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Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton is Convicted

September 17th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

We will have more on that trial later this week.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 18 Comments »

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

September 15th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon



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

Well, a version of James Sexton, at least.

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

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

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

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

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

They have been edited out.

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

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

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

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

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

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

And so on.

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

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


THE LAWYERS OBJECT

So is all this snipping and trimming fair-minded?

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

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

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

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


AND IN OTHER SEXTON RETRIAL NEWS….PAUL TANAKA

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

Posted in Courts, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 39 Comments »

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

September 12th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


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

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

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

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

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

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

And there was more of that nature.

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


LASD OVERSTATES NUMBER OF VIOLENT CRIMES, REPORTS IG MAX HUNTSMAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[BIG SNIP]

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Creating Civilian Oversight of the Sheriff’s Dept….Paul Tanaka Campaign Inactive….LA Times Urges Five More Years for LAPD Chief Beck….and 91% ATF Drug Sting Arrests are of Minorities

August 4th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

SUPE RIDLEY-THOMAS, JIM MCDONNELL, OTHERS DISCUSS LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT ON ABC7 “EYEWITNESS NEWSMAKERS”

On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider creating a civilian commission to oversee the sheriff’s department.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas appeared on ABC7′s “Eyewitness Newsmakers” Sunday morning with host Adrienne Alpert to discuss the issue. He was joined by LBPD Chief (and LA sheriff hopeful) Jim McDonnell, Miriam Krinsky, the former executive director of the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, and Lt. Brian Moriguchi, president of the Professional Peace Officers Association.

Ridley-Thomas urged his fellow supervisors to vote in favor of the commission Tuesday, without further delay.

Jim McDonnell agreed that the commission should be created, and said that it’s establishment could help the county ward off a federal consent decree. McDonnell said it should be set up while the particulars of the Office of Inspector General are being decided, so that they work together properly. McDonnell also told Alpert that the IG should report to the civilian commission and that he does not believe the IG should have to be bound to the LASD by attorney-client privilege (as interim Sheriff John Scott has recommended).

PPOA president Moriguchi disagreed with Ridley-Thomas and McDonnell about the timing, saying that the OIG should be established before a civilian commission, and that effective oversight is of greater importance than simply creating more oversight.

And while the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence chose to not take a position on the issue, former executive director of the commission, Miriam Krinsky, urged the creation of a permanent civilian watchdog panel.

Here’s a clip from Alpert’s pre-show story:

After years of reports of mismanagement, corruption and brutality in the sheriff’s department, Ridley-Thomas says the board should not wait any longer to approve the commission.

Speaking on Sunday’s “Eyewitness Newsmakers,” Ridley-Thomas said, “What are we waiting for? More federal indictments? What are we waiting for? More embarrassment?”

Appearing with the supervisor, the leading candidate for sheriff, Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, who supports the citizen commission, said it could help L.A. County avoid a federal consent decree imposed on the sheriff’s department. “I think it could happen,” said McDonnell. “We have an opportunity to put oversight in place.”

The LA Times also had a Sunday editorial urging the board to vote in favor of creating the commission.


PAUL TANAKA, CAMPAIGN STAFF M.I.A.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka did not respond to requests to speak on Newsmakers (story above).

In fact, KPCC’s Frank Stoltze says it appears his campaign headquarters has been deserted for about a month. While Tanaka was unreachable (as were his campaign manager and his chief fundraiser), his campaign consultant, Reed Galen, says he is no longer employed by Tanaka.

Political scientist and head of the Center for the Study of L.A. at Loyola Marymount, Fernando Guerra, says the former undersheriff should shut down campaign operations and go on vacation after only receiving 15% of the vote in the primary election (to Jim McDonnell’s 49%).

What Tanaka is actually going to do remains unknown.

Here are some clips from Stoltze’s story:

The once bustling campaign headquarters of Paul Tanaka, tucked in the middle of a Torrance strip mall is empty now. No volunteers busily calling voters, no campaign signs stacked high. No Tanaka buzzing around, giving orders and thanking people. One of the agents at the State Farm Insurance office next door says Tanaka’s people decamped about a month ago.

KPCC calls and emails to both the would-be sheriff’s campaign manager and chief fundraiser went unreturned. His campaign consultant during the primary election, Reed Galen, said he no longer works for Tanaka. He did not elaborate.

Tanaka, a former undersheriff who finished second in the primary, has not returned numerous calls this week or responded to emails. He didn’t appear to be home at his Gardena residence on Friday afternoon.

[SNIP]

The most recent post on Tanaka’s campaign website was June 5, when he thanked supporters. He has no upcoming events listed on the website.

Tanaka garnered just 15 percent of the vote in the primary, a distant second to Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell’s 49 percent of the vote.

“I think his best strategy is to shut down, don’t spend any money, and go on vacation,” said Fernando Guerra, a political scientist who heads the Center for the Study of Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University and a KPCC board member. “He doesn’t have a snowball’s chance.”


LA TIMES ENDORSES REAPPOINTMENT OF LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK

The LA Times editorial board says despite a few missteps, Charlie Beck deserves to be reappointed for another five-year term as Los Angeles Police Chief. (We at WLA agree wholeheartedly with their endorsement.) Here’s a clip:

Just look at the numbers. Crime in the city has decreased for 11 years in a row, beginning under the previous chief, William J. Bratton, and continuing for the last five years under Beck. It’s true that L.A. has benefited from a long-term trend in which cities across the country are becoming safer, but that doesn’t negate the impact that smart policing and good management have had here. In fact, Los Angeles has continued to cut crime even as other cities, such as Chicago, have experienced a resurgence in homicides and gang violence. While overall crime in L.A. was down in the first six months of this year, it should be noted that there was a small increase in violent crime, due partly to a rise in aggravated assaults. If Beck is reappointed, he will be under tremendous pressure to turn that around.

Beck should get extra credit for keeping crime low even though he has had, on average, significantly fewer officers on duty each day than his predecessor did, as a result of budget cuts that forced officers to stay home rather than be paid overtime.

[SNIP]

This is not to say that Beck is above criticism. In recent months, some weaknesses in his management style have become apparent; left unchecked, they could undermine some of the tremendous improvements of the last decade. There is, for instance, a widespread perception in the department that Beck, who has the final say on discipline of officers, has been unfair in meting out punishment — too harsh on some unlucky officers and too easy on favored employees. In one case, Beck overruled a panel’s recommendation that he fire an officer caught lying to investigators — an officer who also happened to be the nephew of a former deputy chief.

Beck also faced some discontent inside and outside the department when he returned eight officers to duty even though they had violated policy by carelessly firing more than 100 rounds at two women delivering newspapers during the Christopher Dorner manhunt last year.

Beck has repeatedly chosen to retrain officers rather than fire them for mistakes on the job, including out-of-policy shootings that killed or injured people. He was challenged publicly on this in 2012 by members of the Police Commission, who said his seemingly lenient punishments could send the wrong message to officers. Two years later, the police officers’ union and a new civilian panel appointed by Mayor Eric Garcetti also expressed concern about uneven discipline. If reappointed, Beck must address lingering perceptions of leniency and favoritism. He should lay out clear standards for discipline so officers know what to expect and so commissioners can hold him accountable if he deviates from his own policy.


ATF DRUG STINGS: 91% ARRESTED ARE MINORITIES, SAYS USA TODAY INVESTIGATION

A whopping 91% of those arrested by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives during drug sting operations during the last ten years were minorities (55% black, and over 33% hispanic), according to a USA Today investigation we didn’t want you to miss.

ATF officials say there is no racial bias occurring in their drug stings—that they are simply targeting “the worst of the worst.” Academics and criminal justice advocates say otherwise. US District Court Judge – and many others say otherwise.

USA Today’s Brad Heath has this story. Here’s how it opens, but there’s a lot more, so do go read the rest:

The nation’s top gun-enforcement agency overwhelmingly targeted racial and ethnic minorities as it expanded its use of controversial drug sting operations, a USA TODAY investigation shows.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has more than quadrupled its use of those stings during the past decade, quietly making them a central part of its attempts to combat gun crime. The operations are designed to produce long prison sentences for suspects enticed by the promise of pocketing as much as $100,000 for robbing a drug stash house that does not actually exist.

At least 91% of the people agents have locked up using those stings were racial or ethnic minorities, USA TODAY found after reviewing court files and prison records from across the United States. Nearly all were either black or Hispanic. That rate is far higher than among people arrested for big-city violent crimes, or for other federal robbery, drug and gun offenses.

The ATF operations raise particular concerns because they seek to enlist suspected criminals in new crimes rather than merely solving old ones, giving agents and their underworld informants unusually wide latitude to select who will be targeted. In some cases, informants said they identified targets for the stings after simply meeting them on the street.

“There’s something very wrong going on here,” said University of Chicago law professor Alison Siegler, part of a team of lawyers challenging the ATF’s tactics in an Illinois federal court. “The government is creating these crimes and then choosing who it’s going to target.”

Current and former ATF officials insist that race plays no part in the operations. Instead, they said, agents seek to identify people already committing violent robberies in crime-ridden areas, usually focusing on those who have amassed long and violent rap sheets.

“There is no profiling going on here,” said Melvin King, ATF’s deputy assistant director for field operations, who has supervised some of the investigations. “We’re targeting the worst of the worst, and we’re looking for violent criminals that are using firearms in furtherance of other illegal activities.”

The ATF’s stash-house investigations already face a legal backlash. Two federal judges in California ruled this year that agents violated the Constitution by setting people up for “fictitious crime” they wouldn’t otherwise commit; a federal appeals court in Chicago is weighing whether an operation there amounted to entrapment. Even some of the judges who have signed off on the operations have expressed misgivings about them.

On top of that, defense lawyers in three states have charged that ATF is profiling minority suspects. They asked judges to force the Justice Department to turn over records they hope will prove those claims. Last year, the chief federal judge in Chicago, U.S. District Court Judge Ruben Castillo, agreed and ordered government lawyers to produce a trove of information, saying there was a “strong showing of potential bias.”

Justice Department lawyers fought to block the disclosures. In one case in Chicago, the department refused to comply with another judge’s order that it produce information about the stings. The records it has so far produced in other cases remain sealed.

Because of that secrecy, the data compiled by USA TODAY offer the broadest evidence yet that ATF’s operations have overwhelmingly had minority suspects in their cross hairs. The newspaper identified a sample of 635 defendants arrested in stash-house stings during the past decade, and found 579, or 91%, were minorities.

Posted in Inspector General, Jim McDonnell, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, Paul Tanaka, race, The Feds, War on Drugs | 13 Comments »

Using Risk Assessment in Sentencing…Protecting Kids Whose Parents are Being Arrested…and More

August 1st, 2014 by Taylor Walker

AG ERIC HOLDER OPPOSES USING RISK ASSESSMENT TO CALCULATE DRUG SENTENCES

US Attorney General Eric Holder has come out against states using certain “big data” risk assessment tools to help determine drug sentences. Holder says that sentences should match the crime, and that using things like a person’s work history, education, and what neighborhood they’re from to determine their likelihood of reoffending, and thus, how long they should remain in prison, may have an adverse impact on minorities and poor people.

Supporters of risk assessment say that the data helps lower the prison population, recidivism, and money spent on incarceration. Many states use big data in corrections, but the federal government does not. A bipartisan bill to adopt risk assessment at the federal level is making its way through legislature, and is expected to make it to President Obama’s desk.

California uses risk assessment by way of “sentencing enhancements” that add time onto sentences, and are grossly skewed against minorities and contribute to our overstuffed prisons.

Times’ Massimo Calabresi interviewed AG Holder and has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Over the past 10 years, states have increasingly used large databases of information about criminals to identify dozens of risk factors associated with those who continue to commit crimes, like prior convictions, hostility to law enforcement and substance abuse. Those factors are then weighted and used to rank criminals as being a high, medium or low risk to offend again. Judges, corrections officials and parole officers in turn use those rankings to help determine how long a convict should spend in jail.

Holder says if such rankings are used broadly, they could have a disparate and adverse impact on the poor, on socially disadvantaged offenders, and on minorities. “I’m really concerned that this could lead us back to a place we don’t want to go,” Holder said on Tuesday.

Virtually every state has used such risk assessments to varying degrees over the past decade, and many have made them mandatory for sentencing and corrections as a way to reduce soaring prison populations, cut recidivism and save money. But the federal government has yet to require them for the more than 200,000 inmates in its prisons. Bipartisan legislation requiring risk assessments is moving through Congress and appears likely to reach the President’s desk for signature later this year.

Using background information like educational levels and employment history in the sentencing phase of a trial, Holder told TIME, will benefit “those on the white collar side who may have advanced degrees and who may have done greater societal harm — if you pull back a little bit — than somebody who has not completed a master’s degree, doesn’t have a law degree, is not a doctor.”

Holder says using static factors from a criminal’s background could perpetuate racial bias in a system that already delivers 20% longer sentences for young black men than for other offenders. Holder supports assessments that are based on behavioral risk factors that inmates can amend, like drug addiction or negative attitudes about the law. And he supports in-prison programs — or back-end assessments — as long as all convicts, including high-risk ones, get the chance to reduce their prison time.

But supporters of the broad use of data in criminal-justice reform — and there are many — say Holder’s approach won’t work. “If you wait until the back end, it becomes exponentially harder to solve the problem,” says former New Jersey attorney general Anne Milgram, who is now at the nonprofit Laura and John Arnold Foundation, where she is building risk-assessment tools for law enforcement. Some experts say that prior convictions and the age of first arrest are among the most power­ful risk factors for reoffending and should be used to help accurately determine appropriate prison time.


NEW LAW ENFORCEMENT GUIDELINES FOR TAKING CARE OF KIDS WHOSE PARENTS ARE BEING ARRESTED

The Department of Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police are taking crucial steps toward protecting kids from avoidable trauma by rolling out guidelines and training at the local, state, and federal levels on how to care for children whose parents are being arrested. The guidelines include asking suspects if they have dependent kids during their arrest (a California Research Bureau report found that only 13% of California officers ask this), placing kids with relatives instead of taking them into child welfare custody, and postponing arrests so that kids are not present, if possible.

USA Today’s Kevin Johnson spoke with Deputy AG James Cole about the new guidelines. Here’s a clip:

Few law enforcement agencies have policies that specifically address the continuing care of children after such arrests, despite an estimated 1.7 million children who have at least one parent in prison, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. The number of children jumps to about 2.7 million when parents detained in local jails are included….

Justice and the International Association of Chiefs of Police, the nation’s largest organization of police officials, are beginning to roll out guidelines to agencies across the country. It is an unusual attempt to shield children — often forgotten in the chaotic moments before and after arrests — from unnecessary “trauma” related to their parents’ detention.

While there is little reliable data to indicate how many children each year are in need of emergency placement because of parental arrests, [Deputy Attorney General James] Cole indicated that thousands of children could require such care.

“In addition to the legal consequences, protection of a child in these and related situations should also be viewed as an ethical, moral and pragmatic responsibility that serves the short-term and long-term interests of both law enforcement … and the communities they serve,” the IACP concluded in a report outlining the proposed guidelines to thousands of member police officials.

And here are some of the guidelines:

• Officers and agents should be required to determine the whereabouts of children during parental arrests.

A California Research Bureau report, cited by the IACP, found that only 13% of officers in California agencies routinely asked whether suspects had dependent children during arrests. Nearly two-thirds of state departments, according to the bureau, did not have policies to guide them on how or when to take responsibility of children during or after arrests.

• Children in need of emergency care, whenever possible, should be placed with other family members or close family friends, rather than social service agencies or police.

“Custody by a law enforcement agency or (child welfare systems) can have a significant negative emotional impact on a child, adding to the trauma of parent-child separation that the arrest may cause and possibly creating an enduring stigmatization,” the IACP report stated.

• Law enforcement and child welfare authorities should have agreements in place to assist in cases when emergency placement is necessary. In advance of police raids, child welfare officials should be part of pre-arrest planning when it is likely that children will be present at targeted locations.

“In some cases, where timing is not a critical concern,” the IACP report suggests, “an arrest may be postponed so that it will not be conducted in the presence of the child. If delay is not possible, arrangements should be made in advance to have additional law enforcement officers and or representatives from (child welfare services) … at the scene or on call.”


AND WHILE WE’RE ON THE ISSUE OF TRAUMA IN CHILDREN…

Nearly half of kids across the nation have experienced at least one trauma—an Adverse Childhood Experience (ACE)—according to a new report by the Child Trends research institute. The report used data from 95,000 households, and tallied eight different ACEs, including having a parent behind bars, economic hardship, witnessing violence at home, and divorce. Nationwide, 11% of kids experienced more than three ACEs (and 9% of kids in California).

KPCC’s Deepa Fernandes has more on the findings. Here’s a clip:

Experts say chronic early stress – or “adverse experiences” – in children’s lives can alter their emotional responses, their impulse control and even harm their developing brains.

For the study, researchers analyzed interviews from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health with more than 95,000 adults who had a child in their household…

Economic hardship was the most commonly reported stress children nationwide faced.

Child Trends has been compiling data about children’s well-being for years, but this is their first time using a large enough nationwide sample to make state-by-state comparisons.


THE REALITY OF THE SCHOOL-TO-PRISON-PIPELINE

At a commencement speech in a corrections facility, Gloria Ladsen-Billings (Kellner Family Chair of Urban Education at University of Wisconsin-Madison) once asked inmates how many of them had been suspended as a child. Every single one of them raised their hands.

Ladsen-Billings, in a talk with HuffPost’s Marc Lamont-Hill about racial disparity in suspensions, used this story to help illustrate how harsh school discipline creates a school-to-prison-pipeline, affecting kids into adulthood.

Here’s a clip from the accompanying text, but do click over to Huffpost and watch the video, which is part of a larger discussion that included Tunette Powell, the mother whose two toddlers have received a whopping 8 suspensions between them:

She explained that schools’ disproportionately large percentages of black student suspensions has less to do with white teachers not understanding the behavior of black students, and more to do with fear they bring into the classroom with them.

“The majority of suspensions are linked to what is called ‘non-contact behavior,’” she told Hill. “Kids get suspended for wearing a hat. Kids get suspended for rolling their eyes. Some of the referrals will say they were ‘disrespectful.’”

Billings explained that the danger of discrepancy between the severity of a punishment and the nature of the transgression plays out in students’ later lives.


LATEST IN THE NY TIMES MARIJUANA LEGALIZATION SERIES

In case you are following the New York Times’ editorial series about ending marijuana prohibition at the federal level, here is the latest offering.

Posted in juvenile justice, law enforcement, racial justice, School to Prison Pipeline, Sentencing, The Feds, Trauma, Zero Tolerance and School Discipline | 3 Comments »

Sen. Rand Paul and Cory Booker Team Up on Criminal Justice Reform…Filmmaking for Disadvantaged Kids…ACLU Sues Over Lack of Representation for Immigrant Kids…and More

July 10th, 2014 by Taylor Walker

CRUCIAL BIPARTISAN JUVENILE AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM BILL

On Tuesday, the unlikely combination of Senators Rand Paul (R-KY) and former mayor of NJ, Cory Booker (D-NJ), reached across the aisle to introduce an important, and far-reaching criminal justice reform bill. The REDEEM Act would give states incentives to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 18-years-old, and ban the use of solitary confinement on kids except in extreme circumstances.

The bill would also expunge the records of kids under 15 who have committed non-violent crimes, and seal the records of kids between the ages of 15-17, as well as create a “path” for non-violent adult offenders to petition to have their records sealed.

REDEEM would also lift the bans on federal welfare for low-level drug offenders.

Here’s a clip from Sen. Rand Paul’s website:

The REDEEM Act will give Americans convicted of non-violent crimes a second chance at the American dream. The legislation will help prevent youthful mistakes from turning into a lifetime of crime and help adults who commit non-violent crimes become more self-reliant and less likely to commit future crimes.

“The biggest impediment to civil rights and employment in our country is a criminal record. Our current system is broken and has trapped tens of thousands of young men and women in a cycle of poverty and incarceration. Many of these young people could escape this trap if criminal justice were reformed, if records were expunged after time served, and if non-violent crimes did not become a permanent blot preventing employment,” Sen. Paul said.

“I will work with anyone, from any party, to make a difference for the people of New Jersey and this bipartisan legislation does just that,” Sen. Booker said. “The REDEEM Act will ensure that our tax dollars are being used in smarter, more productive ways. It will also establish much-needed sensible reforms that keep kids out of the adult correctional system, protect their privacy so a youthful mistake can remain a youthful mistake, and help make it less likely that low-level adult offenders re-offend.”


LA FILM PROGRAM FOR UNDERPRIVILEGED TEENS AND YOUNG ADULTS

A film program through Southern California Crossroads empowers underprivileged teens and young adults in LA by teaching them the art of filmmaking.

Crossroads, a non-profit with other education reentry services, partners with the Tribeca Film Institute in NY and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood to give teens, who often feel unheard, a voice, and a medium for tackling difficult issues.

The LA Times’ Caitlin Owens has more on the program. Here’s how it opens:

As a child, Darlene Visoso tried to protect herself from the harsh words she endured from her father’s girlfriend by shutting off her emotions.

Until her early years of high school, she dealt with her pain, anger and insecurity by ignoring her feelings.

“I kind of went into a phase where I was like, what’s the point of feeling? What’s the point of laughing if you’re going to cry? What’s the point of crying if it’s non-ending emotion?” she said.

Though the girlfriend and her father have since split up, Darlene, now 17 and a recent graduate of South Gate High School, made a short film about her experiences titled “Learning to Feel.” She wrote it and played a part, starring as a girl who must learn to express her emotions after the death of her best friend.

The film was created through one of several programs run by Southern California Crossroads, a nonprofit group that aims to help underprivileged youths in violence-plagued communities. The film program, in partnership with the New York-based Tribeca Film Institute and St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood, allows students to confront social issues in their communities and their lives.

The topics addressed in the short films include such things as bullying, gun and gang violence, acceptance and self-identity. Saul Cervantes, a teacher with Crossroads, said filmmaking gives students a way to communicate.

“They feel like whatever they go through, they have to say it’s not really important,” he said. “This gives us an opportunity to show them a way to have a voice.”

Crossroads was formed in 2005 to help youths avoid violence, intervene in crisis situations and provide reentry services for those with criminal records. Although the heart of the program is education and employment, Crossroads offers mentoring, case management, tattoo removals and the film program.

It serves 18- to 24-year-olds who have dropped out of high school or have a criminal background…

Read on.


ACLU AND OTHERS SUE FEDS FOR NOT PROVIDING ATTORNEYS TO KIDS IN DEPORTATION HEARINGS

On Wednesday, the SoCal ACLU (and other groups) filed a class action law suit against the federal government on behalf of thousands of immigrant kids being shuffled through immigration court proceedings without any legal representation. The SoCal ACLU is joined by American Immigration Council, Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, Public Counsel and K&L Gates LLP in the suit.

Here are some clips from the ACLU of Southern California’s website:

Each year, the government initiates immigration court proceedings against thousands of children. Some of these youth grew up in the United States and have lived in the country for years, and many have fled violence and persecution in their home countries. The Obama administration even recently called an influx of children coming across the Southern border a “humanitarian situation.” And yet, thousands of children required to appear in immigration court each year do so without an attorney. This case seeks to remedy this unacceptable practice.

“If we believe in due process for children in our country, then we cannot abandon them when they face deportation in our immigration courts,” said Ahilan Arulanantham, senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project and the ACLU Foundation of Southern California. “The government pays for a trained prosecutor to advocate for the deportation of every child. It is patently unfair to force children to defend themselves alone.”

[SNIP]

Kristen Jackson, senior staff attorney with Public Counsel, a not-for-profit law firm that works with immigrant children, added, “Each day, we are contacted by children in desperate need of lawyers to advocate for them in their deportation proceedings. Pro bono efforts have been valiant, but they will never fully meet the increasing and complex needs these children present. The time has come for our government to recognize our Constitution’s promise of fairness and its duty to give these children a real voice in court.”

The complaint charges the U.S. Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Department of Health and Human Services, Executive Office for Immigration Review and Office of Refugee Resettlement with violating the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment Due Process Clause and the Immigration and Nationality Act’s provisions requiring a “full and fair hearing” before an immigration judge. It seeks to require the government to provide children with legal representation in their deportation hearings.


BUT WILL THE LAWSUIT CAUSE FURTHER DELAYS IN IMMIGRATION PROCEEDINGS THAT COULD ALSO BE HARMFUL TO SOME OF THESE KIDS?

EDITOR’S NOTE: The LA Times’ Hector Becerra has a story that questions whether the ACLU lawsuit will help or harm, pointing out that it will likely cause further delays in an already grossly overburdened system. Becerra’s story makes some interesting and valid points. Many kids who are here without documents are going to be repatriated no matter what, and the requirement for representation will likely only slow down an already glacial process.

But what of the kids who have legitimate reasons to ask for asylum or who have other extenuating circumstances that genuinely should be considered? Will their cases be adjudicated fairly by swamped judges if they don’t have the benefit an advocate? They are, after all, children. Will they get due process if they are their own sole representatives?

This is a complex matter, where there may be no perfect answer. But legal representation is an important tenet of our justice system. Let us not be too quick to dismiss the call for it for immigrant children simply because it may turn out to be inconvenient.


SENTENCING REFORM AND PUSHBACK FROM PROSECUTORS

NPR’s Morning Edition takes a look at the red states that are leading the pack on sentencing reform—Louisiana, in particular—and opposition from local prosecutors via plea bargain tactics. (As for California, we are sorely in need of sentencing reform.)

Here are some clips from the transcript, but do go listen to the episode:

Some red states like Louisiana and Texas have emerged as leaders in a new movement: to divert offenders from prisons and into drug treatment, work release and other incarceration alternatives.

By most counts, Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. In recent years, sentencing reformers in the capital, Baton Rouge, have loosened some mandatory minimum sentences and have made parole slightly easier for offenders to get.

But as reformers in Louisiana push for change, they’re also running into stiffening resistance — especially from local prosecutors.

It’s all happening as the number of Americans behind bars has started to decline. There are multiple reasons for that, including crime rates that have been dropping since the 1990s, as well as the impact of the Supreme Court’s 2011 requirement that tough-on-crime California reduce its prison population.

And there’s another factor: a growing bipartisan consensus for sentencing reform. Local politicians are getting political cover for those efforts from conservative groups like Right on Crime.

“It is a growing consensus on the right that this is the direction we want to be going,” says Kevin Kane, of the libertarian-leaning Pelican Institute for Public Policy in Louisiana. “Most people will point to, ‘Well, it’s saving money, and that’s all conservatives care about.’ But I think it goes beyond that.”

Kane says libertarians are interested in limiting the government’s power to lock people away, while the religious right likes the idea of giving people a shot at redemption — especially when it comes to nonviolent drug offenders.

Still, not everyone is embracing these ideas. In some places, there’s been considerable pushback — especially when the idea of eliminating prison time for drug offenders arises.

In Lafayette, La., the sheriff’s department has reinvented its approach to drug offenders. Marie Collins, a counselor by trade, runs the department’s treatment programs. She estimates at least 80 percent of the people in the parish jail got there because of substance abuse.

“The concept of, ‘Let’s lock them up and throw away the key,’ does nothing for society and does nothing for us, because you haven’t taught them anything,” she says.

So there’s counseling offered inside this jail. The sheriff’s staff is also constantly scanning the jail’s population for nonviolent inmates it can release early into the appropriate programs on the outside.

One option is the Acadiana Recovery Center right next door, a treatment program run by Collins and the sheriff’s department — though the staffers play down their connection to law enforcement. In fact, you can seek treatment there even if you’ve never been arrested.

“If we can be proactive and provide the treatment before they get to jail, it’ll actually cost us less money,” Collins says.

Arguments like that are making headway at the state level. But reformers in Baton Rouge are also experiencing pushback. By most counts, the state has the highest incarceration rate in the country, and there’s a traditional preference for long sentences.

[SNIP]

The vast majority of criminal cases in America are resolved through plea bargains. Defendants plead guilty out of fear of getting a worse sentence if they don’t. Plea bargains jumped above 90 percent in the 1980s and ’90s, in part because a wave of harsh new sentences for drug offenses strengthened prosecutors’ hands when bargaining with defendants.

“For a DA to have the ability to dangle over someone’s head 10, 20 years in jail, that provides them with tremendous leverage to pretty much get whatever they want,” says Louisiana State Sen. J.P. Morrell, a Democrat from New Orleans and former public defender.

Posted in ACLU, juvenile justice, Sentencing, solitary, The Feds, Uncategorized, Youth at Risk | No 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 »

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 »

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 »

FBI Asked Indicted Deputy To Wear A Wire With His Father….& Baca

March 18th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


According to information contained new documents
filed Monday by the attorneys of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, FBI agents reportedly asked Sexton to wear a wire with the idea that the son should secretly record conversations with his father, Ted Sexton, who was just about to join the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department as Lee Baca’s Assistant Sheriff in charge of Homeland Security. The feds also reportedly hoped that Sexton would record Baca.]

According to a declaration filed by one of Sexton’s attorneys, Alabama-based Mays Jemison, the feds asked James Sexton to do the secret recording on November 16, 2012. FBI agents asked him again on November 28.

The purpose of the proposed “wire” wearing was reportedly to investigate then-sheriff Lee Baca. (A source reports that another department member was also asked to wear a wire with Baca, but that, after the department member agreed, the operation was called off. Sexton never agreed to the wire.)

James Sexton, if you’ll remember, is one of seven department members indicted for participating in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown.

He is also reportedly the only one of the seven who contacted the FBI before they contacted him and appeared to consistently cooperate with the FBI over approximately three dozen contacts with agents. (It was only when he was asked to secretly record his father, that Sexton drew the line.)

According to documents filed this past week, Sexton was repeatedly assured that he was not the target of the investigation.

The filings offer this july 2012 conversation between Sexton and an FBI agent named Patrick Hampel, whom Sexton contacted.

Deputy Sexton:

I am not a source. Please keep that in mind when you or your friends call me.
Special Agent Hampel:

I’m well aware of that. And so is my friend. No one is trying to recruit you. 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. Seriously, bro, there’s no ulterior motive here.

More on all this soon.

Posted in FBI, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 8 Comments »

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