown, but the shattering experience shadows his mother’s life even today, as does her lingering worry that the county might care more about protecting itself than it does about the best interests of children.

She’s not alone in that concern. The question of county counsel’s role in protecting children while also defending the county from liability remains at the center of a long quest to improve services for abused and neglected children in Los Angeles. The County Counsel’s office wouldn’t agree to talk to me about the issue, but as recently as April, a blue ribbon commission charged with looking at the county’s foster care system included this observation in its report: “Protection of the county from perceived liability at times trumps protecting children.”

I remember when I first sat in on a such a court session and was flabbergasted when I realized that there was an attorney for each one of the parents, an attorney for the kids, and a fourth attorney whose sole job it was to protect the interests of county, whether or not the county’s interests reflected those of the children involved.

A big thank you to Newton for focusing on this important issue.

Posted in DCFS, FBI, Foster Care, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 17 Comments »

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