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Sheriff Lee Baca


LASD Lt. On Trial Tells of Orders Given by Baca and Tanaka, and Admits to “System Failure” Re: LASD Ability to Investigate Its Own Wrongdoing

June 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Lieutenant Steve Leavins, one of six defendants in the ongoing obstruction of justice trial involving members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department,
took the stand on Friday morning in a packed federal courtroom. In the testimony that followed, Leavins described a chain of events that began with a meeting on August 20, 2011, at which Sheriff Lee Baca (whom Leavins said he’d never met before that day) gave him the orders that set in motion a sequence of actions by Leavins and his five fellow defendants—Lieutenant Greg Thompson, Sergeant Scott Craig, Sergeant Maricela Long, Deputy Mickey Manzo and Deputy Gerard Smith—that ultimately led to the charges for which Leavins and the other five are now on trial.

According to the prosecution, those actions include, but are not limited to, allegedly helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, attempting to threaten and intimidate FBI special agent Leah Marx at her home, and endeavoring to bully and cajole sheriff’s deputy named Gilbert Michel into not cooperating with the FBI.

The jury had already heard in earlier testimony, how the August 20 meeting was called by the sheriff on an emergency basis on the Saturday after Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka first learned that an inmate named Anthony Brown had been found with a contraband cell phone, and that Brown was not any inmate, but an FBI informant. The jury had also heard previously that, two days before the August 20 meeting, Baca had been told by the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles office that the cell phone and Brown were part of an undercover federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails, meaning the whole matter of the cell phone was fully sanctioned by FBI higher-ups.

Nevertheless, according to Leavins, Baca ordered him to launch a criminal investigation into the actions of FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, who was the lead agent on the feds’ undercover probe, and thus responsible for Brown and the cell phone. He also ordered Leavins to “safeguard” Brown, which ultimately led to Brown being hidden—using an elaborate strategy of repeated name changes and avoidance of the normal fingerprinting process—from the FBI.


THE RISKS AND BENEFITS OF TESTIFYING

It is usually considered a risk for a defendant to get on the stand because, in cross-examination by the prosecution, the defendant is suddenly subject to questioning that may not be in his or her best interest. Yet on Friday the risk appeared to be mostly paying off for Leavins in that much of what he said bolstered an important part of the defense’s theory of the case, namely that all six defendants were good cops following lawful orders that were not of their own making.

In that vein, Leavins described the meetings subsequent to August 20 in which he said he briefed, got approval, and/or had been given orders by Baca or then undersheriff Paul Tanaka (or sometimes both men) about each action he and other defendants took to hide inmate Brown.

On the stand, Leavins’ painted a picture of a hyper-involved sheriff and equally present undersheriff who collectively directed him to circumvent the normal chain of command and report directly to them in meetings that were generally held in Tanaka’s office.

He also told how he had obtained “authorization” from Tanaka before he ordered surveillance of special agent Marx and how, in a meeting in Tanaka’s office, Sheriff Baca had instructed him to contact Marx at her residence “to get facts and information about the introduction of the cell phone.”

Another significant revelation that came out in Friday’s testimony was the fact that, according to Leavins, at least two department-related attorneys gave advice and signed off on the legality of many of the actions that are the now the basis of the government’s criminal charges. These included the hiding of Brown, and the investigation of FBI special agent Marx.

One of the attorneys Leavins said he consulted multiple times was Paul Yoshinaga, a deputy county counsel who was assigned to the sheriff’s department and had his office in the sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park. (Yoshinaga is reportedly also a long-standing personal friend of former undersheriff Tanaka, with the friendship dating as far back as high school when the two were in the same 1976 graduating class from Gardena High.)

The other attorney with whom Leavins said he consulted on repeated occasions about the legality of his actions was Mike Gennaco, head attorney for the Office of Independent Review (OIR). According to Leavins, at one point in a meeting in which the sheriff was also present, Gennaco said that “the FBI was going to be in trouble for smuggling that phone,” meaning the contraband cell that LASD deputy Gilbert Michel had brought in illegally to informant Brown as part of the FBI’s undercover sting. Baca, said Leavins, was in agreement.

“This furthered my belief that we were on firm legal ground to proceed,” Leavins testified of that meeting with Gennaco and Baca.


SYSTEM FAILURE

In another interesting and unexpected feature of both his direct testimony and in cross-examination by prosecutor Brandon Fox, Leavins admitted that he had “become aware that the sheriffs department’s internal mechanism to investigate…abuse” and brutality by deputies toward jail inmates “had failed,” that there was a “systemic breakdown” in supervision, discipline and investigation of abuses “that were occurring on a wide scale.”

Under questioning from Fox, Leavins conceded that, in one instance, he had become aware of a video of an inmate being abused by a deputy while restrained by chains. And yet, despite the presence of the video, both the department’s internal affairs investigators, and an “executive force review panel” concluded that the incident was fine and required no action. Leavins further conceded that, because of the “lack of discipline” signaling “tacit approval” for the deputy’s actions, the man committed more assaults on inmates, and has since been charged with the original assault.

While the theme of deputy abuse of inmates and “systemic breakdown” in the LASD’s ability to investigate such matters was originally brought up during the defense’s questioning of Leavins, it seemed mostly to support the prosecution’s contention that the FBI’s launch of an undercover investigation into abuse and corruption inside the jail system was more than warranted.


BUT WERE THE ORDERS LAWFUL?

Although the just-following-orders part of the defense strategy seemed measurably strengthened by Leavins’ testimony, the contention that these were lawful orders that he and the others were following seemed a harder theme to maintain, due to problems with the timeline in which the actions occurred.

For instance, Leavins had repeatedly insisted that Brown was only moved to outlying areas of the jail system with his name repeatedly changed, not to hide him from the feds, per se, but out of fear for the inmate’s safely because, due to his informant status, corrupt deputies might wish to do him harm. However, in cross examination Leavins conceded that, after Brown stopped cooperating with members of Leavins’ task force in early September 2011, he was moved virtually immediately back to Men’s Central Jail where he remained for 10 days (making him presumably within reach of deputies who might wish him ill) before finally being transferred to state prison.

Also in cross examination, Leavins described his attendance to a meeting on August 29, 2011, that included—among other people—Sheriff Baca and U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. It was at that meeting that Birotte told the sheriff to—as Leavins’ put it—”butt out” of the feds’ civil rights investigation into wrongdoing in the LA County Jails. Birotte further said, according to Leavins, that he didn’t want any more discord in the matter, and that he hoped the sheriff’s department would cooperate.

Yet, despite what was made clear at the August 29 meeting, according to Leavins’ earlier testimony, he kept on, as ordered, with a criminal investigation of FBI agent Marx and, in late September, with the sheriff’s encouragement and approval, sent Craig and Long to Marx’ home where the two sergeants falsely threatened to arrest her.

Leavins’ testimony will continue on Tuesday morning.

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

Is Paul Tanaka the “Subject” of a Criminal Investigation….or the “Target”

June 11th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



It was near the end of Monday’s cross examination of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka
that Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox asked Tanaka a curious question.

Monday was Tanaka’s second day of testimony at the federal trial of six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The six—which included two deputies, two sergeants and two lieutenants— were being tried for obstruction of justice having to do with their respective parts in allegedly hiding a federal informant by the name of Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and other similar actions that, in the summer and fall of 2011, according to the government’s lawyers, were intended to get in the way of the feds’ undercover investigation into wrongdoing by deputies in the LA County jail system.

Last month, Tanaka testified at the trial of a seventh department member, Deputy James Sexton, who was also charged with obstruction of justice. (Sexton’s case resulted in a mistrial due to a hopelessly deadlocked jury.)

At the Sexton trial, prosecutor Fox made news when he asked the former undersheriff—who is also still a candidate for sheriff—if he was aware that he was the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.

Now, Fox seemed to be continuing that same conversation when he asked—mid-cross—if Tanaka “received the the letter that informed you that you that you were not the target of a criminal investigation before your grand jury testimony…?”

“Yes,” Tanaka replied. The jury and others in the courtroom already knew that the former undersheriff had testified before the grand jury regarding the whole obstruction of justice issue in December 2012, which pegged the “not-a-target” letter to around eighteen months ago.

Fox followed up. “You’ve not been given any representation about whether or not you’re a target since then?”

Tanaka’s expression shuttered.

“I have not,” he said.


DISCREPANCY IN TESTIMONY

The twosome of questions was particularly interesting in that last month, at the Sexton trial, Fox specifically said Tanaka was the subject of a criminal investigation, which is reportedly one step less ominous than being the target.

At the opening of Monday’s cross examination Fox again brought up that the former undersheriff is the “subject of an ongoing criminal investigation.”

Then some minutes later, while Fox didn’t say Tanaka was a target, he seemed to strongly imply that any not-a-target assurances the former undersheriff may have received back in 2012, were now null and void.

The remark was additionally provocative in that it came after a series of exchanges during Fox’s cross examination of Tanaka in which Fox confronted the former undersheriff with the fact that certain elements of his testimony at this trial (and at Sexton’s trial, for that matter), differed in important ways from his December 2012 grand jury testimony, and also with the way he answered in a separate FBI interview in November 2012.

In his testimony at this and Sexton’s trial, Tanaka had made a point of saying that an LASD team had moved inmate and federal informant Anthony Brown around to outlying areas of the jail system, and changed his name and other identifiers, as part of a “mission” to “insure the inmate’s safety,” which had been his and the sheriff’s primary concern, he said.

However in his November 2012 FBI interview and his 2012 grand jury testimony, it seems that Tanaka “never talked about Anthony Brown’s safety and security.”

“In assessing the whole situation over a period of three years,” Tanaka said on Monday when confronted with the discrepancy, he had the “clear recollection” of having given the order to keep Anthony Brown safe.


FEAR OF FEDERAL BUGS

At another point in his testimony, Tanaka admitted to Fox that “it’s possible” that he and the other LASD higher-ups had the LASD executive offices swept for bugs, evidently out of the conviction that the FBI may have planted hidden microphones. And, yes, it was also possible they’d had the “task force offices” swept as well, meaning the temporary task force formed to handle the Anthony Brown matter, and related.

More on the trial later this week.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 65 Comments »

Sheriff’s Candidates Announce Support for McDonnell, Say Never Considered Tanaka

June 6th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Election officials continue to count the approximately 148,680 provisional and late-arriving mail-in ballots
that, if the numbers break just right, could still give Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell an uncontested victory in the race for LA County Sheriff.

In the meantime, however, four of McDonnell’s recent opponents stood with him at a press conference held Tuesday afternoon at LA’s Hall of Justice, and pledged their support to their former rival.

Stepping to the microphone, one after the other, assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers talked about the fact that McDonnell took over the position of Long Beach Police Chief “as an outsider,” but soon won over his critics, said Rogers.

Retired LASD commander Bob Olmsted called speaking in support of McDonnell “a great opportunity,” and that he’d be “available if he wants input from me.”

Assistant Sheriff Jim Hellmold called McDonnell the “clear cut choice,” embraced by both “front line people” and “members of the community.” Like Olmsted, he was vocal about the desire to work with McDonnell in remaking the troubled department.

LAPD detective supervisor Lou Vince offered “my enthusiastic endorsement, adding that, since he is the only one of the bunch who has actually worked under McDonnell in the past (during McDonnell’s long LAPD tenure), he could assure everyone that “the members of the LASD have a great person to look forward to.”

When it was McDonnell’s turn, he thanked “my partners up here for a hard-fought race, as well as for their decades of service to our community,” stopping to praise each recent opponent for individual strengths and accomplishments.

Their presence, he said, “speaks volumes about their commitment to rejecting failed leadership and coming together around a better future for the LASD….”

As for the ongoing vote count? “I was up until 3:30 watching the numbers,” McDonnell admitted after the press conference was over, referring to election night when, in the wee hours, his totals crept past 49 percent but did not cross the magical 50 percent mark.

Before the group dispersed, a reporter asked the four if any of them had, at least briefly, considered backing McDonnell’s adversary in the upcoming runoff, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

As one, they shook their heads in a vigorous NO.

Tanaka, meanwhile, has been subpoenaed to testify in the second obstruction of justice trial being held a few blocks away, at the federal courthouse on Spring Street.

Barring any last minute changes, Mr. Tanaka is expected to be called to the stand sometime on Friday morning.


IN RELATED NEWS…SCOTT MAKES MORE CHANGES AT THE LASD

Sheriff Scott continues to shuffle personnel in the LASD. In the most recent series of shifts, he moved Jim Hellmold out of the position of Assistant Sheriff in charge of patrol, replacing him with Chief Michael Rothans.

Hellmold will now act as Chief of Countywide Services Division.

While Scott’s early moves were welcomed by most, more recently critics have asked if these and other seemingly non-urgent choices would not be better left to the new sheriff who will, after all, take office just eight months from now.


DECISION TO RETRY OR NOT RETRY DEPUTY JAMES SEXTON DELAYED

In court on Thursday, the U.S. Attorney’s Office asked to delay their decision as to whether to retry Deputy James Sexton for obstruction of justice. Sexton’s trial, if you’ll remember, resulted in a “hopelessly split” jury, with a 6-6 division. The conference to discuss retrying Sexton was originally set for June 9, but has now been moved to June 23. Sources speculate that the prosecution wants to wait to see the outcome of the trial now in progress before making up its mind on Sexton.

In the second obstruction of justice trial, six department members are on trial for charges nearly identical to those faced by Sexton.

(Lots more on this trial next week.)

Posted in 2014 election, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 43 Comments »

Post-Primary Election News Roundup, TEDx Talks on Education at Ironwood State Prison, WLA on KCRW’s Press Play at 1:00p.m., and Wolves

June 5th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SHERIFF ELECTION UPDATES: MEDIA BANNED FROM TANAKA’S ELECTION NIGHT PARTY…AND MORE

On Tuesday night, after the June primary results rolled in, LA Weekly’s Gene Maddaus attended LA sheriff frontrunner Jim McDonnell’s election night party. (If you missed the results, McDonnell just missed the 50.1% of votes needed to win the primary election, coming in at 49.15—about 35% ahead of the second highest candidate, Paul Tanaka.)

Maddaus also tried to attend Paul Tanaka’s party at a restaurant called “Cherrystones” in Gardena. Surprisingly, Maddaus was promptly kicked out and informed that the media were not allowed at the function, and that he was “trespassing.”

Here are some clips from Maddaus’ post-primary story:

McDonnell presented himself as an outsider who had the experience to clean up the scandals that have plagued the department under Sheriff Lee Baca, who was forced to resign in January. That message appeared to resonate with voters.

“They want a fresh start,” McDonnell told his supporters at his election night party at the J.W. Marriott Hotel in downtown L.A. “They want the Sheriff’s Department to reach its full potential, to put the shine back on the badge again.”

Steve Barkan, McDonnell’s strategist, said the results “significantly exceeded” his expectations. Based on internal polls, he believed McDonnell would finish in the mid- to high-30s. The polling also suggested that Tanaka would finish a stronger second.

[SNIP]

Tanaka barred the media from attending his election night celebration. The Weekly was thrown out of the event, at Cherrystones restaurant in Gardena, within two minutes of arriving.

“It’s a private party. What else do we need to explain?” said one Tanaka supporter.

“You’re trespassing,” said another, who identified himself only as a Marine combat veteran.

Ed Chen, Tanaka’s campaign manager, said the party was a “very intimate” event, and that Tanaka’s supporters were being “protective” of him. Later on, some members of the press were escorted into the restaurant for brief interviews or photos, and then escorted out.

Maddaus also appeared on KCRW’s Which Way, LA? with Warren Olney to discuss the sheriff election results.

And although LASD whistleblower Bob Olmsted came in third place with 9.89%, he played an important role by helping jumpstart reform and make a new sheriff possible.

Here’s a clip from Olmsted’s thank you letter to his supporters:

From the bottom of my heart, I want to thank you for everything you’ve done in this campaign.

While we didn’t come out on top, we nonetheless changed the conversation, drove the debates about the issues, and forced candidates to take positions on reform policies that they wouldn’t have otherwise.

Most importantly, we were instrumental in exposing the corruption occurring in the Department which led to the dismissal of disgraced former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and the resignation of Sheriff Lee Baca.


150K BALLOTS STILL UNCOUNTED

There are still about 150,000 mail-in ballots left to count, according to the County Registrar. This means that there is still a—very—small chance that McDonnell will make it over the 50.1% mark and be named sheriff. (We’ll keep you updated, of course.)

The LA Daily News’ Thomas Himes has the story. Here’s a clip:

McDonnell handily won Tuesday’s primary, claiming 49.15 percent compared to the former undersheriff’s 14.74 percent, but he’s still short of the 50 percent plus 1 vote majority needed to end the election and name him sheriff.

But the Los Angeles County registrar still needs to count an estimated 148,680 mail ballots that were received on election day or handed in at the polls — 537,346 votes are already decided in the race.

Anticipating that McDonnell won’t reach 50 percent, Tanaka’s campaign is gearing up for a second matchup in the fall.

“This campaign is far from over; in fact, it has just begun,” Tanaka said. “We always knew this would be a two-phase race, and we start again today.”

McDonnell also is assuming he won’t pass the threshold.

“While I’m hopeful, I’m preparing for a runoff in November,” he said in a telephone interview Wednesday.


TEDxIRONWOOD: FIRST EVER TED TALKS EVENT IN A PRISON

On May 10, a TEDx event at California’s Ironwood State Prison (the first TED event inside a prison) emphasized the power of prison education programs to reduce recidivism and provide better outcomes for former offenders reentering their communities. Speakers included inmates in Ironwood’s education program, prison staff, and advocates like Hangover producer and Anti-Recidivism Coalition founder Scott Budnick and Virgin Group founder, Sir Richard Branson.

Here are some clips from Budnick’s story on TEDxIronwood for the Huffington Post:

Picture driving on a desolate two-lane road, past one low flat building after another, before seeing the tall steel fences and razor wire that signal your destination: a maximum security prison, blazing hot, in the middle of the desert, not far from the border between California and Arizona, an hour past the sunny vacation destination of Palm Springs. After several checks of your identification and passing through multiple sets of sliding steel gates, you’re directed down a long sidewalk with an empty yard on one side and concrete buildings on the other. It’s eerily quiet, though you know 3,280 men live here in a space built for 2,200.

But inside these concrete buildings, something extraordinary is happening. The largest prison education program in California is thriving at Ironwood State Prison, where men are transcribing college textbooks into Braille, learning trade skills and where an astonishing 1200+ students have earned college degrees.

[SNIP]

TEDx Ironwood elevated the importance of correctional education. Actors, musicians, activists, foundation leaders and even Sir Richard Branson, Founder of the Virgin Group, found their way to Ironwood, where a prison gym was transformed into a sound stage with lights, cameras, microphones and chairs for 150 men who are incarcerated at Ironwood and 150 visitors in attendance. And who most impressed the audience? The incarcerated, who coordinated, hosted and spoke on a theme they called, Infinite Possibilities.

The event highlighted the fact that correctional education programs have been shown to save dollars and greatly decrease recidivism rates, which means they increase public safety. In California, 95 percent of incarcerated individuals are released from prison, and two thirds of them end up behind bars again. The men advocated that it’s smarter to use education to give those who are released the best possible shot at a second chance. I’ve seen this through my own work with the InsideOUT Writers program, through which incarcerated young people are given the opportunity to use creative writing as a catalyst for personal transformation. And we welcome these men and woman home and into colleges and Universities, through our organization, The Anti-Recidivism Coalition (ARC).

(Read Branson’s blog post about his TEDxIronwood experience, here.)

Douglas Wood, a program officer for the Ford Foundation’s Higher Education for Social Justice initiative, had some interesting things to say about the school-to-prison pipeline and why prison education is so crucial. Here’s his TEDx Talk:

Here are a couple of other Ironwood talks that shouldn’t be missed:


WLA ON KCRW’S PRESS PLAY WITH MADELEINE BRAND

WitnessLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, will be on the Madeleine Brand show, Press Play, today at 1:00p.m. to discuss the sheriff election results and the second federal obstruction of justice trial.


GRAY WOLF GETS ENDANGERED SPECIES STATUS IN CALIFORNIA

It has been confirmed that OR-7 (the Oregon gray wolf who made history as the first wolf in California since 1924 when he wandered across the state line from Oregon) has finally mated and sired at least two pups in Oregon, near the border.

On Wednesday, the California Fish and Game Commission voted in favor of listing the gray wolf as an endangered species, which will protect OR-7 and his new pack, along with any future migrating wolves. (Hooray!)

KQED’s Lauren Sommer has the story (and a very cute photo of wolf pups courtesy US Fish and Wildlife). Here’s a clip:

While no wolves are known to be in California currently, the state was thrust into the debate when a lone, radio-collared wolf known as OR7 wandered across the Oregon-California border in 2011, becoming California’s first wolf since the 1920s. OR7 has since returned to Oregon and earlier this year was spotted with a possible mate.

Just as public testimony ramped up at the commission meeting on Wednesday, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service confirmed that OR7 and a mate have produced at least two pups in southwest Oregon, the first litter observed since wolves returned to that area.

The new pack raises the odds that wolves will expand into California.

“We expect that in a decade or less there will be wolf populations in California,” said Chuck Bonham, the director of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife. “That is nature taking its course. They are migrating across the West and from the Northwest, south.”

Posted in Education, LASD, Paul Tanaka, prison, Reentry, Rehabilitation, School to Prison Pipeline, Sheriff Lee Baca, wolves | 10 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: Mistrial declared! Jurors “hopelessly split” 6-6 in James Sexton obstruction of justice trial

May 22nd, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



After being sent back for additional deliberation
twice by Judge Percy Anderson, a jury of five women and seven men again declared themselves hopelessly deadlocked—with an even split of six to six—in the question of whether or not defendant Deputy James Sexton had obstructed justice in taking part in an LASD operation to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and other federal agents.

At a few minutes after 8 AM on Thursday, Judge Anderson declared a mistrial.

Prosecutors declined to say whether or not they will retry Sexton.

Looking exhausted by the high-intensity trial, but visibly relieved, the Sexton family hugged each other and supporters after the the judge’s announcement. The specter of LASD deputy Sexton going to federal prison was, at least for now, over—and perhaps over for good, if government prosecutors elect not to retry the case.

Lead defense attorney, Tom O’Brien, also looked extremely relieved. “It’s clear to me that the jury saw what this actually is,” he said, “a fight between the FBI and the sheriff’s department.”

Outside the courthouse, juror Marvin Padilla, said that the government’s main evidence against Sexton, which was the defendant’s grand jury testimony, was precisely what got him 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.”

Padilla also thought it significant that Sexton had talked to the FBI 37 times. “It’s almost as if he had Stockholm syndrome.”

On the question of whether department higher ups should be tried in the Anthony Brown matter, Padilla said he thought it correct that the investigation was continuing.

When asked about the trial testimony of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, specifically, Padilla said, “Either he didn’t know what was going on at all, or he was lying about nearly everything he said, neither of which is very attractive.”

“Something unsightly happened there,” said Padilla. “Something was going on that people above Sexton knew about. Something didn’t smell right.”

As for the tone of rest of the deliberations by this split jury, Padilla said, “It was all very thoughtful, very passionate.”

The case in which Sexton’s six other LASD members will be tried for similar charges begins on Tuesday of next week.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 94 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: After Closing Arguments the Sexton Case Goes to the Jury

May 21st, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



COLLATERAL DAMAGE

“Mr. Sexton is nothing more than collateral damage” in a conflict involving “two massive law enforcement agencies fighting like children,” said former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien as he delivered closing arguments in the week-long corruption of justice trial of his client, Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy James Sexton.

Sexton is one of seven members of the LASD who have been federally indicted for having allegedly hidden convicted bank robber/inmate turned federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers. Brown was part of a then-widening civil rights investigation by the FBI into corruption and brutality inside the LASD run county jails.

The weeklong trial went into the hands of the jury at around 11 a.m. Tuesday, after the prosecution and the defense each presented very different views of the defendant’s alleged crimes.

O’Brien painted both the LASD and the FBI as engaging in a huge “jurisdictional turf war” in which Sexton, who had actually cooperated extensively with the FBI for more than a year, was scapegoated, while those who actually gave the orders for the actions for which the deputy has been charged remain unindicted.

“Not [former undersheriff Paul] Tanaka, Not [LASD Captain Tom] Carey. Not the Sheriff,” O’Brien told the jury.

The events that underlie the case against Sexton were triggered in the summer of 2011 when, in the course of an undercover sting initiated by the FBI’s Los Angeles office, inmate-turned-informant Brown asked a sheriff’s deputy named Gilbert Michele to smuggle a contraband cell phone into Men’s Central Jail in return for money. Brown was then to use the phone to report back to his federal agent contacts about alleged wrongdoing by deputies he observed inside the jail.

After a few weeks of use, however, the phone was discovered hidden among Brown’s possessions (inside a Doritos bag) by a sheriff’s deputy in the course of a routine search. When sheriff’s investigators subsequently discovered that the contraband phone contained a call and text log devoted almost exclusively to contacting the FBI, a firestorm erupted among the sheriff’s department’s top brass, in particular then Sheriff Lee Baca and then undersheriff Paul Tanaka. They reacted by ordering Brown to be hidden away from the FBI’s reach in farflung corners of the jail system, while he was questioned by LASD investigators. They also ordered covert surveillance, along with some in person bullying, of Brown’s main handler, Special Agent Leah Marx, who headed up the corruption investigation of which Brown was a part.

The government’s charges against Sexton are obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Conspiracy to obstruct means, loosely, that he was part of a group that knowingly tried to subvert a federal grand jury investigation. It also means that, if one of the members of the group did something that knowingly subverted the investigation—-like, say, harassing Marx—then all the conspirators are responsible for the action. According to the prosecution, the task with which Sexton was most involved was hiding Brown, as he was the one on the team with computer skills and thus was able to suggest how to game the LASD jail system database so that Brown appeared to vanish from it.

O’Brien maintains that the above actions of Sexton’s and his alleged coconspirators were lawful, even if foolish, as in the case of going after Marx. More importantly, he contends that Sexton was merely doing what he was ordered to do by his superiors, as is required in a paramilitary organization.

The prosecution believes they have proved that the actions and the rest of his team were not lawful, that they were specifically designed to impede the FBI’s investigation, and contends that just following orders is no excuse.


TALKING TO THE GRAND JURY

A large part of government’s case comes down to what Sexton said in his grand jury testimony, in which he fully admitted his part in the operation that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box. In fact, he obligingly described the hiding of Brown in colorful detail, and acknowledged there were elaborate attempts to keep Brown away from the feds specifically through the use of “smoke and mirrors.”

O’Brien, Sexton’s lawyer, also agreed that his clients grand jury testimony was crucial. But his take on how jurors must see Sexton’s statements was very different than that of the government.

“This is the crux of the case,” he said. “It is about how an over eager deputy agreed to cooperate with the FBI, and did work with the FBI.” Special agent Leah Marx even gave him a cell phone so as to be able to get in touch with her and her colleagues without fearing the LASD would overhear and retaliate against him.”

Sexton was interviewed by the FBI 37 different times, O’Brien pointed out. And he appeared before the Grand Jury twice.

“He was trying to please the FBI,” O’Brien said in his closing. And indeed, the tone of Sexton’s testimony that was read at trial leaves that impression. Sexton seemed, as O’ Brien suggested, “eager to please.”

All Sexton did, O’Brien said, was what he was asked to do by the FBI, or in the case of his superiors in the LASD, what he was ordered to do.

“The people giving the orders here, they’ve not been indicted. Not Tanaka, Not Carey. Not the sheriff.”

But those higher ups were harder to indict, O’Brien said.

“What’s easier? Get the over-eager kid, meet with him, give him a cell phone, get him on board, ask him some sloppy questions…..and then let’s indict him, based only on his words.”

After the discovery of the existence of Anthony Brown’s informant status, his contraband cell phone, and the FBI’s part in the undercover operation, “Sheriff Baca spun out of control,” said O’Brien. “And then the FBI refused to talk to him.”

Instead of paying attention to the “business of law enforcement,” O’Brien concluded, the two behemoth agencies “got into a tiff each other.”

“Now it’s led to a young deputy sheriff facing the fight of his life.”


THE JURY

The jury made up of five women and seven men appeared to listen very closely and seriously to the presentations by Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Carter for prosecution, former U.S. Attorney O’Brien for the defense and then the prosecution’s rebuttal to the defense’s closing present, presented by Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox.

“You may believe others may be guilty of the crime,” Fox told the jury, in response to O’Brien, “but that’s for another jury on another day.”

Before the jurors went home on Tuesday afternoon, they asked to hear Sexton’s hour-long plus grand jury testimony read back to them in its entirety.


THE TANAKA POLITICAL FACTOR

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, now one of seven candidates for sheriff, was a witness for the defense, and he maintained during his testimony last Friday, and cross examination on Monday, that all of his orders relating to the Anthony Brown matter were lawful. (Although he dodged quite a few other questions.)

On Monday, however, he conceded that he was the subject to an ongoing criminal investigation.

Since his appearance in court, there has been much speculation that his testimony and the outcome of the case could have an affect on his political candidacy.

Three of his fellow candidates—Robert Olmsted, Jim McDonnell, and Todd Rogers-–have called for him to withdraw from the race.

(You can find their statements here and here and here.)

Reed Galen, Tanaka’s campaign spokesman said he has no intention of doing so.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 8 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: Sexton Trial Day 5, A Surprise Question for Tanaka Reveals More Criminal Probes in Progress

May 20th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



PAUL TANAKA IS SUBJECT OF CRIMINAL INVESTIGATION, SAYS PROSECUTOR

On Monday in federal courtroom fifteen, it was a few minutes past 8 am, and Paul Tanaka had just taken the stand to finish up his testimony.

The former undersheriff had been subpoenaed as a witness for the defense in the trial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, one of seven department members indicted for obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

On Friday Tanaka was questioned by Sexton’s attorney, former U.S. Attorney, Thomas O’Brien.

Now it was time for cross examination, with Brandon Fox questioning Tanaka for the prosecution.

Fox’s first question was nothing that anyone expected.

“Mr. Tanaka, you are aware that you are the subject of an ongoing criminal investigation?”

Yes, Tanaka answered.

“And with your experience in law enforcement you’re probably aware that some cases are made from the bottom up.”

The defense objected before Tanaka got a chance to answer so the question was ordered stricken. Still everyone in the room had heard the words.

When the first group of 18 sheriff’s department members were indicted in December 2013, seven of them for the Brown issue, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte gave the very strong impression that the obstruction charges would go higher up the food chain.

But then no new indictees ever materialized in the Brown matter. In the last few months, word began filtering around that no one else was going to be charged.

So when Assistant U.S. Attorney Fox asked those two questions, many of those in the audience took this to mean that the obstruction of justice probe was ongoing and the feds were looking seriously at Tanaka.

The view that the FBI and company were still actively probing was strengthened later in the morning when another higher up in the department, Captain Tom Carey, who had also been called as a witness, admitted that he was also the subject of an investigation for his part in the alleged hiding of Brown.

One wondered what the jury made of the two high level department members (although Tanaka is retired) who admitted to directing much of the Brown operation, but who are not indicted. While deputy Sexton, who was 26 years old in 2011 when Brown first got on the department radar, is sitting among his battery of lawyers, potentially facing time in a federal prison.

There was a lot more to this full day in court.

We’ll have a longer story tomorrow.

In the meantime, colleagues at the LA Times, KPCC and ABC-7 have stories that fill in the gaps.

Here’s a smart story by LA Times Cindy Chang and Victory Kim on the day in court’s biggest news.

Here at ABC-7, Miriam Hernandez interprets Monday’s testimony with Lisa Bartley producing.

And finally, Rina Palta’s take on the trial as it wraps up for KPCC FM.

It’s all good stuff, so be sure to read….watch….listen.

Closing arguments will take place Tuesday morning.

Then we wait for the jury verdict.

The trial of the other six Anthony Brown defendants begins on Wednesday.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 18 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: Sexton Trial Day 4: Tanaka Takes the Stand

May 19th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


TANAKA AS WITNESS FOR THE DEFENSE

It was just before the noon hour on Friday when word evidently went round the stately old U.S. District Courthouse that Paul Tanaka was going to be the next witness called in the obstruction of justice trial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy James Sexton.

Thus by the time, the witness arrived at Judge Percy Anderson’s courtroom number fifteen, the place was filled with men and women in suits who apparently believed that the subpoenaed testimony of the former undersheriff—who was now running for sheriff—would be a show well worth observing.

Tanaka walked to the witness box in a well-tailed grey suit and light Wedgwood blue tie. His stride had an overlay of confidence, a candidates gait.

He had been called as a witness for the defense and his testimony pertained mostly to the central issue of this trial, which is the LA County Sheriff’s Department’s response to the discovery that a convicted bank robber and jail inmate named Anthony Brown was an informant for the FBI.

To recap: in early August 2011, Brown’s double identity was revealed when a deputy happened to find a contraband cell phone in Brown’s possession. The phone’s call log featured calls to the offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, almost exclusively. After questioning Brown, LASD investigators further learned that the phone had been smuggled to him in return for money by a jail deputy, and that the smuggling operation was a covert sting designed by the FBI’s civil rights division as part of a widening probe into corruption and brutality inside the LASD-run county jail system.

Once Brown’s informant status was established, according to testimony heard earlier in the trial, the department brass ordered that the inmate be hidden from federal law enforcement. To accomplish this aim, Brown was moved between several far flung corners of the county jail system while, at the same time, all traces of his presence were made to vanish from the department’s computer database, making him impossible to locate for any but the small cadre of department members in the know.

Two lieutenants, two sergeants, and three deputies have been indicted for obstruction of justice and related charges, for their part in the Brown affair.

James Sexton, the defendant in this trial, is one of the seven.

An important part of Sexton’s defense, has been to illustrate to the jury that, when it came to the Brown operation, Sexton— who was 26-years-old and three years out of the sheriff’s academy at the time—was the last guy in a very long line of people who were following orders that came—and continued to come— from the very top of the sheriff’s department, specifically from then undersheriff Tanaka, with the approval of Lee Baca.

Prior to Tanaka’s appearance in court Friday afternoon, the jury had heard from a cluster of department member witnesses who placed Tanaka as the main boss of the informant-hiding operation. In addition to that testimony, the jury had seen a number of emails that would seem to solidly back up the primacy of the former undersheriff’s involvement.

It was in this context that Tanaka took the stand.

After a flurry of context-establishing questions, Sexton’s attorney, Thomas O’Brien, asked him about when and how he first learned about the cell phone and Brown.

Tanaka said initially learned through a call from the sheriff, placing the date on August 18 or 19, 2011. Tanaka also said that there was “concern that the cell phone had been introduced by a rogue FBI agent.”

(As it happened, the whole notion of the “rogue agent” had been pretty convincingly refuted an hour or so earlier when Steven Martinez, the man who, in 2011, headed up the FBI’s enormous LA office, described how he had called Baca on August 18, and explained in detail about the informant and the cell phone, and how both were part of a fully sanctioned FBI undercover operation that was part of a civil rights investigation into brutality and corruption in the jails. In other words, Baca knew there was nothing “rogue” about it.)

In the next series of questions, O’Brien asked Tanaka if he had given the order for various individual parts of the operation. The former undersheriff readily admitted to giving certain orders but danced away from questions pertaining to what his part had been in relation to other elements of hiding Brown, in specific the ones that, should the feds manage to prove obstruction of justice, would be where that obstruction was most likely to be demonstrated.

For instance, Tanaka said that the Brown matter was a high priority for the sheriff and acknowledged that it was actually he who had personally authorized the large amount of overtime for the team that had worked on what would come to be known colloquially as Operation Pandora’s Box. “We had to put a 24-hour guard on [Brown] to make sure he was kept safe.

“It’s not always easy to control what every deputy sheriff does,” Tanaka said. “When somebody has been labeled a snitch and that’s against deputy sheriff’s we have a real concern for that person’s safety. “

So if he ordered the overtime, who actually ordered the 24/7 security? At this, the vagifiers switched on: It was “possible,” it was him, said Tanaka. “Possible,” it was the sheriff. “Likely,” it was one of them.

When asked if he gave the order to change Brown’s name or his housing, Tanaka backpedaled further and answered No to both questions. But he learned of it, possibly when it was being done, and he probably didn’t object, he said.

“I didn’t specify how to do it. I just ordered [Brown] to be kept safe. This unit,” he said, referring the Operation Safe Jails elite unit in which Sexton works, and that is lead by Lt. Greg Thompson, who is also indicted. “They’re the experts. I might be the undersheriff, but they’re the experts.”

In that Tanaka is known to be a very hands on manager, to the point of often disregarding the command structure to micromanage, the notion that he would blindly delegate such a tricky assignment as the hiding of Brown, without any knowledge of how it might be accomplished, did not sound terribly credible, especially given the matter was purportedly, according to Tanaka himself, of such concern to the sheriff.

Tanaka did at least admit that the approval had to come from him for the FBI to be able to talk to or see Brown, . And that he had not given approval. “The FBI visit was a security breach,” he said, referring to an hour interview that FBI special agent Leah Marx and a colleague had with Brown after the discovery of the cell phone, an interview that was abruptly shut down once LASD higher-ups realized it was occurring.

But when asked if he authorized the complicated machinations that allowed Brown’s disappearance from the jail database, Tanaka’s answers were again swaddled in legal vagaries.

“That one I’m not sure I was aware of until long after the fact,” he said then repeated the thought for good measure. “I don’t recall learning about that until long after the fact.”

In other words, the part of the Brown operation that was the most significantly unique, that would have required the most planning—and that either skated the edge of legality or, as the prosecution has been working to prove, crossed well over the legal line—were all authorized without his knowledge by persons five or six ranks below him.

Tanaka’s answer was similarly hazy when it came to any knowledge of the court order that was issued requiring Anthony Brown to be released to federal custody so that he could appear before a federal grand jury.

“I don’t believe I knew about it until long after….” he said.

At the very end of Tanaka’s testimony, O’Brien asked one last question.

“Mr, Tanaka, you have not been indicted.”

“No, sir,” Tanaka replied.

And with that, the witness was permitted to step down.


AND THEN, THERE IS THE DEFENDANT

In high contrast to Tanaka’s testimony, a few hours earlier, the prosecution called its final witness, who was not really a witness at all, but a man who took the stand and read aloud from James Sexton’s grand jury testimony while Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes played her part as the prosecutor asking questions.

The dramatic recreation was weirdly affecting. Sexton’s answers were nuanced and detailed, and appeared to be very candid, as if he was doing his best to be helpful—never suspecting, one presumes, that he would be indicted and that many of his answers would be used as evidence against him on some future day court.

He talked about how the team was told that, if there was any “static,” about the elaborate mechanism required to move and hide Brown, one of four people should be “invoked,” most prominently, Greg Thompson, Sexton’s immediate supervisor, and Paul Tanaka.

Sexton described the plan to repeatedly “release and “rebook” Brown every 48 hours under different phony names and personal details, in order to avoid fingerprints, and thus remove Brown’s presence from the jail systems database. He 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 explained.

What they did in hiding Brown was akin to “kidnapping,” Sexton said. “We had [Brown] in places that we weren’t authorized [to have him]. He didn’t consent to have his identity changed, so we kidnapped him.”

And so it went.

After the reading of Sexton’s grand jury testimony, the prosecution rested.

And also, right around that same time on Friday, as his grand jury testimony was being read to the jury, Sexton had been scheduled to walk across a stage in a cap and gown to receive his master’s degree at the USC Price School of Public Policy.

Instead, of course, he was inside the Spring Street federal court building facing federal charges.


On Monday, Tanaka will be cross-examined by the prosecution. Closing arguments are expected near the end of Monday’s session or first thing on Tuesday.



AND IN OTHER RELATED NEWS…

TEAM OF UCLA LAW STUDENTS RESEARCH AND HELP PROPOSE A “COMPREHENSIVE SYSTEM OF CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT” FOR THE SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

At 9:30 am Monday (when, unfortunately, we’ll be in federal court), the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in LA Jails will launch a report researched and drafted by students from the UCLA School of Law International Human Rights Clinic, which outlines a comprehensive model of civilian oversight for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

In late June, the County Supervisors are expecting the new Inspector General, Max Huntsman, and Sheriff Scott to present their report and findings on the notion of a permanent civilian oversight body for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

The eight-page report synthesizes research of civilian oversight models across the country. The document provides a thorough breakdown of the functions and capacities of an effective community based civilian oversight body.

· The report proposes that the Civilian Review Board will direct the functions of the new Office of Inspector General while prioritizing the input, complaints, and voices of communities directly impacted by Sheriff violence.

The report has already been submitted to the five County Supervisors, the Office of Inspector General, and the Sheriff’s Department. The Coalition urges them to “support permanent civilian oversight that has the power and community backing to hold the largest Sheriff’s Department in the country accountable for any future abuses.”

On Monday, the report will be presented at 9:30 a.m., at the Mercado La Paloma, 3655 S. Grand Ave 90007

Speakers will include:

Patrisse Cullors – Executive Director of Dignity and Power Now/ The Coalition to End Sheriff Violence
Reverend Cecil Chip Murray – Former Commissioner of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence.
Miriam Krinsky – Attorney and former Executive Director of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence.
Sandra Neal – Member of the Coalition and mother of a survivor of deputy violence.

For still more on the report, read Abby Sewell’s story for the LA Times.

Posted in 2014 election, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 8 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX: Sexton Trial Day 3: Lee Baca Personally Signed Off on Massive Overtime Hours for Deputies Hiding Brown

May 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


Among the biggest revelations of Thursday,
the third day of trial for LA County sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, was a document showing that former sheriff Lee Baca personally approved of the extensive and costly overtime required to pull off the elaborate scheme of hiding FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers.

Baca’s name was one of three approvals necessary for the overtime—two to pre-approve, one to sign off that the work had been completed.

The other pre-approval name was Lt. Greg Thompson, then Sexton’s direct supervisor, now retired and, along with Sexton, one of seven charged with obstruction of justice for their respective parts in the Anthony Brown affair.

The significance of Baca’s name on the overtime docs was not, of course, the approval of the overtime itself, but as an indication that Baca was in a position of some kind of oversight.


CONCERNED ABOUT THREATS TO THE DEFENDANT, FBI GIVES SEXTON A CELL PHONE

It was yet another day when indicted defendant James Sexton’s name was barely mentioned during the prosecution’s questioning of its various witnesses.

But when Sexton’s name finally did come up it was in a surprising context.

According to FBI special agent Leah Marx, when the FBI set up the first meeting with Sexton that would result in 37 different contacts by phone and in person, he had been already been talking for a while to another LA special agent named Patrick Hampel, whom he considered a friend.

Marx said she passed a message to Sexton through Hampel, that “there were credible threats against him and his life might be in danger.”

We are genuinely concerned for your safety. That’s all, bro. Please don’t think this was ever about the case, more like she found out some stuff that makes her think you are in jeopardy. She’s a good person and so is Dalton [her partner]. I’ve drank, played vball, hung out with both of them, and I trust them like I trust you. They know we are friends and are trying to do the right thing by me; ie warning my friend who may need some help…

(WitnessLA reported more on the email from Hampel earlier this year.)

After that, according to Marx, she and her colleagues communicated on a regular basis with Sexton either by phone or in person for the next two years.

In order to make communication with the FBI easier and safer for Sexton, given the possible threats, Marx and her team gave him a phone he could use to call the feds.

In return, Sexton gave Marx’s team information and documents.


On the topic of phones, much of Thursday’s testimony came from special agent Marx who was questioned particularly closely by Sexton’s attorney, former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien. who challenged the wisdom of the FBI’s use of inmate Brown as an informant. O’Brien pointed out that Brown was a convicted armed robber notorious for his embroidering of the truth, and had just been sentenced to 423 years in prison.

O’Brien also questioned the ethics of smuggling a contraband telephone into a custody facility.

KPCC’s Rina Palta was at court Thursday and has focused her report on the matter of the cell phone. Here’s a clip:

FBI Special Agent Leah Marx told the jury that Brown gave information on “more than” 50 use-of-force incidents before being discovered by sheriff’s deputies working the jails.

“He provided a significant amount of information on deputies,” Marx said.

Defense attorney Tom O’Brien, however, put a less flattering pall on the relationship, pointing to the $1,500 in phone cards and toiletry money deposited into Brown’s account by the FBI over the years. O’Brien also noted Brown’s dozen or so felony convictions that have landed him a sentence of more than 400 years in state prison.

Particularly, O’Brien focused on an FBI sting in which agents smuggled a cell phone with video and photo capability to Brown through an allegedly corrupt deputy sheriff who was later charged for smuggling contraband in an unrelated case.

“The FBI has published reports on the dangers of cell phones behind bars,” O’Brien said, even as agents provided one for Brown. The dangers include making it possible for inmates to order crimes on the outside and coordinating unrest in the jails, O’Brien said.

Marx said the FBI monitored any calls or texts sent via the phone and had the option to cancel service at any time.

Under questioning, Marx also told the jury the FBI had unsuccessfully attempted to outfit Brown with prescription glasses and a cross equipped with hidden cameras to record inmate beatings.

ABC-7 also has a report on the testimony of special agent Marx.

The trial continues on Friday.

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 14 Comments »

First Pandora’s Box Trial Begins: The Big Q: Who Called the Shots?

May 13th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday morning, the trial for Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton will begin.

Sexton is one of 7 LASD personnel indicted for conspiracy to obstruct justice, pertaining to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

In total, 20 members of the LA County sheriff’s department have been indicted as part of the FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and corruption, a probe that U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte described last year as “ongoing and wide-ranging.”

The other six indicted on the Anthony Brown matter will be tried together. They are deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, sergeants Scott Craig and Maricella Long and lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins.

Sexton’s trial is interesting for a number of reasons.

For one thing, his case alone has been severed from the rest into a separate trial, because he revealed details of the LASD’s actions regarding Anthony Brown under oath when he appeared before a grand jury, revelations that could implicate some of the other defendants—and Sexton himself.

According to sources close to his defense, Sexton did so (rather than invoke the protection of the 5th Amendment), because he had agreed early on to cooperate with federal investigators and was told—according to his attorneys—that he was not a target of the FBI’s investigation.


Sexton’s trial also will be the first real look into the thinking behind a case that has grown increasingly perplexing due to the fact that, according to LASD supervisors, present and retired, it is all but impossible that the orders to engage in the kind of acts with which the seven Anthony Brown indictees are charged originated with any one of the seven, including the two lieutenants, Thompson and Leavins.

In fact, in a motion filed in March, deputies Manzo and Smith stated categorically that their actions in dealing with Brown were “duly authorized and supervised by LASD Sheriff Leroy D. Baca, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and numerous other high ranking Sheriff’s Department officials.” (One of the other high ranking officials named was Captain Tom Carey, at the time a supervisor in the LASD’s internal criminal investigative unit, known as ICIB, for which Leavins then worked.)

Yet, as the motion noted, none of the LASD higher-ups have been charged with any crime. Whereas Sexton and the other six could face ten to fifteen years in a federal prison.

So, do the feds intend to move higher up in the LASD hierarchy with the Anthony Brown conspiracy, as was originally assumed they would do? Or will they call a halt with the seven underlings now indicted? If the latter is true, what is behind the decision to stop short?

Perhaps Sexton’s trial will provide some clues.

The prosecution is expected to present evidence that, at Lt. Greg Thompson’s request, Sexton, who had expertise with computers, came up with a way to make Anthony Brown appear to vanish from the LASD database (using false names and altered personal data), thus hiding him digitally from any FBI attempts to find him. (For details and backstory see this and this.) Sexton is also accused of being one of those who guarded Brown when he was hidden, and of knowing that federal agents were to be denied access to the informant, should they show up.

Sexton’s defense is expected to maintain, among other things, that Sexton—-26 at the time—was following orders from his supervisors that he believed to be lawful, that they were orders he furthermore was told were given at the direction and with the knowledge of then Sheriff Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is now running for Los Angeles County Sheriff.

The defense is also expected to present evidence of Sexton’s reported early and extensive cooperation with the feds in the belief that the information he provided to the FBI would not be used to form a case against him.

We will keep you posted as Sexton’s case unfolds.

Posted in FBI, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 22 Comments »

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