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THE LA JUSTICE REPORT


Sheriff’s Department Probes Yet Another Secret Deputy Clique

April 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


Secret deputy cliques within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department
have been a problem for the LASD since at least the late 1980′s, some say before.

Such “affinity groups” most recently hit the public consciousness with the revelation last year that there were gang-like cliques reportedly wreaking havoc in the department’s troubled and notorious Men’s Central Jail. The highest profile of these CJ cliques is the 3000 Boys, with their matching tattoos and even hand signals. But there are also the 2000 Boys, among others, both inside the jails and out on the street.

Now, according to a story posted Thursday late afternoon in the LA Times, the department is newly worried by a clique inside the LASD’s gang unit—reportedly because of what is printed in a memo or pamphlet that may indicate that deputies’ participation in Officer Involved Shootings conveys status within the clique.

Rumors of shootings conveying status within other LASD cliques have long swirled around the department. However, if such a delineation really does appear in writing, it would be an entirely different matter.

The LA Times Robert Faturechi has the story:

Los Angeles County sheriff’s detectives have launched a probe into what appears to be a secret deputy clique within the department’s elite gang unit, an investigation triggered by the discovery of a document suggesting the group embraces shootings as a badge of honor.

The document described a code of conduct for the Jump Out Boys, a clique of hard-charging, aggressive deputies who gain more respect after being involved in a shooting, according to sources with knowledge of the investigation. The pamphlet is relatively short, sources said, and explains that deputies earn admission into the group through the endorsement of members.

The sources stressed that the internal affairs investigation is still in its early stages and that little is known about the Jump Out Boys’ behavior or its membership.

Still, sheriff’s officials are concerned that the group represents another unsanctioned clique within the department’s ranks, a problem the department has been grappling with for decades.

Last year, the department fired a group of deputies who all worked on the third, or “3000,” floor of Men’s Central Jail, after the group fought two fellow deputies at an employee Christmas party and allegedly punched a female deputy in the face. Sheriff’s officials later said the men had formed an aggressive “3000″ clique that used gang-like three-finger hand signs. A former top jail commander told The Times that jailers would “earn their ink” by breaking inmates’ bones.

On learning of the new investigation, LASD sources we spoke with expressed concern about whether the department’s investigation of the clique would be honest and aggressive.

Some sources took it as a possible good sign that the investigation is being conducted by the Internal Affairs Bureau, or IAB, the investigative unit over which Sheriff Baca has recently retaken control. The department’s other investigative unit, UCIB, which looks into potentially criminal matters in the LASD, is still ultimately overseen by the Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, who took over directly both investigative units last march, much to the dismay of many LASD observers.

As Faturechi notes, Tanka himself is a member of the now infamous Vikings clique that was most active in the 1980′s and early 1990′s, it’s members the subject of a massive class action suit that cost LA County $9 million in cash settlements and training. According to a deposition taken in an unrelated court case earlier this year, Mr. Tanaka still sports a tattoo on his ankle signifying Vikings membership.

WitnessLA has acquired a partial list of Vikings working inside the department culled from sworn depositions for various court cases. The list indicates there are Vikings members scattered at supervisory levels throughout the LASD including, at present, inside the departments’ internal investigatory units like IAB and ICIB.

It is, however, considered to be good news that IAB is now headed by Captain John Clark, recently put into place by Sheriff Baca. Clark, if you remember, was the supervisor that WitnessLA reported had tried to institute reforms in Men’s Central Jail when he became aware of the growing problem of deputy cliques inside the jail.

Modeled after the law-suit producing deputy cliques of the previous decades, like the Vikings, these cliques featured special tattoos, threw gang-like hand signs and, in some cases, refused to socialize with “rival” cliques within the department. In the case of the 3000 Boys and the matching group from the 2nd floor, the 2000 Boys, the cliques had also recently started waiting for their entire crew to get off work—sometimes lingering for hours at a time—before leaving the station together en masse. This was not only a violation of departmental policy, but it was eerie gang-like behavior intended to intimidate—to show both inmates and supervisors alike who really ran the jail.

But instead of getting support from higher-ups, Clark had his reforms swiftly revoked by Undersheriff Tanaka, who railed at Clark and his supervisors for their attempts at discipline, had his own private meetings with deputies, then transferred Clark away from custody work, altogether. (You’ll find more details in Part 3 and Part 4 of Matt Fleischer’s Dangerous Jails series.)

Officially Sheriff Baca disapproves of groups like the Jump Out Boys, the 3000 Boys, the 2000 Boys, the Regulators and the Vikings, et al. But sources inside the LASD tell us that unofficially a double message is conveyed to the troops with the undersheriff’s well-documented work in the gray speeches, and his tendency to protect, rescue and reward those who do color outside the lines. And of course his retention of the Viking ink on his ankle.

Sheriff’s department spokesman, Steve Whitmore, confirmed that IAB was doing the investigating, but reminded me that the notion of status conveyed for shootings could be “a fantasy.”

“We just don’t know.”

In any case, WLA will track the investigation as it develops as, no doubt, will the Times.
So stay tuned.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 54 Comments »

LASD INVESTIGATIONS: AERO BUREAU – PART 2: IRREGULARITIES… Tales of Safety-Risking Policies, Loyalty Oaths, Falsified Records & Take-home Helicopters

April 2nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

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When 31-year Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department
veteran Lieutenant Edison Cook came to the LASD’s Aero Bureau in June of 2009, he was genuinely thrilled about the assignment.

Cook’s last two postings had been the department’s Palmdale station for a number of years then Catalina Island where he led a swift crackdown on what the department felt was a growing gang problem on the idyllic resort island. The crackdown made national news, which caused local officials to fear that the negative publicity would drive away vacationers from tourist-dependent Avalon.

Yet Sheriff Baca was reportedly pleased with Cook’s work and asked him where, if he had his druthers, he would like to be stationed next.

Cook told the sheriff he’d like to become a helicopter pilot at Aero bureau.

He was by no means confident his wish would be granted. Most people who transferred into Aero were reportedly hand-picked by its commanding officer, Captain Louis Duran, who was, as he liked to mention, an old friend of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. (Some said it was his wife who was the older Tanaka friend. But no matter, the principle is the same.) In any case, since Duran’s arrival at the bureau, the majority of Aero transfers were from from Region II, which featured the hard charging stations like Lennox and Century, to which Tanaka was partial.

Still, in short order, Cook was surprised to find that his transfer had been arranged, presumably by the sheriff. He was going to Aero Bureau.

Ed Cook had no inkling of the firestorm that was to come.


AERO Bureau, as the name implies, is an elite LASD division that oversees the department’s aircraft—mostly helicopters. The bureau has a fleet of more than a dozen single engine light helicopters, Eurocopter AStars, that are used primarily to support law enforcement work on the ground throughout Los Angeles County. In addition to the air support fleet, there are the 2-engine Sikorsky Sea Kings (soon to be replaced by Eurocopter Super Pumas) operated by the department’s Rescue 5 pilots. These are the sturdier search-and-rescue aircraft we often see in footage on the evening news performing dramatic back-country life-saving missions. The department also owns a Beechcraft King Air turbo prop, that can seat up to eleven people and is used for specific kinds of personnel transport needs, like if, for example, a couple of detectives need to speak immediately to an inmate in the state prison at Pelican Bay, where there is no big commercial airport nearby, the King Air is the most time and cost efficient way to get the detectives there and back.

When Cook arrived on the job, according to sources who watched his transition to the new assignment, he was well regarded by the deputies under him from the beginning. “You could see he was a straight arrow,” said one source, “but he was also this very approachable kind of guy. People liked him.”

Cook’s performance evaluations prior to his transfer would tend to support that assessment. In addition, to year after year of Outstanding ratings, the comments that accompanied the ratings indicated an unusually responsible and ethical officer with “exceptional interpersonal skills, and “splendid oral communications skills.” Judging solely from the last 9 years of work-place evaluations, the cumulative impression is of a capable, ethics-driven supervisor who also inspired confidence in those below him.

Cook was so approachable, in fact, that as time went along, he was reportedly the supervisor to whom deputies who had some concern or other about the bureau came to confide. “They felt they could be honest with him,” said one bureau veteran. “With Ed, they weren’t afraid of repercussions.”

As the months wore on, the deputies’ complaints and concerns reportedly began to group themselves into three main categories: the distribution of overtime assignments, the alleged falsification of work records by others in the bureau, including overtime records, and the concern that assignments and schedules were being deliberately manipulated to create missed service calls that would, in turn, give the impression that the bureau needed more overtime, but which raised some clear and troubling ethical issues.


THE MATTER OF OVERTIME

After economic crash of 2008 forced both the sheriff’s department and the LAPD into angst-causing budget cuts, the issue of overtime—the time-and-a-half-paid work that many law enforcement personnel coveted as a source of extra income, and which allowed more deputies to be available at times of high need—was one of those areas targeted for cutting by both of LA’s law enforcement agencies.

The LASD in particular was pressed to make deep cuts after a 2009 audit found that the department had exceeded its annual overtime budget by an average of 104 percent, or $83 million a year, in each of the previous five years.

As a consequence, Sheriff Baca reluctantly imposed a severe overtime diet across the department.

It was in this context that, in the spring of 2010, deputies told Cook that what overtime the bureau was allowed was not being distributed fairly. Cook decided to check into the matter himself. “He went and pulled up the time sheets,” explained a source. “Cook allegedly found that a cluster of deputies and a couple of sergeants at AERO seemed to be getting a lot of more of the lucrative overtime than the rest of the bureau’s personnel.

In a year’s time, these assignments translated into significant dollar amounts—even, surprisingly, in spite of the department-wide overtime diet.

For instance, one pilot, a deputy, who was perceived to be one of those most favored with assignments, made $81,816 in overtime in addition to his base pay and benefits in 2009. A sergeant made $70,178 that same year. Another sergeant made $56,641 in overtime in 2009.

In 2010, when most LASD were making close to zero in overtime, county records show this same cluster still made between 30 and 40 percent extra on top of their base salaries, amounts that were unusual even in the good years. In the belt tightening years, “it was unheard of.”

Even weirder, the super-overtime pilot made another 57 percent in overtime income on top of his salary in 2010.

During the next supervisors’ staff meeting, Cook brought the matter up to Captain Duran, explaining that he was fairly sure that overtime was being abused, and asked how matters could be rectified. According to Cook, rather than questioning him further to get to the bottom of the matter, Duran’s response was, “Who’s the snitch?”

“With Louie, everything’s all about loyalty”—said one source, referring to Duran. “When you first come to Aero Bureau he actually gives you a loyalty lecture, and he’ll ask, ‘Are you loyal to me? Are you loyal to me?’ And you want to say, ‘Dude. I’m loyal to the bureau, but I don’t want to swear loyalty to some guy, even if you are the captain.’ But you can’t say that, of course.”

“After that, a group of deputies filed complaints with the union,” said another insider. “But nothing seemed to change.”


MANIPULATING SERVICE CALLS TO PRODUCE OVERTIME

The deputy’s complaints kept on coming.. Early in the fall of 2010, guys began telling Cook that some of the supervisors had instituted a plan to “manipulate service calls for the purpose of seeking overtime funding for Aero Bureau personnel.” The deputies allegedly said that their sergeants had directed them to “slow down” on service calls—-in order to be busy when other requests for their services came in, thus generating more missed calls on their log. The missed calls would then in turn be reported up the line to sheriff’s headquarters as evidence that more overtime funding was needed for Aero Bureau.

Deputies also told Cook that “in-service reports”-–the daily logs that designated where personnel and equipment—were being falsified so that some airships (helicopters) were written down as being in the air and working—making things appear that the unit was working to capacity—-when in fact those birds were on the ground and not in service at all.

This pretense reportedly generated even more missed calls to add additional fuel to the overtime scheme.

Another wrinkle in the reported overtime garnering strategy occurred on or around October 7, 2010 when Cook arrived to work at the Long Beach flight facility where Aero Bureau keeps most of its planes. Right away one of his deputies approached him and told Cook that he’d not been assigned to a helicopter for his shift, and wondered why. Cook simply fixed the matter by adding another flight-ready ‘copter to the “in-service” list put himself on as a pilot, taking the man as his tactical flight deputy. (Both positions were needed for every flight.) One of Captain Duran’s inner circle, and also one of the overtime favorites, Sergeant John Haughey, approached and, according to Cook, became “very upset.” Minutes later, as Cook and his deputy were in the midst-of their pre-flight safety checks, Duran himself came out to the helicopter to talk and, according to Cook, began reciting the now-familiar overtime mantra. “We don’t want to field too many ships,” he allegedly told Cook, “because then it would look like we could get along without overtime.”

Cook said he explained to Duran that the deputy was scheduled to work, but was not on the “in-service” list, so he’d simply corrected the matter as it was a waste of manpower to have a him sitting around. Finally Duran relented and agreed to let them fly.

WitnessLA spoke to other sources inside Aero Bureau who gave us their own versions of the allegations. “We were told, ‘We need to miss these calls,’” said one pilot. “When we’d volunteer to fly so that we wouldn’t miss calls, we were told not to, ‘Because we want to show that we have a need.’”

Instead pilots reported that they often sat behind desks during their shifts, with nothing relevant to do. And once a week we do ‘special projects,’ explained a pilot. That means we wash cars and aircraft. And on those very same days, calls are dropped due to “Air 23 overtime redirection.”

Of course, as the direct and unavoidable consequence of dropped calls officers on the ground did not get the back up they needed.

“It’s a fragile thing covering a large area like LA County with a small asset [meaning Aero Bureau’s pilots and fleet],” one of the bureau’s pilots explained. “We’re good at it. But if we even lose one helicopter we have to decide what areas are not going to be covered. Then if you hobble us further, it’s hard to accommodate anybody properly.’

The missed call may be something minor, he said. Or it could be a call where the lack of air support is crucial, “something like an officer involved shooting, or a foot pursuit, or a jail escape.”

A patrol veteran went further. “Not having air support can be a safety issue. When they play around with dropped calls like that they have no idea which time it’s going to really matter.”


CARPING ABOUT CARPING

Cook soon discovered one more piece of the puzzle of the alleged overtime-generating scheme that had to do with a then-new LASD policy called CARPing.

CARP is a department program that was first introduced in 2009 as a strategy to cut down on the need for expensive overtime hours. CARP—which stands for Cadre of Administrative Resource Personnel—operated on a simple principle: all administrative personnel, including supervisors, would work 4/5ths of their workweek—or 32-hours—at their regular job. Then they’d work the remaining eight-hour shift on a “CARP” assignment, in which they would cover a frontline vacancy where more uniformed bodies were particularly needed, like at say a patrol station, a jail facility, a courthouse or, in the case of Aero Bureau, a shift as a pilot or observer, so that more aircraft could be manned and in the air. Even Sheriff Baca very publicly did a patrol shift. At Aero Bureau, the extra help was most likely to be needed at night, when largest number of the emergency service calls generally came in.

The first irregularities Cook noticed with CARP came in early October of 2010 when he gave one of his sergeants the task of preparing the weekly CARP report, which listed who had worked what shifts on what days and times. As the Sergeant compiled the report, he learned from various deputies that there were supervisors in the bureau who had reported working the requisite CARP assignment on certain days, but who had, in fact, not worked at all.

Matters got worse in mid-October, according to Cook, when an email went out from the bureau’s Operations Sergeant, whose name was Casey Dowling, to all Aero Bureau supervisors and managers. It read, “Supervisors that are CARPing need to CARP on days, no more night CARPing. “ Since the biggest volume of service calls came at night, Cook feared this was yet another strategy designed to generate more missed calls—-and thus make a stronger case for still more overtime. In fact, Dowling’s email reportedly stated as much. “If we go short and calls are missed,” Dowling wrote, according to Cook, “we need to record the missed calls and provide our executives with the paper records so they can fight the good fight.”

The “good fight” being getting money to pay for yet more overtime.

WitnessLA’s sources echoed Cook’s allegations. Several reported having seen the Dowling email. They also told us of instances they’d witnessed of manipulating the CARP system by a sergeant or deputy, instead of filling in where the need was greatest, in reality simply moving to a desk one desk over from their own, and marking themselves down for taking a CARP shift.

“We’d see people down for CARPing on shifts when they’re not present,” said one source. In other instances, said sources, a deputy or a supervisor would be listed as taking a pilot’s shift during a high traffic period when calls were likely to be missed, “but we could see by the records, that the helicopter didn’t fly during that time period.”

Infuriated by what seemed to be a blatant and regular manipulation and/or falsification of CARP and other work logs, in addition to Cook’s note taking, some Aero deputies began to keep their own records.


FALSIFYING TIME RECORDS

Both Cook and others inside Aero Bureau with whom we spoke, talked about their perception—often backed by first-hand observation— that, apart from the CARP problems, a cadre of insiders routinely changed time records to reflect work times that were false.

Unlike at some work places where a punch-in system electronically records time in and time out, thus making cheating difficult, at Aero Bureau the time sheets are manually recorded.

According to sources, it used to be that monthly time reports—showing all Aero personnel’s hours worked, overtime, and sick or vacation time—were printed out and distributed to everyone so that each bureau employee could double-check their own times, and see when the others worked. The transparent method provided a fail-safe of sorts, so that if someone wrote down the wrong time, or claimed to have worked a shift he or she did not actually work, others would see it and could mention the error. By the same token, if someone felt they were not credited for time they worked, they could make that correction too.

“The system wasn’t perfect, but it worked,” said one pilot.

Reportedly, however, after Cook first took the matter of the inequitable overtime assignments et al, to Duran, all at once the monthly reports were no longer distributed. Moreover, reportedly a cadre of Aero Bureau people—specifically those perceived to be part of Duran’s inner circle—no longer had their names in the “in-service” lists that specified daily assignments.

“Suddenly everything got secretive,” said a source.

Unhappy at the information blackout by their captain, many Aero Bureau deputies still found ways to ferret out who was cheating, which to them also meant who was being protected.

“Duran always tells people he’s protected by Tanaka,” said an Aero bureau source. “That’s who he wants to be like. He protects the people who are loyal to him, and let’s them get away with things, because. in return, he knows they protect him.”


ERRANT AIRCRAFT

Another of Cook’s allegations had to do with questionable use of some of the county’s aircraft, in particular the Beechcraft King Air turboprop purchased by the department in 2001.

The King-Air is used by the Sheriff for trips to Sacramento, and by department investigators to fly to remote California prisons, or by other department executives at times of professional need when its use is practical and cost effective. The LAPD also has a King-Air that it uses for similar purposes.

The plane requires two pilots and reportedly costs the department approximately $700 to $1000 per hour to fly, depending upon what costs are factored into the equation.

Cook began to notice that Captain Duran and some of his inner circle took the King Air to conferences and the like although, according to his calculations, commercial flights would have been far cheaper. One of the trips that Cook flagged took place in mid July of 2010, when Captain Duran decided to take the turboprop to an event in Tucson, Arizona, a yearly conference sponsored by ALEA, The Airborne Law Enforcement Association.

The conference was admittedly good for networking, and for examining the array of new flight-related gew gaws displayed by the many venders who had booths at the event. Plus it was fun. But this particular year, travel plans—commercial flights or otherwise—would have been unlikely to have gotten the necessary approval by higher-ups because, a month before, the LA County Board of Supervisors had voted to suspend all county-funded travel to Arizona “unless the county’s chief executive determines that county interests would be seriously harmed.”

(Sources assured us that missing an ALEA conference for one year would not “seriously harm” the county’s interests.)

So, to get around the prohibition, Duran allegedly simply approved his own trip and took the King Air, reportedly asking the plane’s pilots to mark it down as a “training exercise.”

“Even though we never do training exercises by flying out of state,” said a source.

Another example of a King Air flight that caused bureau eyebrows to be raised, occurred in December of 2008, some months before Cook arrived, when Duran reportedly flew the plane to Bridgeport, Connecticut, to visit the Sikorsky helicopter factory. According to several sources familiar with bureau flight logs, the flight to Bridgeport on December 15, took 7.6 hours. The return flight on December 18, was another 14 hours. “They hit head winds,” a source said, explaining that the King Air is a small plane ideal for flights within the state or for a hop one state over. “They aren’t meant to be flown cross country.”

In any case, the Long Beach to Bridgeport round trip amounted to 21.6 total flight hours.

At $700 an hour, this means the flight alone cost $15,121. At $1000 an hour the cost would be …well you can do the math. Whereas to fly a commercial airline on an unrestricted ticket is less than $1800 round trip, even at today’s high fuel prices, $7200 if four people went. “And you don’t need four people,” said a source. “You need one or two at most. Four is just Louie traveling with an entourage.”


THE TAKE-HOME HELICOPTER

In addition to the questionable King Air trips, three sources have reported to WitnessLA that one deputy, an experienced pilot named Dale Ryken, occasionally flies a department helicopter home. Or to be more precise, the observers allege that Ryken flies from where he works in the main facility in Long Beach (and where most of the aircraft are hangared), to a small satellite Aero facility at the Pitchess Detention Center, which happens to be very close to the deputy’s home in Santa Clarita.

“We’ve had an unmarked patrol car up at Pitchess since 2009,” said one of the sources who reported they had observed Ryken’s take home helicopter patterns. “So he just drives that county car home and parks it in his garage.” In the morning, Ryken reportedly drives back to Pitchess, climbs into the take-home aircraft and begins his shift.

In at least one case, Ryken reportedly kept the helicopter over the weekend.

“The rest of us get in our cars after we finish work, and fight traffic,” said a source. “after we’ve just watched Dale take a helicopter.”

Reportedly the take-home helicopter flight was not a daily or even a weekly occurrence. But it happened often enough that several at Aero Bureau claim to have kept written records documenting the incidents, (although WitnessLA has not seen them).

As to whether others had been allowed a take-home aircraft in times of personal need or professional convenience, our sources say no.

“Except for Dale,” said one pilot, “I’ve never seen it happen.”

Our sources also said that many at the bureau were dismayed that the practice had been allowed to continue without any seeming consequence for Ryken, whom they named as one of those high on Captain Duran’s favorites list. This is the same list of people sources claim were repeatedly assigned a disproportionate amount of overtime—a noticeable proportion of which, according to several sources, he may not have actually worked.

Indeed, county records show that Deputy Ryken’s overtime earnings for 2009 was $81,816, the highest in the unit. In 2010, the year in which overtime was cut department-wide to almost nothing, Ryken still pulled in $69,364 in extra pay on top of his base salary of $121,188 plus benefits.


THE HANGAR ONE CONTRACT

Cook happened to arrive at Aero Bureau right around the time the sheriff’s department was beginning the process of obtaining bids for and negotiating the purchase and outfitting of a fleet of new helicopters. In watching the bidding process, and the further negotiations for and delivery of the 12 new helicopters, Cook began to notice things in the bidding machinations and in the contract itself that seemed alarmingly out-of-whack to him. As he researched further, Cook—like Richard Gurr (see WLA’s earlier report)—gradually became convinced that Aero Bureau supervisors had colluded to rig the bidding process so as to exclude all but one vender, the comparatively inexperienced, Carlsbad-based Hangar One Avionics.

He further concluded that the resulting Hangar One contract was loaded with huge overcharges, double charges, and the purchase of equipment that was either excessive or unnecessary, or both—all amounting to millions of dollars of expenditure by which, Cook alleged, someone other than the County of Los Angeles was assuredly benefiting.

[More on this in Part 3]


KILLING THE MESSENGER

As Cook noticed more instances of what he believed to be misconduct—or worse—he reported what he had observed to his superiors through the appropriate chain of command, going as high up the department food chain as Chief Michael Grossman. In some instances Cook went so far as to request a criminal investigation. According to the statements made in his lawsuit, each time he attempted a report, he was rebuffed and told, in so many words, to sit down and shut up.

When Cook did not shut up, he was removed from his duties as supervising lieutenant at the main Aero Bureau facility in Long Beach and transferred to one of the bureau’s satellite facilities in Palmdale, with no supervisory duties at all.

Ed was still a pilot so he decided not to worry about the change. But while Cook was stationed in Palmdale, Captain Duran reportedly upped the ante. According to Cook’s lawsuit, Duran “initiated a rumor that [Cook] was moved out of the Long Beach facility for substandard performance,” and then was directed by Duran to retire. If he didn’t retire, Duran allegedly told him, Cook would be transferred out of Aero Bureau and lose his flight pay. Duran further informed Cook that he was going to be investigated for improprieties, namely taking his “girlfriend” for flights in a department helicopter.

Cook—who is in a long-term marriage and reportedly did not have a girlfriend, then or now,—-responded by telling Duran, in essence: bring it on. “I want you to initiate and IAB investigation,” Cook reportedly said. “In fact I’m asking you to do it.”

According to Cook’s attorney, Greg Smith, no such investigation was ever initiated.

“But,” said a source, “they kept on with the character assassination anyway.”

And, Cook kept on with his examination of what he believed to be a growing list of improprieties—and possibly illegalities—hoping he could eventually get higher-ups in the department to wake up and look into what he was alleging.

Instead, according to his lawsuit, Cook was transferred punitively to a jail assignment, and then was “constructively terminated,” when he was told he must retire “or face continuing retaliatory acts, which could lead to his termination.”

Reportedly, it was Undersheriff Paul Tanaka who personally approved the order for Cook’s transfer.

It was then that Cook found a lawyer.

“Ed Cook is probably the most honest man I know in the department,” said one bureau insider. “He’s super nice guy. And he’s honest and ethical. That’s why the rumors they pass don’t hold water. In a way, that’s his failing. He’s honest to a fault.”


FURTHER INVESTIGATION

Subsequent to Cook’s reports about alleged wrongdoing, ICIB, the LASD’s criminal investigative bureau, and the LA County’s auditor-controller’s office, each opened investigations into some of the Hangar One allegations.

As WitnessLA previously reported, according to Sheriff’s Department Spokesman Steve Whitmore, both investigations found Cook’s allegations to be “without merit,” yet the case was passed along to the Los Angeles District Attorneys office for possible further investigation.

In the meantime, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky told his fellow supervisors last Tuesday that he wanted a more comprehensive audit by the County Auditor Controller, whose initial audit he described as narrow.

More specifically, according to some who have read the approximately six-page confidential report from the auditor-controller’s office, the report suggests the audit investigated very little, and it gives almost no details about its methods or processes. (By the way, no one has a good explanation as to why the thing is confidential, except that the Sheriff’s Department insisted that it needed to be confidential, a choice that it would be helpful if the Supervisors would override.)

IAB, the department’s other investigative arm, is reportedly doing its own probe.

Yet, according to all those with whom we spoke inside and close to Aero Bureau, not one of the many investigators has talked to anyone in the bureau save Captain Louis Duran and a handful of his inner circle—who are precisely the people who are accused of wrongdoing.

“We’re all waiting for someone to ask us what we know,” one source told me last night. “But no one has. We didn’t even know there was an ICIB investigation.”

With all of the above in mind, WitnessLA would like to respectfully suggest that LASD’s Internal Affairs Bureau investigators, and those investigating for the Office of Independent Review, would do well to talk to all of the ordinary deputies and pilots in the bureau.

“Anyone who doesn’t bother to come to talk to the rest of us,” said another pilot, “is by definition not serious about finding answers. It’s just another whitewash.”


POST SCRIPT: On Tuesday of last week, March 27, the day WitnessLA and the LA Times both ran stories about Aero Bureau and the Hangar One contract, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka reportedly called Lt. Robert Wheat, Sergeant Casey Dowling, Sergeant John Haughey and Sergeant Howard Fuchs (formerly of Aero Bureau, now at Century) into his office for a closed door meeting. These four are the core of Duran’s inner circle. This is also the group that reportedly worked on the Hangar One bid and contract, in particular Dowling and Fuchs.

All four are reportedly also long-time Tanaka loyalists.

That same morning, Captain Duran was called in to meet with Lee Baca. It is not clear, however, whether or not Duran was invited to the Tanaka meeting.


EDITORS NOTE: To check for yourself the salary, overtime, et al, of any county employee, go here for 2009, here for 2010.

In the meantime, here are the figures for three of Aero Bureau’s highest overtime earners:

Deputy Dale Ryken 2009: Base salary – $121,188, Overtime $81,816

2010: Base salary – $121,188 Overtime $ 69,364

Sergeant Casey Dowling 2009: Base salary – $99,982, Overtime – $70,178

2010: Base salary – $105,557, Overtime $35,411

Sergeant John Haughey 2009 – Base salary: $100,896 Overtime: $56,641
2010 – Base salary: $109,739 Overtime: $43,888

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 118 Comments »

WitnessLA Reportedly Now Blocked on Sheriff’s Dept. Work Station Computers

March 15th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


If you work at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department,
when you are taking a break at work (unless you are driving, say, a patrol car), with rare exceptions, you may use a department computer to log on to Facebook, check out the latest video going viral on YouTube, buy some new shoes on Zappos, bid for some Springsteen tickets on eBay, read the latest news on the LA Times website, Huffington Post, Drudge, Wired, Breitbart, the LA Weekly or LA Observed.

But, reportedly, as of February 22, at most LASD work stations you may no longer access WitnessLA.

Since September when we launched Matt Fleischer’s Dangerous Jails investigation into the systemic problems in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, WitnessLA began drawing a significant readership from the ranks of those who work for the department, a readership that has continued to grow. Deputies logged on from their home computers, their PDAs and, in lots of cases it seemed, from some department computer or other.

LASD folks came in the beginning (we presume) to read our investigative reports on the department and related topics but, as time went on, they also came to participate in—or simply to observe—the ongoing conversation among department personnel, working and retired, in WLA’s comments section. The exchanges are lively, sometimes angry, occasionally snarky, quarrelsome and gossipy, but nearly always very informative

We knew that department personnel were reading us from their workstations because WLA subscribes to a very good tracking service (in addition to Google Analytics) that allows us to observe and analyze reader patterns and the like. Thus we can see when people log in from the LASD system—as they did, by the hundreds.

Then on Wednesday February 22, we began getting emails from deputies and supervisors telling us that WitnessLA had been blocked on LASD computers that could formerly accessthe site.. After these messages reached critical mass, I checked the tracker, and sure enough the log-ins from the LASD IP addresses fell off a cliff late on that Wednesday in February.

There was still a trickle coming through on Thursday, but even that was gone by Thursday evening.

We waited a week, thinking it might be a momentary glitch, but according to a slew of department sources, the block never came off. After months of being able to access WitnessLA, the ability to pull up our URL was precipitously shut down, while most other websites were available as usual.

Our electronic measurements showed the same thing that the deputies continued to report.

It should be noted, by the way, that Wednesday Feb. 22—the day deputies reported that they could no longer get on the WLA site—-was also the day that both the LA Times and the Daily News reported that LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina had, the day before, introduced a motion at the Supes’ meeting prohibiting county managers from soliciting campaign contributions from their underlings, and that she cited WitnessLA as part of the reason. Specifically, Molina told reporters that her motion had been triggered by concerns she felt after reading WLA’s reports on an alleged pay-for-play promotions scheme being overseen by Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Sure, it could be just a coincidence and all, but the peculiarity of timing could not help but catch our attention.

In any case, yesterday when I asked Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore about the fact that WLA was reported blocked, he said he wasn’t aware of any such action, and that deputies might be talking about computers that don’t have Internet access at all.

I explained that, no, that the people who contacted us said that they used to be able to access WLA regularly without a problem, but that since that particular Wednesday in question, access had been cut off, while most other sites were available as usual. I also told him that I had my own electronic record that showed months of very high traffic from certain LASD IP addresses—to the tune of hundreds of hits per day—and then none at all.

Whitmore said I seemed to be implying that WitnessLA was blocked specifically.

“Uh, well, yes,” I said. “That is what I’m implying.”

“I don’t believe that to be true,” Whitmore said. “WitnessLA is not something that this sheriff’s department is all that interested in. It’s not that relevant. It’s not on our radar. I’m not sure the sheriff knows what it is.”

Alrighty then.

So there you have it.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 52 Comments »

Molina’s Proposed Ban on Getting Campaign Contributions From Underlings Was Triggered by WLA’s Reporting – UPDATED

February 22nd, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



A spokesperson for Supervisor Gloria Molina confirmed that it was WitnessLA’s Dangerous Jails reporting by Matt Fleischer,
“detailing Undersheriff Tanaka’s campaign contributions from subordinates” that stimulated Molina’s decision to craft the motion that was presented at the board meeting on Tuesday, a motion that would prohibit county managers from asking for or accepting such contributions . “It was a cause for great concern,” said said Roxane Marquez, Molina’s spokeswoman, of the matter.

“Sup. Molina is well aware that she can’t stop people from simply giving contributions – that would be a violation of federal free speech rights. But she’s concerned about higher-ups soliciting campaign donations from employees whom they manage. That’s exactly what prompted her motion.”

The motion, which was passed on consent on Tuesday without discussion or public comment, directs the County Counsel to present a “workable policy” to the Board of Supes in 30 days, after which time it will be discussed and brought up for a vote.

We truly thank Supervisor Molina for taking the initiative to make the motion. Like many, we thought it was a bit odd that such a rule wasn’t already in place. Soliciting (or accepting) campaign donations from those to whom one can dispense promotions, choice work assignments, and other work-related favors—particularly donations for a city campaign that in no other appreciable way affects the donor employees’ lives—would seem to us to be, at best, managerial conflict of interest 101.

Thus we thank the supervisor for not only noticing the problem —but doing something about it.

(The reporting that prompted the motion may be found here, here and here.)


UPDATE: The LA Times reporters Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard have a new story on Sup. Molina’s motion and her concerns.

According to the Times:

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore denied that contributions affect personnel decisions. Whitmore, who said he was speaking on behalf of Baca and Tanaka, said the department welcomed Molina’s motion.

The Times also noted that in their own 2006 analysis of donations given by sheriff’s managers to Sheriff Lee Baca’s campaigns, “…73% received promotions, while of those who did not contribute, 26% received promotions.”

We have long hoped the Times might do a similar round of numbers crunching with the donations pattern we have flagged.



CITY COUNCIL TO VOTE WHETHER OR NOT TO END TRUANCY TICKETS

The LA City Council will vote Wednesday on whether or not to change the city’s truancy policy to eliminate fines, which are onerously high for low income kids and their families to pay, and have been shown not to improve attendance at all, but rather can lead to additional missed classes.

Advocacy groups such as the Youth Justice Coalition, the So Cal ACLU, Public Counsel and the Children’s Defense Fund are expected to have roused supporters to pack the hall (if the emails I’ve received are any indication).

It should be noted that all of the organizations supporting the change in the law are adamant about school attendance being critical for educational success, but say that LA schools need alternatives to criminalizing truancy, including programs that address the root causes of a kid’s chronically missing school.


SUPREME COURT PUTS NEW LIMITS ON THE NECESSITY OF WARNING PRISONERS ABOUT THEIR RIGHTS BEFORE QUESTIONING

Adam Liptak explains the decision in Wednesday’s New York Times. Here’s a clip:

In a busy day at the Supreme Court, the justices on Tuesday issued a decision limiting the circumstances in which prisoners must be told of their rights before they are questioned, added to what had already been a long schedule for arguments in the challenges to the 2010 health care law and made public an internal ethics resolution from 1991.

The question in the case concerning prisoners, Howes v. Fields, No. 10-680, was whether an inmate’s confession to a sex crime should have been suppressed because he did not receive the familiar warnings required by Miranda v. Arizona before he was questioned. The answer turned on whether he was in custody at the time.

Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., writing for the majority in the 6-to-3 decision, said that “custody” for these purposes “is a term of art that specifies circumstances that are thought generally to present a serious danger of coercion.”


RENOWN JOURNALIST MARIE COLVIN AND FRENCH PHOTOGRAPHER REMI OCHLIK KILLED IN SYRIA

Two journalists—one a legend—the other young, courageous and just beginning to win awards, were killed in Homs, Syria, when rockets hit the house where a group of reporters were staying. This and this report have some of the details.

The news is made sadder, coming as it does on the heels of the death of reporter Anthony Shidid, the two Pulitzer-Prize winning foreign correspondent for the New York Times who died of an asthma attack while traveling between Syria and Turkey.


Photo of Gloria Molina by Irfan Khan for the Los Angeles Times / September 27, 2011)

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 28 Comments »

Rumors Persist that Baca is Shaking Up His Top Management

February 10th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


In general we consider it bad form to report on rumors,
but this one has grown so persistent, detailed and wide-spread in the last few days that not reporting it is beginning to seem peculiar.

The primary rumor is as follows:

Sheriff Lee Baca will soon announce that he is demoting his ultra-powerful second in command, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. In addition, sources say, he is demoting Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo while the third member of the sheriff’s triumvirate of top command staff, Assistant Sheriff Marvin Cavanaugh, will retire.

The rumor goes on to say that Tanaka will be replaced by Chief William McSweeney— and that, although, Tanaka and Rhambo will drop down a rank or so, they will not have a salary decrease.

Chief Roberta Abner is said to be the most likely candidate to replace Assistant Sheriff Rhambo, but her possible promotion is mentioned less often than the shuffling of the four named above.

And… Read the rest of this entry »

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 52 Comments »

LASD INVESTIGATIONS: Friends of Paul Tanaka – Campaign Donations, 2009

February 7th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

As those of you who have been following Matt Fleischer’s LASD INVESTIGATIONS Dangerous Jails series know, we have received quite a number of requests from people working for (or retired from) the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department asking us to post The Friends of Paul Tanaka campaign contributions lists that we acquired for WitnessLA/the LA Justice Report through public records act requests.

In response to the increasing number of appeals we received, we published the 2008 campaign donations list late last month.

We intended to hold the rest of the lists until Part 5 of Dangerous Jails. However, we decided to go ahead and post 2009 today—mainly because the matter of campaign donations came up at several points in yesterday’s story about the Sheriff’s Department decision to launch an investigation into whether or not retired custody commander Robert Olmsted was blocked from from correcting problems at Men’s Central Jail that he said he repeatedly reported to command staff.

In particular, the story cited Captain Dan Cruz’s 2008 and 2009 donations to then Assistant Sheriff Paul Tanaka’s campaign, and a 2009 donation by Commander Joseph Hartshorne.

For some reason or other, the 2009 list itself is divided into two documents. (And due to a sudden late-night attack of persnicketyness on the part of WLA’s Word Press software, it was easier to post both PDFs at Scribd—and link to them—rather than host them on WLA’s own site. Please forgive the resulting ads)

Here is Part 1 of the 2009 donations list.

Here is Part 2.

You’ll note that both Cruz’s and Hartshorne’s names turn up on Page 7 of Part 1 of the 2009 list.

Dan Cruz’s name also appears on the 2008 list.

As reported in Part 3 of Matt Fleischer’s Dangerous Jails series, a long list of department insiders have suggested that there are correlations between LASD promotions and donations to Undersheriff Tanaka’s mayoral campaigns. (The undersheriff also serves as the mayor of the city of Gardena.)

LASD officials deny the possibility, according to the LA Times story on the Olmsted investigation:

Sheriff’s officials, including Hartshorne in his interview with Olmsted, reject the suggestion that small donations affect personnel decisions.

So does the money matter? After all, in some cases, both deputies and supervisors gave only $100 to the undersheriff’s campaign. In other cases, LASD personnel gave a lot more, or they gave multiple times—or both. (In fact, in one intriguing instance we happened to notice in this round of posting, a Sheriff’s department supervisor gave $250 in January 2009, while in December of 2008, the supervisor’s wife gave to the legal limit of $1000.)

Thus what meaning—if any— should we take away from these lists? In future posts, we’ll pull apart the issue in far greater detail.

In the meantime, as always, we welcome the continuing input, tips and thoughts from the men and women—present and former—who serve the people of Los Angeles County wearing the badge of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 65 Comments »

SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Sheriff’s Department Investigates Ret. Cmr. Olmsted’s Accounts of Jail Violence and Higher Ups Lack of Response

February 6th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


In an interesting turn of events, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department
has launched an investigation into whether or not retired custody commander, Robert Olmsted, was blocked from from correcting problems at Men’s Central Jail that he said he repeatedly reported to command staff.

Olmsted worries that the new probe is merely an attempt to blame him for higher ups’ failure to correct what is now a widely reported pattern of abuse of inmates by deputies.

Looking at past statements coming from the LASD-–both officially and through back channels—there is much to support Olmsted’s concerns.

This is from a report published Monday in the LA Times:

According to the Sheriff’s Department, the investigation was launched to determine if anyone had stopped Cmdr. Robert Olmsted from correcting the problems he had seen with excessive force and jailer cliques. But Olmsted is accusing sheriff’s officials of rigging the probe to scapegoat him and insulate high-ranking officials from culpability, saying he has seen them protect people in the past.

As Matt Fleischer reported for WitnessLA last year, Olmsted explained how he warned top ranking department —including Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka—about growing problems in Men’s Central Jail but the command staff to whom he spoke declined to do anything about the problems, or in the case of Paul Tanaka, in some instances, actively got in the way of reform.

In response to reports on the matter by WitnessLA and the LA Times, in past weeks, Sheriff Baca has repeatedly insisted that it was in fact Olmsted who was at fault for not fixing the problems himself. Here, for instance, is some of what the sheriff said in mid-January in an interview with a Finnish American publication.

[Robert Olmsted] told me he tried to warn his supervisors, but when I spoke to his supervisors, they said he didn’t try to warn them. So, the guy strikes me as being a little odd. If he knew about these things, why didn’t he tell me while he was working there instead months later when he is retired and left the department…..”

Baca went on to claim that all Olmsted did was to say, “let’s just fix the problem in terms of painting over graffiti….”

The sheriff’s characterization flies in the face of reports of multiple department sources familiar with events at Men’s Central Jail during the period in question—and is contrary to Olmsted’s own accounts.

According to the LA Times, Olmsted initially tried to cooperate with the new investigation and “…consented to one interview with Cmdr. Joseph Hartshorne, who is heading up the probe.” However, Olmsted has reportedly since declined to cooperate further, fearing that the department’s intentions are disingenuous and that this probe is not designed to get to the bottom of matters at all, but instead will attempt to whitewash the sheriff and undersheriff’s actions and blame Olmsted.

The LA Times reporters listened to a recording of the interview between Olmsted and Hartshorne, in which Olmsted talked to Hartshorne about many of the issues regarding Captain Dan Cruz that Matt Fleischer has reported in WLA’s Dangerous Jails series. (Cruz was put on administrative leave last fall while his actions at Men’s Central Jail are investigated.)

For example there is this:

Olmsted told Hartshorne that well before the department put Cruz on leave, sheriff’s brass protected Cruz from a lackluster performance review Olmsted tried to give him, altering it to be a good one. He said the alterations were ordered by Burns.

(For more details of the Cruz performance review incident see Dangerous Jails Part 2, and scroll to the section: NO ACCOUNTABILITY.)

The Times also reported this:

During the interview, Olmsted and Hartshorne also discussed a perception of favoritism created because Baca and Tanaka — who is mayor of Gardena — accept campaign contributions from department employees. Baca and Tanaka have collected thousands of dollars in donations over the years from deputies.

In an interview with The Times last week, Olmsted suggested that Cruz’s contributions to Tanaka were part of the reason Cruz wasn’t transferred from his jail post sooner.

Ah, yes, the campaign contributions.

More specifically, as Matt reported here, according to documents we’ve acquired with Public Records Act requests, just about the time that Olmsted was reporting Cruz’s actions to higher ups, Dan Cruz made two very timely donations to Paul Tanaka’s political campaign—on December 18, 2008, and on January 6, 2009.

In addition, Matt reported that when Cruz was finally moved out of his troubled custody assignment, rather than being sanctioned, to Olmsted’s shock, plans were made for Cruz to be promoted—by Paul Tanaka.

As luck would have it, the now infamous Christmas fight occurred, involving the 3000 boys and others, with Cruz the senior officer on site. The planned promotion, which had yet to take place, reportedly evaporated. (Here’s a clip from that story to remind you.)

Could these donations have been a contributing factor to why Cruz was never reprimanded by Tanaka for his performance inside CJ? Sources claim that they were. As evidence, they point to the way Cruz’s exit from the jail was handled.

In the fall of 2010, Olmsted’s insistence that CJ was out of control under Dan Cruz finally forced Tanaka to investigate what was happening. Up until that time Tanaka had been relying almost exclusively on Cruz’s word that all was well at the facility. Tanaka sent his close ally and longtime campaign donor, Duane Harris, into the jail to lead an investigation. Harris came back 10 days later with a report that found Cruz culpable for the escalating violence in the jail—which, in turn, forced Tanaka’s hand in transferring the captain from his post.

Bob Olmsted says he met with Tanaka to plan Dan Cruz’s exit strategy from CJ. Olmsted says he was surprised to find that the plan was not to punish Cruz for his inaction and incompetence, but to transfer and then reward him. Cruz would be made a commander.

“Tanaka told me Cruz was ‘the only viable candidate’ he was willing to promote to commander,” says Olmsted. “And this was after he had received Harris’ report that Cruz was 100 percent at fault for what was happening in the jail. The plan was for Harris to come in as the operations lieutenant, I would be his commander, and together we’d sandwich Cruz and turn him into a viable candidate.”

[See Dangerous Jails Part 3 for more.]

Interestingly, according to the Times, Olmsted reports that Hartshorne—the man heading the probe of Olmsted’s claims— made a $100 political contribution to Tanaka in 2009.

The Times goes on to report that Sheriff’s officials reject the suggestion that small donations affect personnel decisions.


On Tuesday, WitnessLA will post all 2009 donations to the undersheriff’s Gardena elections campaign.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the previously posted 2008 donations to the Friends of Paul Tanaka.

Dangerous Jails, Part 5, coming next month, will have lots more.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles Times, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 8 Comments »

The Friends of Paul Tanaka Campaign Donations List: 2008

January 30th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon



We have received quite a number of requests from people working for (or retired from) the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department asking us to post
The Friends of Paul Tanaka campaign contributions lists that WitnessLA/the LA Justice Report acquired through public records act requests.

Although we expect to be posting more of the lists in Dangerous Jails: Part 5, you can find the 2008 campaign donations list here: Tanaka 2008 campaign donations

The names of contributors from the LASD begin on Page 10.

As reported in Part 3 of Matt Fleischer’s Dangerous Jails series, various department insiders have suggested that there are correlations between LASD promotions and donations to Undersheriff Tanaka’s mayoral campaigns. (The undersheriff also serves as the mayor of the city of Gardena.)

(Individuals’ addresses are redacted in the interest of privacy.)

Posted in jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 35 Comments »

LASD INVESTIGATIONS: Dangerous Jails, Part 4: INTERNAL AFFAIRS – by Matt Fleischer

January 20th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE: The article below is another in WitnessLA’s LASD INVESTIGATIONS/Dangerous Jails series that probes the culture of violence and abuse that, for years, has been reported to exist inside the Los Angeles County Jail system—and the broader dysfunction inside the sheriff’s department that has allowed the abuse to flourish.

(You can find Part One of the series here, Part Two, here, Part Three here.)

This 10-month investigation, reported and written by Matt Fleischer, is the second investigative series to come out of the LA Justice Report, which was created through a partnership between WitnessLA and Spot.Us.



DANGEROUS JAILS PART 4: INTERNAL AFFAIRS

by Matthew Fleischer

LASD insiders say that, for years, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka—not Lee Baca—has ruled the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department though a system built of favoritism, pay-to-play campaign donations, and loyalty rewarded over competence.

Now he has assumed command of the department’s two internal investigative units—Internal Affairs and the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau—a move that many close to the department view as a hostile takeover.



On May 15, 2011, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department quietly made a series of small, seemingly innocuous changes to its command structure. The Internal Affairs unit, which investigates violations of departmental policy, and the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which looks into criminal acts that may have been committed by department personnel, were taken out from under the oversight of the Leadership and Training Division—where the twin divisions have been for nearly two decades—-and were placed under the control of the then-Assistant Sheriff, soon-to-be- Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka. In practical terms, this meant that, instead of the heads of the two bureaus reporting to Leadership and Training’s Chief, Roberta Abner, Tanaka appointed a brand new captain and commander from his own inner circle to head IA and report to him. At the same time, he selected a new captain to run ICIB, also reporting to him. Abner was taken out of the loop altogether, and a commander position overseeing ICIB was eliminated. Two levels of oversight and accountability in the system with which the department investigated itself vanished overnight.

To the casual observer, the moves might appear to be little more than the bureaucratic shuffling of departmental chess pieces. But to those inside the sheriff’s department, the sudden switch in oversight was alarming. As one former IA investigator explained, “To have a commander and a captain reporting directly to the Undersheriff…there’s no precedent for that.”

In order to check, the LA Justice Report called around to five law enforcement agencies across California—San Diego Sheriff’s Department; Orange County Sheriff’s Department; San Francisco Sheriff’s Department; Los Angeles Police Department; and the San Francisco Police Department–and found that only the SFSD has its “investigative services” unit report directly to someone as high up as the undersheriff without intervening layers. “We’re much smaller than LASD,” explained an SFSD spokesperson, “we only have about 850 employees. So it makes things more manageable.”

In a department of 18,000, like the LASD, the layered chain of command existed for good reason, according to our IA source (and validated by other department insiders with IA knowledge). “Personnel investigations are extremely in-depth. IA is a relatively large unit, with 35-40 people in it. You have to have time to oversee and manage them. But the undersheriff has constantly got an 800 pound gorilla banging on his head.”

So why the change?

LASD spokesman Captain Mike Parker explained in an email that the move was simply so the Sheriff could keep a better eye on the two bureaus. “All reorganization changes within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are done at the direction of Sheriff Baca…Recent changes have been made to the oversight of Internal Affairs Bureau and Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau to increase accountability and efficiency, and to streamline the process.”

However, sources inside the department say the move had little to do with increased accountability, but rather was a realignment that allowed the undersheriff to protect any of his insiders that needed protecting.

As The LA Justice Report has previously reported, Tanaka has a history of rescuing, promoting and protecting supervisors with less-than-spectacular and often downright troubled performance records, people who then become his most loyal supporters.

There was, for example, Dan Cruz, the highest ranking member of the Sheriff’s Department to be put on leave for his role in the recent jail abuse scandal—and also a Tanaka appointee and loyal donor to the undersheriff’s political campaign in Gardena. Cruz arrived at CJ as an operations lieutenant with a checkered supervisory record. Nonetheless, he was promoted to captain and put in charge of the already troubled Men’s Central Jail. Deputy-on-inmate force incidents spiked almost immediately under his watch. The situation was desperate enough that Cruz’s direct supervisor, Commander Bob Olmsted, told Tanaka directly of problems inside the jail under Cruz—and told Lee Baca as well. Olmsted says he was ignored.

If supervisors like Olmsted came to Tanaka with reports of uncontrolled violence and were waved away, how will the undersheriff respond to critical IA and ICIB investigations into favored people and groups his department?

“I think we should be concerned,” says the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg. “The reality is that one of the key components in dealing with deputy use of force on inmates is a system that provides for appropriate discipline of deputies. If you have someone at the top overseeing that system who’s not aggressively committed to policing what deputies are doing, that’s a very bad thing.”


KEEP YOUR ENEMIES CLOSER

Part of the problem with the undersheriff’s takeover of the two bureaus, sources tell the LA Justice Report, is the fact that Tanaka has openly, and vociferously, expressed his contempt for IA throughout his career.

In early 2007, LASD Internal Affairs Sergeant Larry Landreth was named the lead investigator of an extremely sensitive case. An LASD deputy trainee had been caught on a wiretap allegedly giving information to the Mexican Mafia. The incident had the makings of a huge scandal for the department, and the brass were all over Landreth to look into this case as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

Shortly before the investigation began, Paul Tanaka—who was then the assistant sheriff–called Landreth into his office for a closed-door meeting. The meeting began in a normal manner. Tanaka stressed the importance of the case, and gave Landreth his blessing to investigate aggressively.

Tanaka then said something Landreth wasn’t expecting. “He looked at me straight-faced,” Landreth, now retired, tells the LA Justice Report, “and said ‘This is the only time you’re going to see me be an advocate of IA, because I hate you fuckers.’

Startled by the outburst, Landreth scanned Tanaka’s face for a trace of humor but found none.

“You take pride in your job,” says Landreth, “and to be called a ‘fucker’ to my face out of nowhere…It was an affront.”

He asked Tanaka what, exactly, his problem was with Internal Affairs? Landreth and his colleagues had noticed that Tanaka seemed unwilling to promote out of IA–despite the unit being among the most important in the department, and traditionally considered a career enhancing stepping stone in the LASD.

Landreth says he reminded Tanaka that the purpose of IA was far more than proving wrongdoing. It was also bureau in the department with the power to protect innocent deputies who get falsely accused of misbehavior—which happens, says Landreth “all the time.” It is IA’s job to launch the investigations that clear these deputies’ names.

“It is just as important to free the innocent as it is to punish the guilty,” says Landreth.

But Tanaka wouldn’t hear any of it. Pressed by Landreth, Tanaka muttered vaguely that he’d had some bad run-ins with IA back in the 80’s–and that soured him on the unit. He referenced an incident at Men’s Central Jail early in his career, but provided no details.


THE SHOOTING

Tanaka’s worst “run-in” with IA in the 1980s is well known. In 1988 he was the senior officer on the scene when five Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed an unarmed Korean immigrant named Hong Pyo Lee after a car chase found Lee cornered at a dead-end street. The group of deputies fired fifteen rounds at 21-year-old Lee, hitting him 9 times in the back and neck. Tanaka and the other four deputies claimed they shot because Lee was attempting to hit them with his car. However, Long Beach police officer Richard R. Boatwright, who witnessed the shooting, said in a sworn deposition that Lee’s car was moving away from deputies when the shooting began. “We just observed the sheriffs execute somebody,” Boatwright said he told his partner. LA County paid Lee’s family $1 short of a $1 million in a settlement after the shooting.

Then in 1993, sources tell us, Tanaka was reportedly shipped to West Hollywood station as a disciplinary measure for using harsh and inappropriate language to berate a female deputy at Century station, where Tanaka was a lieutenant.

“He’s been carrying a grudge around for more than 20 years,” says Landreth. “That should not be the position of any department head.” And certainly not the man leading the department’s two internal investigative units.

The encounter with Landreth is one of a number of occasions in which Tanaka reportedly badmouthed IA in front of other department personnel. In 2005, Tanaka called a “deputies only” meeting at Century Station in Inglewood, which was, at the time, struggling with violence stemming from a deputy gang called The Regulators—who, like the better known deputy gang of the 1980s to 1990’s era, the Vikings, were notorious for finding weak supervisors they could gang up on and control. Tanaka’s message to this troublesome group: “I never liked IA. Never liked the way they do business.”

“He signs off on discipline,” says a department source familiar with Century Station and the Regulators, “he can’t say that.”

Century’s captain at the time, Steve Roller, agreed—and wrote a memo critical of Tanaka’s statements that he sent up the chain of command. The memo was harsh enough, sources say, that Lee Baca himself visited Century to do damage control.

A few months later, Roller was unexpectedly transferred out of Century while away on an Alaskan cruise. Several sources tell The LA Justice Report that it was the captain’s aggressive, by-the-books ways that got him ”rolled up”—as it was a supervisory style that clashed with Paul Tanaka’s vision for how to run a high profile station like Century.

As we reported in Dangerous Jails, Part 3, department sources cite multiple incidents in which Undersheriff Tanaka has told deputies in the department to “work in they grey”—a skate the edge style of policing that essentially translates to “do whatever it takes.”

The LA Justice Report spoke with three former IA investigators who each made clear that “working in the grey” policing, and aggressive internal affairs monitoring of departmental wrongdoing are irreconcilable. Robust internal affairs and deputies told by their undersheriff to push the boundaries of departmental policy cannot coexist. Something has to give. And by all accounts, when it comes to Paul Tanaka, it will be IA, not the deputies under his wing who are forced to cede ground.


HANDCUFFING THE ADULTS

An example of the slippery slope that comes with ceding this supervisory ground occurred in 2006, when Paul Tanaka called an impromptu meeting for all the supervisors inside Men’s Central Jail. Tanaka was then the assistant sheriff in charge of custody and the meeting was not unexpected. There had been a string of high profile violent incidents in the jail that had drawn the scrutiny of the LA County Board of Supervisors, the ACLU and the media.

As The LA Justice Report has previously reported, CJ’s then-captain John Clark traced much of the violence back to bands of deputies who were forming gang-like cliques on the second, third and fourth floors of the jail—the 3000 Boys, et al. Modeled after the law-suit producing deputy cliques of the previous decades, like the Vikings, these cliques featured special tattoos, threw gang-like hand signs and, in some cases, refused to socialize with “rival” cliques within the department. In the case of the 3000 Boys and the matching group from the 2nd floor, the 2000 Boys, the cliques had also recently started waiting for their entire crew to get off work—sometimes lingering for hours at a time—before leaving the station together en masse. This was not only a violation of departmental policy, but it was eerie gang-like behavior intended to intimidate—to show both inmates and supervisors alike who really ran the jail.

“You had guys taking off one or two hours early so they could leave with their crew,” says one former CJ supervisor (who asked that we not give his rank for fear of being identified). “This is what gangs do.”

It was in this climate, that Paul Tanaka called his meeting. Our source, who was in the room that day, tells us that, instead of demanding better supervision of the increasingly out-of-control deputies—whose actions have now been reported by The LA Justice report here, along with the ACLU, the LA Weekly, KTLA and the LA Times, not to mention an ongoing series of high ticket law suits, and an investigation by the FBI—Tanaka told everyone to back off.

“I want you supervisors to stay out of the way and let the deputies do their jobs,” Tanaka said. “Your type of supervision is like a dinosaur. You remind me of my father.”

Our source says Tanaka was particularly livid at the suggestion that deputies in cliques like the 3,000 Boys were acting like gangsters. “How dare any supervisor refer to a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy as a gang member.”

Tanaka then made a cradling gesture with his hands. “This is Generation Y. You will coddle these men.”

Our source says that he and his fellow CJ supervisors were shocked at the counter-disciplinary instructions. Here was one of the most powerful men in the department essentially telling them to not do their jobs—not to provide boundaries, and guidance for these inexperienced deputies. Many of these men and women were a few months out of the Sheriff’s Academy and were not just risking doing harm to inmates, but also—if their mistakes were big enough— potentially sacrificing their careers. This is why a big law enforcement agency like the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has structural fail safes: Just because the assistant sheriff wanted lax supervision, didn’t mean IA or ICIB couldn’t investigate these same deputies for wrongdoing, if their actions were serious and well documented.
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“We weren’t trying to be autocratic,” says our source. “We’re a paramilitary organization. There are rules and regulations. We need discipline. And that discipline had broken down.

“Tanaka’s intervention put handcuffs on all of us.”

Sources tell us Tanaka’s hands-free management style is nothing new—it dates back to his days as a sergeant at Lynwood station in the late-80′s early 90′s. According to a source who worked at Lynwood, Tanaka was the supervisor of choice for deputies who were “sergeant shopping”—looking for a supervisor mostly likely to give permission or protection. This was particularly true with members of the Vikings, of whom Tanaka was, by then, a tattooed member.

[For more on the undersheriff and the Vikings see the sidebar below]

Since Tanaka was just a sergeant, back then, he wouldn’t have had the “juice” to head off something as serious as an IA investigation. But in basic disciplinary battles between deputies and fellow sergeants, Tanaka nearly always sided with deputies—in the process, eroding the authority of supervision at the station.

“He was emotionally close with these guys,” explains our source. “They bonded. He was one of them. He was too immature and not intellectually aware enough to realize the inherent problems with this arrangement. Departmental standards were not being enforced.”

“They’d go running to him like Mommy,” says another LASD source from Tanaka’s Lynwood days. “Tanaka sold out his fellow supervisors to curry favor with the Vikings. It breeds arrogance on steroids. Because these guys know, even if they’re in the wrong, someone has their back. It’s the same story today with the 3,000 Boys. This is a pattern with Tanaka.”


CONTROL ISSUES

So why does a man who has repeatedly made known to all his dislike of Internal Affairs, and aggressive supervision of deputies, suddenly wish to have power over over the unit responsible for investigating departmental misdeeds?

The three former LASD Internal Affairs investigators we spoke to all told us versions of the same thing: “It’s about control.”

These former IA investigators, as well as other sources inside the department, point to the questionable timing of Tanaka’s takeover—a few weeks after his high school friend Bernice Abraham was put on leave when federal investigators notified Sheriff’s officials that Abram’s voice may have been heard on a narcotics wiretap relating to an investigation of a Compton drug ring. Abram had been the head of Carson Station and a close ally of Tanaka. She has contributed to his Gardena political campaigns since 2004.

“Ever since Abram was relieved of duty, things changed,” says one LASD supervisor.

According to the supervisor, prior to Tanaka’s takeover of IA and ICIB, whenever someone in the department was arrested or put on leave, a departmental memo called a “confidential operational log,” which summarized the circumstances surrounding the action, would go out to LASD supervisors with the rank of captain or higher. However, a confidential operational log was never sent out about Abram, nor, according to our insider, have any others been sent since Tanaka became Undersheriff.

“People inquiring about [Abram], mostly out of concern, were quickly told to ‘mind their own business.’

“All this did was weaken trust within the department,” he says. “There was no more transparency and many felt, and feel, that there is something to hide, not only as it relates to Bernice Abram, but to others and any potential future investigations.”

“It was standard operating procedure, no big deal,” says another former LASD higher-up of the confidential operational logs, “the way business was done. Now it’s all about trying to stifle information from getting outside the organization.”


DOUBLE STANDARDS

Multiple sources tell us they worry there is a standard of permissiveness for some people—namely Tanaka insiders—-that doesn’t apply to others in the department. They argue that there were instances of the Undersheriff and other LASD brass applying pressure on IA investigations even before Tanaka took direct control of the bureau. As an example, they point to an investigation into the May 9, 2005 shooting of Winston Hayes by LASD deputies. Hayes was a black motorist who, high on drugs, led Sheriff’s deputies on a low-speed pursuit through Compton. Deputies eventually pulled Hayes over, and advanced in his direction. Then, claiming he tried to run them down, deputies fired 120 shots at Hayes’ car, hitting him nine times and his vehicle 66 more times. In the crossfire, the deputies also managed to shoot one of their own officers (non-fatally), plus strafe several squad cars with 11 rounds. Another 11 bullets slammed into surrounding homes.

The incident prompted a gigantic community backlash and cost LA County $1,326,468.60 when a jury, after watching a citizen video of the incident, agreed that officers had used excessive force on Hayes, who miraculously survived the barrage. All deputies involved in the incident were given 15-day suspensions stemming from an Internal Affairs review, as was the sergeant who directed the chase over the police radio.

Yet two different sources tell us that the watch commander on the incident, a lieutenant out of Compton station, not only escaped any kind of sanctions, he was never made a subject of investigation by Internal Affairs—despite the fact that he was in the field and on the radio during the chase. According to our sources, this lieutenant upped the urgency of the chase by hopping on the radio to list Hayes’ past crimes as events were still unfolding.

“He absolutely inflamed the situation,” says one LASD insider with knowledge of the incident.

Sources say IA investigators attempted to interview the lieutenant as a subject, but were pressured by higher-ups to stay away. Landreth was one of the lead IA investigators on the Compton shooting, and he confirms our sources’ story. Departmental policy and the Policeman’s Bill of Rights prevent Landreth from discussing the case with us in detail, or naming the lieutenant in question, but other sources tell us the lieutenant was James Hellmold—one of Paul Tanaka’s leading campaign contributors and a former driver to Sheriff Lee Baca.

“Tanaka and Baca put Hellmold off in the corner and let the Sergeants take the fall,” says a former high-ranking insider with knowledge of the situation. “He absolutely should have been the subject of an IA investigation.”

Hellmold’s free pass earned him the nickname “Teflon Lieutenant” among those with knowledge of the shooting. A little more than a year after the incident, Hellmold was promoted to captain and placed in charge of Century Station. He has since risen to the rank of commander and is one of four commanders leading Baca’s panel to investigate jail violence.

However, Hellmold’s Teflon dodge happened under the old IA system–where an investigator like Landreth had the option going to his chief to try to earn the backing of a command staff ally. Under the new system, the only recourse an investigator would have would be to go straight to Paul Tanaka.

“If he’s stacking the deck with ‘his’ people in there,” says one former Internal Affairs investigator, “then I don’t have any faith in IA.”


EPILOGUE

On December 19 of 2011, the LA Justice Report submitted a series of questions to the LA Sheriff’s Department regarding Paul Tanaka’s takeover of Internal Affairs and Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau—and his notorious dislike for IA.

On January 4, 2012, two weeks after our conversation with Parker, Internal Affairs was put back under the umbrella of Chief Roberta Abner and the Leadership and Training Division. Internal Criminal Investigations remains under the control of Undersheriff Tanaka. How much or little unofficial influence over Internal Affairs that Paul Tanaka retains is unknown.




Editor’s Notes:
TANAKA & THE VIKINGS


In 1987, the year before the Hong Pyo Lee shooting, Paul Tanaka was asked to join the Vikings,
the now notorious group of deputies operating out of the Lynwood station, whose members sported numbered Viking tattoos on their ankles, threw gang signs—L for Lynwood—occasionally spray-painted Vikings tags in the Lynwood area to mark their “turf,” and bragged openly about harassing supervisors who tried to reign them in until those supervisors transferred away from Lynwood. Tanaka was one of the group’s very few non-Caucasian members.

In the early 1990’s, members of the same Lynwood Vikings were the primary defendants in a massive class action suit against the department alleging a widespread pattern of brutality against Lynwood residents.

The suit resulted in a $9 million settlement and drew unusually harsh “findings of fact” from two sets of presiding judges.

U.S. District Court Judge Terry Hatter stated that a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang” of deputies–the Vikings–exists at the Lynwood station with the knowledge of department officials. “Policy makers” in the department, Hatter said, “tacitly authorize deputies’ unconstitutional behavior.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. These deputies, wrote the 9th Circuit of the Lynwood Vikings, “…regularly disregard the civil rights of individuals they have sworn to protect.” They engaged in misconduct “both malicious and pervasive…” Black and hispanic men were “repeatedly arrested without cause and severely beaten at the Lynwood station, the County jail, and the ‘Operations Safe Streets’ trailer.” The court described “instances where deputies placed the muzzle of a firearm in a suspect’s ear, mouth or behind his head, and threatened to pull the trigger, or actually fired the gun without discharging a bullet…” and more.

The list of court-determined “facts” went on and on..

Tanaka was already a Viking at the time the lawsuit was filed, but was not one of those named in the complaint. However, we spoke to two of the attorneys who filled the lawsuit, as well as to department insiders with direct knowledge of the Vikings, all of whom confirmed Tanaka’s involvement with the group during his Lynwood years.

“[Tanaka] was well known as a member of the Vikings and what they stand for,” said former LASD lieutenant, Roger Clark. Now retired, Clark acts an expert witness who is frequently called to testify about his knowledge of law enforcement subcultures and what he calls “peer clans,” like the Vikings and the 3000 Boys. “There’s always been a tension in the department between people who are willing to bend the rules and those who are not.” Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, said Clark, falls firmly on the rule-bending side of the equation.


DANGEROUS JAILS – PART 5: COMING NEXT MONTH


THE PHOTOS: From Top to Bottom: Paul Tanaka, Cecil Rhambo and fellow deputies at the Carson Station flashing “C” for Carson, circa early to mid 1980s; frame of citizen’s video of Lynnwood deputy flashing Viking sign, “L” for Lynwood, circa late 1980s.



Posted in jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 146 Comments »

ACLU Report Coming Out Today, So Dangerous Jails Waits ’till Friday

January 18th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon


A big ACLU press conference on the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the LA County Jails is scheduled for Wednesday morning, thus we’re holding our Dangerous Jails story until Friday
so that the two don’t collide.

More on the ACLU’s announcements after the press conference.


In the meantime, the LA Times reports that Gilbert Michel, the Sheriff’s deputy who pleaded guilty to bribery last week, is cooperating with the FBI and has some whistles to blow on other deputies working in the jails.

On one hand, this is not exactly new news, as it was made clear in the plea agreement that cooperation was part of the deal, and that Michel had info to share. But Times reporters Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard wisely went to Michel’s court date on Tuesday and got some additional details, which were quite interesting, like the fact that Michel, while he takes full responsibility for his stupidity, feels that he’s being hung out to dry by the department as the only bad apple, when there’s a whole barrel full of bad apple deputies who were engaged in abuse and misconduct, And that he Michel, will be sharing what he knows with the Feds.

Michel’s attorney added that more deputies were guilty of misconduct and that “supervisors were overlooking it.”

Yep. That’s what we’ve been saying, and will keep saying.

Posted in LA County Jail, LASD, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | No Comments »

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