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WitnessLA on KPFK’s Deadline LA Talking About the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Subpoena Power & Indicting Paul Tanaka…(& Also on KCRW’s Press Play)

May 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



WITNESSLA ON DEADLINE LA WITH BARBARA OSBORN AND HOWARD BLUME TALKING ABOUT LASD INDICTMENTS AND MORE

On Memorial Day I was on KPFK’s Deadline LA with hosts, Barbara Osborn and Howard Blume, discussing issues concerning the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, including the significance of the recent indictments of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former LASD captain Tom Carey. We also talked about the proposed civilian oversight commission for the LASD and whether or not that commission should have subpoena power.

Last, we touched on the recent report showing crime in California has gone down not up since realignment began in October 2011.

Here’s a link to the podcast. (Scroll down through the archives until you see DEADLINE LA and you’ll find it.)


AND…EARLIER WITNESSLA WAS ON KCRW’S PRESS PLAY WITH MADELEINE BRAND TALKING ABOUT WHY PAUL TANAKA WAS INDICTED AND WHETHER WE’LL SEE A FUTURE INDICTMENT FOR LEE BACA

On the day that the indictments were unsealed charging Tanaka and Carey with obstruction of justice, I was on KCRW’s Press Play, where I discussed with host Madeleine Brand the significance of the indictment, and whether or not these new charges meant that there was a possibility that former sheriff Lee Baca—who, for a host of reasons, has been believed by many to be essentially unindictable—might now be in the U.S. Attorney’s sights for future charges.

We thought you might enjoy listening to the conversation.

Here’s the link.

Posted in Bill Bratton, FBI, Jim McDonnell, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

Updates & Early Legal Challenges in the Tanaka/Carey Indictment Drama….A Call for “Smart Justice” for LA County….a New Brand of Advice for Next Generation Cops…the Death of Officer Kerrie Orozco

May 26th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

FIRST STEPS TOWARD TRIAL FOR TANAKA AND CAREY

On Friday, May 29, the first “status hearing” is scheduled in the obstruction of justice trial of Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the LA County Sheriff’s department, and Tom Carey, the former head of the department’s internal criminal investigative bureau (ICIB).

Judge Percy Anderson will be presiding. Originally the trial was assigned to Judge S.James Otero but, as many involved had predicted, Anderson managed to snatch the high profile case from Otero and move it into his courtroom. Percy Anderson, for those who don’t remember, was the judge on both of James Sexton’s trials and that of the other six former LASD members convicted of obstruction of justice.

Tanaka’s legal team was not thrilled with the judicial switch, likely because some on the defense teams from the last trials thought Anderson had pro prosecution leanings. As a consequence, the Tanaka team filed a motion “to Return Case to Randomly Assigned District Judge Based Upon Improper Transfer.”

Anderson, however, denied the motion with vigor mere hours after it was filed.The issues raised in Tanaka’s Motion are so devoid of merit that no further briefing is required,” he wrote.

And that was that.

(Anderson is not a mincer of words.)

One of the other issues that was to have been heard on Friday was a request for a “judicial inquiry” regarding possible conflicts of interest due to the fact that Carey was being represented by Thomas O’Brian and other members of the Paul Hastings law firm.

it’s easy to see why Carey chose O’Brien. He held the post of U.S. Attorney just before Andre Birotte, which means he knows the workings of that office inside and out. (Andre Birotte is the U.S. Attorney who presided over most of the investigations and charges that are now playing out. Birotte has since gone on to a federal judgeship, and was replaced by Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura, the woman who unveiled Tanaka and Carey’s charges.) The potential conflict that the government has flagged is the fact that O’Brien represented LASD deputy James Sexton, one of the seven who was previously convicted of charges similar to those recently slapped on Tanaka and Carey. Moreover the attorney is still representing Sexton for his appeal to the 9th Circuit. The prosecution also noted, in their lengthy request, that some of Carey’s perjury charges had to do with questions he was asked by O’Brien when Carey was the witness stand for the defense during one or both of Sexton’s two trials.

The prosecutors made a strong argument in their request for an inquiry, with plenty of case law cited. Not too long after the prosecution filed its request, O’Brien and company withdrew as counsel for Carey.

A trial date is expected to be set at the hearing on Friday.

In the meantime, in an email that went out to the members of the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA), the union’s leadership urged department members who wished to support Carey to give to his family via a special website that had been set up by PPOA. There LASD members can also give to the families of any of the other six as well, thus getting around the prohibition, according to department rules, against any kind of contact with the six now that they had been convicted of felonies.

The message on the donations site reads in part:

SUPPORT FAMILIES OF THOSE CONVICTED FOR FOLLOWING ORDERS

Earlier this year, the Feds convicted 7 employees of the LASD for following the orders of their bosses. Regardless of their guilt or innocence, they and their families are facing difficult times financially. Many are struggling to make their mortgage payments and to put food on the table to feed their children.

“One thing we do well in law enforcement is support each other in times of need.” said PPOA President Brian Moriguchi. “We realize just how difficult a job we do and the risks we face. Few can truly understand that. That is why we are like family and look out for one another. The families of these convicted employees are paying the price for what was really a pissing match between two law enforcement agencies.”

Paul Tanaka’s name, however, is notably absent from the donations site, presumably because he was allegedly one of the “bosses,” whose orders the others were following.


A CALL FOR “SMART JUSTICE”

While some of California’s other counties have embraced the challenge and opportunity of realignment to create programs and strategies that both help and monitor inmates when they finish their incarceration terms and begin to attempt integrate back into their individual communities, LA County has lagged behind.

On Sunday, the LA Times editorial board urged LA County to dispense with its lagging and to start practicing “smart justice.”

Here’s a clip from the story::

Counties are working to find the best ways to provide housing, healthcare and employment, to serve not only nonviolent offenders but their victims, their families and their neighborhoods. There have been many successes and many lessons to learn.

If only Los Angeles County would learn them. The state’s (by far) largest county ought to be a leader in smart and effective justice, but as other counties have spent their state realignment dollars on programs intended to reduce recidivism, L.A. County has only dabbled in such initiatives and instead spends most of its realignment money on old-school law enforcement, monitoring and punishment.


“BE GUARDIANS NOT WARRIORS” SAYS HEAD OF JOHN JAY’S POLICE STUDIES PROGRAM TO HIS WOULD-BE LAW ENFORCEMENT OFFICERS

NPR’S Robert Siegel visited John Jay College of Criminal Justice on the west side of Manhattan, and observed veteran police officer Professor John DeCarlo, who coordinates the highly respected police studies program at John Jay, as DeCarlo encouraged his next-generation law enforcement students to become “guardians” more than “warriors.”

Here’s a clip from the transcript:

SIEGEL: John DeCarlo spent 34 years as a police officer and later a police chief in Connecticut. Then he got his PhD and made the switch to teaching at John Jay. In light of this year’s stories about policing, I asked him if he talks with his students about how they as future law enforcement officers should manage their encounters with civilians, including the fear that they might feel at such moments.

DECARLO: We have not only talked about the fear that one feels at that point and the reaction that an officer might have, but we also talked about how certain people will be predisposed to different reactions, and it is incumbent upon police leaders to really increase the efficacy of police selection processes so that we do not put people on the job who would be bullies.

SIEGEL: And do you feel those people can be identified before they become police officers or early on in their police careers? How do you do that?

DECARLO: I do. You know, right now, when police officers come on, you know, we send them to an academy that is very militaristic. We are looking, very often, for big people. Women are underrepresented wildly, and we know that women are much better at talking their way out of bad situations than big guys. Right now we give cops a test called the MMPI-2, the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory. So we pretty much determine that they’re not psychopaths. I think that’s a low bar.

SIEGEL: In his senior seminar, DeCarlo comes off as a born teacher.

DECARLO: Good morning. We are going to talk a little bit about – Tyric (ph), how are you? – where police have gone and where we want them to go.

SIEGEL: He is dynamic, commanding attention, knowing his students, working the seminar room rather than standing at the front. The seminar draws on ideas from, among other sources, Plato’s “Republic,” in which the police are the guardians and the principles of Sir Robert Peel, the founder of London’s police and namesake of London’s of bobbies, and President Obama’s 21st-Century Task Force on Policing. John DeCarlo is a strong supporter of community policing. He leads his students through a Socratic dialogue inspired by an article about the shift in our view of police from guardians to warriors….


THE HEARTBREAKING DEATH OF OMAHA POLICE OFFICER KERRIE OROZCO

It is always heartbreak-producing when a law enforcement officer is killed. But the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Omaha officer Kerrie Orozco in an exchange of gunfire with a fugitive is elliciting an unusual amount of grief in the city she was devoted to protecting and serving.

Here’s a clip from a very personal Fox News story about Orozco and the response to her death.

As the family of Kerrie Orozco grieved for the 29-year-old, seven-year veteran following her death Wednesday in a shootout with a fugitive, the city’s flags flew at half-staff, the police department rallied behing the simple phrase “Kerrie On,” and donations poured in for Olivia Ruth, the baby Orozco had just given birth to prematurely. Orozco was working her last shift before going on maternity leave to be with her baby when a criminal’s bullet struck her just above the bulletproof vest that might have saved her life.

“She was so excited to be a mother,” her aunt Laurie McNeil told FoxNews.com Friday.

Olivia was born premature Feb. 17. Orozco was set to bring her home from the hospital Thursday and go on maternity leave. Wednesday’s tragic events changed all that.

“She had the bassinet all set up by the side of the bed,” McNeil said. “She just wanted to be ready.”

Orozco was part of a fugitive task force searching for convicted felon Marcus Wheeler. He was being sought for an earlier Omaha shooting. As they closed in on the suspect Wednesday afternoon, Wheeler, 26, opened fire.

Police said one of his bullets struck Orozco in the chest and exited her back. An inch lower and it would have struck her in her bullet-proof vest.

McNeil told FoxNews.com she had a bad feeling when she looked at her phone Wednesday and saw a breaking news flash reporting an Omaha police officer had been shot.

“I immediately turned on the Internet and started watching,” the aunt said, choking back tears. “I was hoping to see her walk across the screen.”

As her deepest fears grew, McNeil sent Orozco a text asking, “Are you Ok?” She tried calling. She didn’t get an answer.

Read the rest. It’s worth it.

Posted in FBI, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, Paul Tanaka, Realignment, Reentry, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

PANDORA’S BOX FINALLY GOES UP THE LADDER: The Day That Paul Tanaka and Tom Carey of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Were Federally Indicted – UPDATED

May 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


“The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts.”

- David Bowdich, Assistant Director in Charge, LA offices of the FBI



THE ARRAIGNMENT

On Thursday, May 14, the day it actually happened, the mood among even the observers was of an almost theatrical unreality.

For weeks sources had dropped hints that former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and, with him, former captain William “Tom” Carey, were going to be federally indicted—and soon. But who knew? Eight months ago several sources close to the U.S. Attorney’s office said that a Tanaka indictment simply was not going to happen.

Carey, maybe, but not the former undersheriff.. The man was, after all, a runner-up in the November 2014 race for sheriff and he was still the 3-term elected mayor of the city of Gardena.

Yet seven lower-ranking members of the department had been charged, convicted and handed prison terms for engaging in actions that, according to all credible accounts, Tanaka, and to a much lesser degree, Carey, had ordered. So were the feds really going to let the underlings take the whole big, bad hit, while the shot-calling guys at the top walked away unscathed?

As it turns out, the answer to that question is: no.

Both Paul Tanaka and Tom Carey learned for certain late Wednesday afternoon through their attorneys that a grand jury had indeed handed down indictments . In reality, however, both the indictees and the lawyers had all but known for weeks. And then there were subtle hints that went out to both the Carey and Tanaka camps that planning a vacation in May would likely be….unwise.

Paul Tanaka is, of course, the former number two of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and, at one time, the man who most insiders believed was all but guaranteed the top job after then-sheriff Lee Baca stepped down. But that was before a string of departmental scandals became public, before Baca “finessed” (his word) his once blindly trusted second in command into early retirement, before Tanaka hit back with verbal stiletto strikes delivered via the press, and before Baca resigned under still ambiguous circumstances on January 7, 2014.

Prior all that, Tanaka was Baca’s anointed successor, the crown prince, the guy whom nearly everyone in and around the department—everyone save Baca himself—believed truly ran the show. It was Tanaka who reportedly micro-managed nearly all important promotions, civil service rules be damned. He was also the person who could and would tank your career if you crossed him. He had to put his “people.” in place, Tanaka once confided in former LASD Commander Robert Olmsted. Because, he said, after Baca, he was going to be sheriff for the next 16 years.

Instead, at around 6:30 am on Thursday, Tanaka self-surrendered to federal agents at the FBI head quarters building in Westwood. Tom Carey too self-surrendered at around the same hour. Later that day, both men were led, in handcuffs, to holding cells inside the Edward Roybal federal building. Then at approximately 3:05 p.m. Tanaka was arraigned on 5 counts of obstruction of justice. Carey was arraigned right afterward. Tanaka wore a baby blue shirt, no tie, and sport coat, for the arraignment. Carey wore a bright white, long-sleeved Oxford shirt that looked very J. Crew-ish, no jacket. Neither were handcuffed anymore.

Both men were granted bail. Tanaka’s bail was set at $50,000, to be secured by a condo in Diamond Bar that is in his wife’s name. Carey’s bail was $100,000 but it was unsecured by either property or other assets. During the bond discussion, Judge Victor B. Kenton, the jurist presiding over the arraignment, wondered to Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox why Tanaka needed to be a bond at all—before acceding to the government’s wishes with some reluctance. (Since we’ve seen people charged with a couple of hand-to-hand sales of dime bags of meth slammed with a $100,000 in bail, no kidding, we wondered about his honor’s thinking, but that’s a conversation for another day.)

As is customary, both men were required to surrender their passports and firearms. (Carey didn’t have a passport, and Tanaka’s was out of date.) There was a small kerfuffle over the fact that Tanaka’s wife is an LASD detective thus legitimately needs her gun. Carey’s son, who lives in his father’s household, is also a sworn member of the sheriff’s department, so needs his gun as well. With a bit of back and forth, everyone settled on the notion of acquiring new lock boxes forthwith for the weapons of the spouses and offspring.

A joint trial for the two “co-conspirators” was set for July 7 in the courtroom of Judge S.James Otero—although absolutely no one involved thinks the trial will commence anywhere near that soon. Moreover, sources rate the chances at approximately 80 percent that Judge Percy Anderson will elect to snatch this juicy trial for himself, thereby moving Otero out. Anderson, those following closely will remember, presided over both of the trials of James Sexton (whom it took two trials to convict), and the trial the other six former department members who, along with Sexton, were convicted of obstruction of justice concerning the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown and other actions designed to thwart the FBI’s investigation into chronic corruption and brutality in the Los Angeles County jail system.

UPDATE: Judge Percy Anderson did indeed manage to snatch the Tanaka-Carey case. But there are still no new trial dates.

Both men were released on bond at around 4:30 p.m. Thursday afternoon. They left the building with their lawyers, looking grim and rattled. Tanaka also had his wife beside him, a pretty woman who, on this particular afternoon, looked like she’d been through one hell of a 24 hours.


THE PRESS CONFERENCE

The news that two of the guys near the top of the LASD’s hierarchy were facing federal indictments was officially announced at Thursday’s 9 a.m. press conference where Acting United States Attorney Stephanie Yonekura laid out the charges:

Tanaka was charged with obstructing a federal investigation for allegedly “directing efforts to quash a federal investigation into corruption and civil right violations by sheriff’s deputies” in two of the county’s jail facilities, Men’s Central Jail, and Twin Towers, she said.

Tom Carey, the former head of ICIB-–the LASD’s unit that oversees criminal investigations within the department—was indicted along with Tanaka for “participating in a broad conspiracy to obstruct the investigation.” In addition, Carey was charged with two counts of “making false declarations” (basically perjury) for things he said in last year’s trials of former deputy James Sexton and six former members of the department, including two lieutenants, two sergeants, and two more deputies.

As she spoke to the hyped-up crowd of reporters, Yonekura used unusually descriptive language to describe the context in which the obstruction of charges against the two men were filed, particularly concerning Tanaka, whom she said (allegedly) didn’t merely obstruct justice regarding the Anthony Brown matter, but “had a large role in institutionalizing certain illegal behavior within the Sheriff’s Department” as a whole.

David Bowdich, the new the Assistant Director in Charge for the LA offices of the FBI, went further when he took the podium after Yonakura. “The allegations in the indictment include cover-ups, diversionary tactics, retribution and a culture generally reserved for Hollywood scripts.”

As mentioned above, the charges against Carey and Tanaka are similar to the obstruction of justice charges levied against the seven former department members convicted last summer and fall (and whose cases are being heard on appeal by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, this coming fall). Except, of course, Tanaka’s and Carey’s roles were supervisory in nature. In other words, they were the ones who allegedly gave the orders that led to the obstruction charges—and the convictions—of seven department members, not the ones who mostly carried out what higher-ups told them to do.


THE INDICTMENT

The joint indictment of Paul Tanaka and Tom Carey is a 25-page document that makes for interesting reading.

The first nine pages cover what are called Introductory Allegations. These are the sort of back story that puts the the rest of the legal tale—namely the various “counts” that comprise the charges—into a larger narrative context. On page three, for example, the document states that:

“Defendants TANAKA and CAREY were well aware of allegations of rampant abuse of inmates at MCJ and TTCF [Twin Towers] and of allegations of insufficient internal investigations and enforcement of deputy misconduct by the LASD.”

It then goes on for the next two or three pages to give a list of examples of how Tanaka and, in some instances, Carey, ignored reports of deputy abuse of inmates when they were brought to them by such varied sources as a jail chaplain, an ACLU monitor, an LASD deputy, a lieutenant, a commander, and more.

The indictment also describes how Tanaka, in particular, allegedly seemed to foster misbehavior—as with his infamous “work the gray” speeches, or his reported 2007 threat to “put a case” on captains “who were putting the most cases on deputies,” and so on.

The remaining pages outline the “counts,” which basically have to do with ordering and/or overseeing the alleged hiding of inmate/informant Anthony Brown from the feds, surveilling and threatening FBI special agent Leah Marx, and attempting to threaten and cajole potential deputy witnesses from talking to the FBI—plus other related actions.

A careful reading of 25-pages is also intriguing in that it suggests, among other things, a list of possible witnesses that the feds could call at trial. (It most cases, the individuals mentioned in the indictment are not named, but comparing the anecdotal material in the document with, say, accounts of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence hearings, and WLA’s own coverage of the LASD over the last few years, may offer relevant clues.)

In response to the indictment, both in a written statement and in conversation outside the courtroom, Tanaka’s two attorneys said that the charges against their client were “baseless,” and they were confident he would be exonerated of any wrongdoing.

“We’re not going to roll over, we’re going to fight it.”

If convicted of all the charges, Tanaka could get fifteen years in a federal prison. Carey, with his extra two counts, could do 25. Yet, judging by the sentences handed down to the other seven department members last year, where the longest term ordered was 41 months, should Tanaka and Carey be found guilty, their sentences too would likely be far shorter than the maximum.


AND WHAT ABOUT BACA?

At Thursday’s press conference, a good number of the questions asked by reporters weren’t about the recently indicted Tanaka and Carey, but about about the man who most conspicuously was not indicted—namely former sheriff Lee Baca. He was, after all, present at many of the meetings laid out in the charges. And in several instances he was reportedly the guy who called the meetings.

Acting US Attorney Yonekura declined to say whether or not Baca was or was not the focus of any ongoing investigation. She mostly answered the blizzard of questions by stating that “Mr. Baca is not charged at this time,” and “We will continue to look at any evidence that comes to us.” As to how they could indict the number two guy, without indicting the number one guy, she said, “We’ve charged the cases we feel we can prove beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Meanwhile, back among the non-indicted working department members, once the news broke about Tanaka and Carey, Sheriff Jim McDonnell sent out this message to the troops:

Today, the Department of Justice announced the indictments of former Sheriff’s employees Paul Tanaka and William Carey. The last several years have been hard on everyone. The indictments are part of a process that will run its course. During this time it is important for us to focus on our mission and look toward the future in demonstrating what the LASD is all about.

The US Attorney’s announcement is by no means a reflection on the tremendous work that you consistently do and the commitment that each of you provide to make a difference in the communities that we serve. The Sheriff’s Department is a national leader in law enforcement, an agency second to none.

I look forward to the future and continuing to work with you in moving the Department forward, not only in leadership, but in the eyes of the public.

Posted in FBI, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 83 Comments »

Indictments of Former Top LASD Officials Paul Tanaka & Tom Carey to be Announced Thursday Morning

May 14th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The indictment of Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department,
and the man that many considered the shadow sheriff during the last years of Lee Baca’s time in office, will be announced at a 9 a.m. press conference Thursday at the federal building, according to sources. Former LASD Captain Tom Carey will also reportedly be indicted and is expected to self-surrender Thursday morning.

Although the FBI has reportedly been investigating Tanaka on a number of fronts over the last couple of years, Thursday’s unsealed indictment is expected to pertain to an elaborate scheme of hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown from his federal handlers, and related actions—a scheme that has already resulted in convictions of seven former department members for charges of obstruction of justice.

Tanaka and Carey testified at both of the trials that resulted in the seven previous obstruction convictions (all of which are being appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, with hearings to take place next fall). Although, on the stand, Tanaka in particular disavowed specific knowledge and oversight of the hiding of Brown. Yet the testimony of others made it hard to see him as the distant supervisor who never asked his underlings about details, whom he attempted to portray himself to be. Carey too, as the head of ICIB, the department’s unit for investigating internal criminal matters, appeared to be assigning many of the components of what came to be unofficially called Operation Pandora’s Box.

Both men admitted on the stand at the earlier trials that they knew they were the “objects” of a federal criminal investigation.

More after the press conference.

Posted in FBI, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 120 Comments »

Will Barry Bonds 9th Circuit Ruling Affect LASD “Pandora’s Box” Appeals?….(& Further Indictments?)

April 23rd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



OBSTRUCTION NOT ALWAYS SO OBSTRUCTIVE AFTER ALL

On Wednesday, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, ruling en banc, overturned former San Francisco Giant Barry Bonds’ felony conviction for obstruction of justice, also forbidding the feds to retry Bonds on the same count.

Last year, a three-judge panel of the 9th didn’t give Bonds a reversal, so his attorneys petitioned for an en banc rehearing—meaning they wanted the whole court. Bonds and his lawyers got it, and the new ruling—as we learned on Wednesday—went in a very different direction.

The court found, in a 10 to 1 decision, that Bonds’ meandering obfuscation in answer to the one of the prosecutors’ questions did not “materially” get in the way of the government’s investigation into the illegal distribution of steroids. In other words, the baseball star’s dodging of a question he didn’t want to answer wasn’t all that, you know, obstruct-y.

Moreover, Judge Alex Kozinski, who wrote a concurring opinion, seemed to be chiding the prosecutors for stretching the definition of obstruction the point that, the judge suggested, practically anyone in the vicinity of a federal investigation could get charged.

For instance, here’s a clip from Kozinski’s opinion:

Because the [obstruction of justice] statute sweeps so broadly, due process calls for prudential limitations on the government’s power to prosecute under it. Such a limitation already exists in our case law interpreting section 1503: the requirement of materiality. Materiality screens out many of the statute’s troubling applications by limiting convictions to those situations where an act “has a natural tendency to influence, or was capable of influencing, the decision of the decisionmaking body.” Put another way, the government must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the charged conduct was capable of influencing a decisionmaking person or entity — for example, by causing it to cease its investigation, pursue different avenues of inquiry or reach a different outcome.

And there’s this:

We have no doubt that United States Attorneys and their Assistants would use the power to prosecute for such crimes judiciously, but that is not the point. Making everyone who participates in our justice system a potential criminal defendant for conduct that is nothing more than the ordinary tug and pull of litigation risks chilling zealous advocacy. It also gives prosecutors the immense and unreviewable power to reward friends and punish enemies by prosecuting the latter and giving the former a pass.


SO-O-O-OOO… DOES THE BONDS RULING IN ANY WAY AFFECT THE 7 PANDORA’S BOX OBSTRUCTION OF JUSTICE CASES THAT ARE GOING TO BE HEARD BY THE 9TH CIRCUIT IN THE FALL?

This is the question that we understand is being tossed around by some of the various defense attorneys representing each of the seven former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department convicted of obstruction of justice around the hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown.

On the surface we would imagine that the actions of the six former LASD folks convicted last summer, and those of former LA County Sheriff’s deputy James Sexton convicted in the fall, are quite different from the on-the-stand phumphering of Barry Bonds. On the other hand, if the 9th is feeling less-than-friendly toward prosecutors’ use of obstruction as a charge in general, suggesting—as Kozinski seems to do in some of the verbiage above—that the feds are overreaching with their use of the statute, will their cranky view extend far enough to cause any of the seven convictions to be similarly overturned?

And if that is any kind of possibility, could it also cause the feds to hold their collective fire on any new indictments that we keep hearing rumored could be coming this spring?

(cough) Tom Carey and Paul Tanaka (cough, cough)

We don’t pretend to know the answers to any of these queries, but we thought you’d like to know that the questions are, in certain quarters, in the air.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 20 Comments »

LA Sheriff McDonnell, LAPD Chief Beck, CHP’s Farrow and More Meet with Religious Leaders for Post-Ferguson Conversation

March 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday afternoon, Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell
, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and a cluster of other LA law enforcement figures got together with around two dozen local religious leaders for a two-hour, no-press-allowed post-Ferguson chat in the hope that everyone might speak candidly about the tensions between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

The meeting, which took place on the 8th floor of the newly renovated Hall of Justice, on Temple Street in downtown LA, was the inaugural event for the historic building.

Judging by what WitnessLA was able to gather as everyone was dispersing, most came away with the feeling that some real and relevant things had been said. Moreover, everybody wanted to do it again.

“We don’t want to have this be one-and-done,” said Sheriff McDonnell when we spoke after the event. The idea was to build ongoing relationships, he said.

The gathering was billed as being co-hosted by McDonnell, Beck and CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow. District Attorney Jackie Lacy, LA City Attorney Mike Feurer, and Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura were also on hand.

But, it was clearly an LASD-organized affair. Still everyone had reportedly had things to say—a lot of it straight talking from both the faith leaders and the cops. “It was not a booster club,” said McDonnell.

Interestingly, the faith leaders didn’t just raise issues with law enforcement, they also spoke frankly to each other. One issue in particular that reportedly caused discussion, according to those present, was the necessity of the clergy to engage when there is a police/community problem “not Just read about it.”

On this topic, one pastor reportedly said, ‘It breaks my heart that [when something happens] we close the doors of he churches.”

Another subject that caused much discussion was the religious leaders’ acknowledgement that affluent communities tend to view—and experience—the police very differently than do lower income communities

McDonnell and Beck both talked about interaction with the clergy as a being “critical piece of community policing.” They also spoke of the need to bring what occurred on Tuesday, “to the station level,” said McDonnell, for the LASD and the LAPD.

Community oriented policing is not something law enforcement agencies should do on the side or merely to appease critics,” he said. “Rather, a focus on community oriented policing ensures law enforcement is viewed by the community as legitimate.”

“We are very fortunate in this community to have law enforcement leadership that recognizes and understands the importance of strengthening community relations,” said Reverend Chip Murray, in a pre-meeting statement. “This timely event will help us build upon the strong foundations that already exist and enable us to do even more, working together.”

A pastor from Compton, who was leaving just as WLA arrived, pronounced the meeting, “Good. Very good.” Things were said that needed to be said, he told me. “And that’s a very good thing.”

Posted in Charlie Beck, City Attorney, District Attorney, Jim McDonnell, LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, U.S. Attorney | 19 Comments »

The Odd Case of 3 LASD Deputies Charged With Mortgage Fraud & Their Dramatic Acquittal

February 16th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



JUDGE SAYS NOT GUILTY IN FEDERAL CASE AGAINST THREE SHERIFF’S DEPUTIES ACCUSED OF “BUY & BAIL” MORTGAGE FRAUD

The federal trial of three Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies for conspiracy to commit bank fraud ended last Thursday in a manner that no one saw coming.

Midway through the proceedings against Billy, Benny and Johnny Khounthavong,—who in addition to being LASD deputies are also brothers—U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real stunned court observers by abruptly entering a verdict of acquittal, after announcing that no reasonable jury could find beyond a reasonable doubt that the Khounthavon brothers were guilty.

The basics of the case are as follows: the three Khounthavong brothers were charged with making false statements to two different banks so that they could buy one house in Corona, CA, while simultaneously dumping another house in Chino, CA, for which they had paid too much in 2006 during the real estate boom, and which was, by 2011, disastrously under water.

The feds alleged that the brothers lied to Flagstar Bank, making their collective financial situations appear better than they were so they could qualify for a loan to buy the Corona House. At the same time, according to the prosecution, they had painted their financial status as far more dire to Bank of America, their primary mortgage holder on the underwater Chino house, so they qualify for a “short-sale”—which is the term for selling a loan-encumbered property for less than the amount of the remaining mortgage.

The allegations were slightly more detailed, but that’s the gist of it.

Yet, after Assistant U.S. Attorney Margaret Carter finished putting on her case late last week, before the defense could call its own witnesses, Judge Real announced the startling acquittal in what is called a Rule 29 ruling.


RULE 29

In brief, here’s how Real’s action works: In every federal criminal trial, the defense has the right to make what is known as a Rule 29 motion. This is when the defendant’s attorney stands up and says to the judge: “Your honor, I move for a judgment of acquittal on the ground that the prosecution has failed to present sufficient proof from which any rational juror could conclude beyond a reasonable doubt that my client is guilty on each and every count.” Or similar words to that effect.

The motion is generally made just after the prosecution has finished putting on its case (and before the defense puts on its case). But sometimes it can come at the end of both presentations, just before the case goes to the jury.

In most instances, the Rule 29 motion is pro forma, a legal ritual.

Yet, even if those at the defense table know they are sunk, the motion is nearly always made.

And it’s almost never granted.

For one thing, in order to acquit under Rule 29, the judge is required to see the evidence in the most favorable possible light for the prosecution before taking such a huge step. You see, unlike a jury verdict of not guilty, a Rule 29 acquittal cannot be appealed. So Rule-29-ing a case, as they say, is a big deal.

Yet, last Thursday, before the defense put on any witnesses, Judge Real—–who has a reputation for generally being pro-government, and a lengthy record for, shall we say, quirky behavior—announced that the prosecution led by Carter, had not made its case against the Khounthavong brothers.

And that was that.


JUDGE QUESTIONS UNDERPINNINGS OF PROSECUTION’S CASE

“It represents a complete failure of proof when a judge enters a judgment of acquittal,” said Adam Braun, who was Benny Khounthavong’s attorney. “We were grateful that Judge Real made the correct decision.” Braun added that now the brothers mostly wanted to rebuild their lives. “It was a nightmare,” he said. “They’ve been through the wringer. My client has a four-month old baby.”

Had the brothers been convicted they could have been sentenced to up to five years in federal prison.

Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney’s office, declined to comment on the details of the case yet said, “We are disappointed with the judge’s ruling, but we accept the outcome.”

According to Braun, Real said when he announced his decision, that there was no evidence to support an attempt to deceive the banks on the part of the brothers; no evidence that any of the banks were harmed; no evidence that the brothers themselves caused the errors in question on the loan application.

During the trial, bank representatives reportedly confirmed that none of the brothers had ever had any direct interactions with bank officials about the matters in question, and neither of the banks had complained to the feds, according to testimony. In fact, according to Braun, the B of A representative told the court that, from the bank’s point of view, a short sale was actually preferable to a foreclosure, which would have been the brothers’ other legal way of getting out from under a crippling mortgage that they felt they could no longer afford. (The payments on the $492,298 mortgage for the new 3,900-square-foot Corona house, where the three brothers now live, are substantially less than the payments for the $740,000 the Khounthavongs still owed on the underwater Chino house, although the two houses are comparative in size.)

The crucial witness for the prosecution in the case, according to Braun, was the Khounthavongs’ real estate agent, who was also their loan broker. The agent/broker was evidently given immunity by the prosecution because she had her own legal issues.

It seems in certain kinds of real estate transactions in California, a real estate agent cannot also act as a loan broker, because they are both incentivized functions, involving commissions, and thus present a conflict of interest. This agent, however, was reportedly attempting to do both, and in so doing to collect two healthy commissions for her trouble. “When the bank brought up that she couldn’t be the loan broker,” explained Braun., “she whited out her signature and had a subordinate sign in her place,” then reportedly went ahead and collected the two commissions. “She committed undisputed bank fraud, but the government gave her immunity,” said Braun.

Yet, when the broker/loan agent testified at trial, she stated that the primary misrepresentation on the loan documents—namely an incorrectly high valuation for the underwater Chino house, which was crucial to the prosecutors’ case—was actually a number that the agent had personally filled in without discussing her choice with the brothers. When the brothers signed the 160-page loan docs in front of a notary, according to Braun, they just signed in the designated sections with only a cursory glance at the rest of the lengthy paperwork.

After the real estate agent/broker appeared to get the brothers off the hook for at least a part of the charges, prosecutor Margaret Carter asked to treat the woman as a hostile witness, and things reportedly went downhill from there with the judge, who had already been questioning some of the witnesses on his own.


THE OTHER LASD INDICTMENTS

The case against the Khounthavong brothers was a bit of an outlier to begin with, coming as it did in a group of 18 indictments unsealed in December 2013, the majority of which pertained to either brutality in the jails, or obstruction of justice—as in the case of the six who were found guilty last July, for hiding federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, and the case of James Sexton who was found guilty of similar charges in September 2014, after being acquitted of those same charges earlier in the year.

Then in February 2014, two more LASD deputies were indicted, also for jail brutality, specifically for allegedly using illegal force against an inmate and then covering up the incident with false reports that resulted in a false prosecution initiated against the victim.

(In addition to the case against the Khounthavongs, the other outlier case involved a deputy named Richard White Piquette, who was charged with illegally building and possessing an assault rifle. Piquette took a deal and pled guilty to building the rifle in April of 2014.)

The alleged mortgage scam involving the Khounthavong brothers was reportedly discovered by accident when the feds were looking into one of the brothers who was stationed at the department’s chronically-troubled Men’s Central Jail. According to those with knowledge of the case, the FBI reportedly hoped the MCJ Khounthavong would help them out with their investigation into deputy brutality at the facility where he worked, but the deputy reportedly proved unwilling or unable to give the feds what they wanted.

Dominic Cantalupo, attorney for one of the other brothers, told Victoria Kim of the LA Times that the fraud charges were brought after the MCJ Khounthavong refused to cooperate with investigators and give information on other deputies in the jail investigation.

It is difficult to say what Judge Real thought about the rumored provenance of the case against the Khounthavong brothers. Yet, at the end of the unexpectedly truncated court proceedings, he reportedly asked federal prosecutor Carter, “Where was this coming from if the banks weren’t harmed? Where was it coming from?”

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 7 Comments »

Prison Tech, Prez Nominates Deputy Mayor for US Attorney, Disabled in Isolation, Public Defenders’ Unconscious Bias

February 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker

SMUGGLED CELL PHONES CONNECT PRISONERS WITH THE OUTSIDE WORLD…PLUS SAN QUENTIN’S CODING CLASS

A three part series for Fusion by Kevin Roose and Pendarvis Harshaw explores digital tech issues in the criminal justice system.

Part one takes a look at the seemingly limitless flow of contraband cell phones, which inmates use for everything from to coordinating hunger strikes between prisons, to checking in with loved ones, to recording comedic vine videos. Here are some clips:

A month-long Fusion investigation turned up dozens of social media profiles of inmates currently serving time in several states, many of whom were frequent users of the services in question. Some inmates appeared to be accessing the Internet through proxies – a family member who had the inmate’s Facebook password, for example, and was using the account to relay messages – while other inmates appeared to be accessing the sites directly from their cells.

“Been on lock down for two weeks…going into the third week. Letters would be great. Money would be a blessing. If I have to choke down one more bologna sandwich I think I might snap….,” wrote one Facebook user last October. The user, whose name matches that of a current federal prisoner in West Virginia, appears to have posted to his Facebook profile from two other prisons where he was previously housed.

“Hello everyone, wanted to say hi and let u know I’m currently on an extended lock-down,” wrote another federal inmate, who is serving time for armed robbery at a high-security facility in Texas. “Dont worry I’m nit [sic] in trouble the lock-down is due to a big incident that happened between two gangs at my location,” the inmate wrote….

Other social networks, too, are filled with evidence of contraband activity. One Vine user, who goes by “Acie Bandage,” has posted dozens of six-second videos of himself and his fellow inmates dancing, goofing off, and doing impersonations from their prison cells. (The user wraps a bandage around his face during the videos to disguise his identity — click here to see more of his videos, which are really quite something.)

[SNIP]

Beyond the pragmatic safety issues, there are philosophical questions about the role digital culture should play in the criminal justice system. In 2015, as technology forms the base layer of culture, communication, and education, is it cruel and unusual to cut prisoners off from the entire online universe? What’s the role of technology in rehabilitation? If the purpose of a prison is to restrict an offender’s movement and keep him from causing further harm to the general population, should those restrictions apply just to the physical body? Or should his virtual self be imprisoned, too?

The second story explores the issue of teaching inmates technology in prison, for job seeking purposes, and also so that they can more easily reenter their digitally-connected communities.

Roose and Harshaw focus on Code 7370, a coding program put on by the Last Mile, in partnership with Hack Reactor and the California Prison Industry Authority. While the vocational program at San Quentin State Prison does not directly connect participants to the internet, their completed coursework is tested on an administrator’s computer and projected onto a screen. And although there do not seem to be many pre-release programs to teach inmates the basic tech skills they will need to thrive on the outside, yet, the calls for such training are growing louder. Here’s a clip:

For former inmates, the transition out of prison and into the 21st century can be jarring. Many newly paroled inmates, especially those who served long sentences, have never sent an e-mail, used a smartphone, or filled out an online form. The unfamiliarity of these systems can create hurdles when it comes to mundane tasks, such as buying groceries from the self-checkout aisle at the store or using an electronic subway pass. And when it comes to applying for jobs, small hurdles can turn into huge obstacles.

The post-prison lives of inmates are rarely easy, technology problems or no. 77 percent of ex-convicts are arrested again within a 5 year period of being released, according to a study conducted by the Bureau of Justice. But numerous studies have shown that vocational training and educational opportunities, like those offered by The Last Mile, can help keep ex-inmates from returning to prison. A 2010 study by The Rand Corporation showed that fewer than half of incarcerated people receive academic instruction while behind bars. Those who do receive educational or vocational training, though, are 43 percent less likely to become repeat offenders, and 28 percent more likely to land a job.

One graduate of The Last Mile, Kenyatta Leal, got his first smartphone shortly after being released from San Quentin, where he served the last part of a 19-year sentence for firearms possession. Leal, 46, was no stranger to technology – years before, he’d been given 40 days of isolation in “the hole” as punishment for having a cell phone in prison – but he’d never had a phone capable of downloading apps, streaming music, and sending e-mail. In his new job at RocketSpace, a San Francisco tech co-working space whose founder hired Leal after meeting him in Code 7370, he realized he would need to catch up.

“I didn’t have any tech skills, but I had bust-my-ass skills,” says Leal. “My boss gave me a Galaxy III on my first day, and I took it home, figured out YouTube, and watched, like, four different videos on how to send an e-mail.”


LA DEPUTY MAYOR, EILEEN MAURA DECKER, TAPPED TO BE NEXT US ATTORNEY FOR CENTRAL DISTRICT OF CA

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama nominated Eileen Maura Decker to be US Attorney of California’s Central District. Decker is a former federal prosecutor and currently serves as Los Angeles’ deputy mayor on law enforcement and public safety.

Decker would take the place former US Attorney André Birotte Jr., who was sworn in as the newest judge of the federal District Court in Los Angeles in October.

The Associated Press’ Brian Melley has more on Decker’s nomination and background. Here’s a clip:

Mayor Eric Garcetti credited Decker’s leadership with bringing crime to a historic low in the city, overhauling the fire department and making the city a model for disaster preparedness.

“Our office will miss her work and I will personally miss her, but I am glad that her new position keeps her in the business of keeping L.A. safe,” Garcetti said.

Decker was recommended for the post by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., who said she was highly qualified to work with federal, state and local law enforcement in a region of 19 million people that spans from Orange County to San Luis Obispo and the Inland Empire.

Decker, 54, who earned her undergraduate and law degrees from New York University, started her legal career in private practice in 1990.

She worked as a law clerk for U.S. District Judge Gary L. Taylor for two years, returned to private practice and then became an assistant U.S. attorney in 1995, where she prosecuted cases involving national security, fraud and organized crime. She also has a master’s degree from the Naval Post Graduate School’s Center for Homeland Defense and Security in Monterey.


FED. JUDGE SEZ STOP WAREHOUSING DISABLED CALIFORNIA PRISONERS IN ISOLATION

An Oakland federal judge has ordered California prisons to discontinue sticking disabled inmates in solitary confinement due to lack of space elsewhere in the facility. Judge Claudia Wilken says a number of state prisons are in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, but that San Diego’s R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility is the most egregious violator. Wilken is currently hearing a class-action lawsuit against California’s solitary confinement practices.

The LA Times’ Paige St. John has the story. Here’s a clip:

Lawyers for prisoners and the state in 2012 had agreed on a plan to find more suitable housing within the state’s crowded prison system. Even so, Wilken found, prison logs showed 211 disabled inmates had been put in the isolation cells in the past year, spending from one day to one month in the units. Most of those cases were at one prison — R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego.

Jeffrey Callison, a spokesman for the corrections department, said the agency was reviewing the court’s order but otherwise did not comment.

Lawyers for Atty. Gen. Kamala Harris, representing the corrections department, argued in court that the problems at the San Diego prison would best be resolved internally by state policy changes.

A corrections department administrator said the housing assignments were temporary as the state copes with unplanned need to move 400 to 600 inmates between prisons every week, some the result of other court orders to relocate prisoners at risk of contracting valley fever or to receive mental health care.


WHEN PUBLIC DEFENDERS GIVE LESS THAN ADEQUATE REPRESENTATION BECAUSE OF THEIR UNCONSCIOUS BIASES

The Sixth Amendment Center’s David Carroll interviews Tigran Eldred, New England Law Professor and former public defender, about what he calls “ethical blindness,” which the prof. says is what happens when well-meaning public defenders are too overloaded to detect when they are giving poor clients subpar representation.

Elgred names three components: confirmation bias—preferring information that validates prior beliefs, motivated reasoning—seeking information that brings preferable answers, and overconfidence bias—misjudging the power to give effective counsel in the face of extreme adversity.

Here’s a clip from the interview:

DC: Okay – let’s try to unpack this for our readers. Are you saying that the demands of excessive caseloads force public defenders into making quick decisions about cases everyday that that they themselves may not be consciously aware of?

TE: That’s basically it. And, the scientific support for this comes from the world of “behavioral ethics.” In particular, three psychological factors are relevant to the excessive caseload discussion. First, we all experience what is known as “confirmation bias.” This is the tendency in all of us to seek out, interpret and remember information in a manner that supports our pre-existing beliefs. The second and related concept is “motivated reasoning.” Not only do we seek to confirm our pre-existing beliefs, but also we do so to reach conclusions that we prefer. Third, because of our general desire to think well of ourselves, we tend to experience an “overconfidence bias,” including the tendency to overestimate our abilities to act competently and ethically when confronted with difficult dilemmas.

All of three of these factors occur unconsciously. We are tricked into believing that our choices are reasoned, even when often they are not. Our brains convince us our quickest decisions are solely the result of conscious and rational deliberation. But all the while we are blissfully unaware of how our pre-existing views, desires and self-conception can influence the judgments and decisions that we make.

DC: So, we need some context here. Can you explain these theories within the specific debate of how public defenders respond to excessive caseloads?

TE: Certainly. I agree with Professor Gross that defenders who have too much work often have only one option: to triage cases. Structurally, they are forced into focusing limited resources on a percentage of cases at the expense of many others – and on those cases that don’t get the same level of focus or resources, you wind up with an assembly line of quick plea dispositions. When this type of triage occurs, the psychological phenomena I have described can be expected to exert significant influence.

For example, by starting with the premise that most cases will need to be disposed of quickly, lawyers will likely engage in confirmatory and motivated reasoning, unconsciously seeking reasons to justify this pre-determined conclusion. This can happen in a number of ways. For example, the lawyer might overestimate the strength of the evidence against the client or underestimate the value of additional investigation. Acts of omission, as Professor Gross notes, can have a profound effect on a case. When the lawyer fails to seek exculpatory material, to interview witnesses or to visit a crime scene – or fails to engage in many other forms of advocacy for a client – the lawyer is essentially confirming the pre-existing belief that no additional work for the client will be helpful.

DC: In studying indigent defense services all across the country, I continually encounter public defenders that tell me that I should not be so dismissive of early resolution courts because they often result in favorable decisions to defendants.

TE: Right, they’re playing the percentages. While in many instances it may be true that the best course of action is a quick plea bargain, it is also true that in many instances it is not. There is a significant chance that the decision to forgo additional work for the client is the product of the type of fast thinking I have described. And then, after the fact the process become self-fulfilling. The lawyer has decided that a quick plea is appropriate without further investigation. So the client is advised to take the plea quickly and the lawyer, laboring under the illusion that the decision was solely the product of rational deliberation, remains convinced of the propriety of the decision — unaware of the subtle psychological forces that conspire to influence the lawyer’s behavior.

Tilgard goes on to explain how to reform indigent defense in a way that will effectively combat these unconscious biases:

TE: This is where the latest post by Mr. Vitale is so critical to the discussion. He suggests that indigent defense reform must occur on three fronts: system-building, public advocacy and culture change. I agree all three are critical to overcoming ethical blindness. Public defenders must work in systems that insulate them from undue political and judicial interference. Without structural independence there is little hope that public defenders can overcome these issues alone.

Posted in CDCR, Obama, prison policy, Public Defender, Reentry, solitary, U.S. Attorney | 1 Comment »

LASD Deputy James Sexton Sentenced to 18 Months in Prison

December 16th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday morning, former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy James Sexton became the 7th member of the LASD
to be sentenced to prison for a conviction of obstruction of justice due to his part in a plan to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

Judge Percy Anderson sentenced Sexton to 18 months in a federal lock-up, plus an additional year of supervision after he is released.

Sexton, 30, is a former Eagle Scout who was offered an appointment to West Point and recently got his master’s in public administration at USC. He was 26, and in the department for three years, when in August 2011, he was assigned by then lieutenant Greg Thompson, his boss on the Operation Safe Jails unit (OSJ), to participate in a complex scheme to keep federal informant Brown away from the FBI and other federal representatives with whom he’d previously been in contact. Brown was, at the time, part of a civil rights investigation into brutality by deputies against inmates in Men’s Central Jail, plus other forms of LASD corruption.

According to department higher ups, the hiding of Brown was for the inmate’s own safety. Sexton and his team members were told that the order to move Brown to various secret locations within the county jail system, through the use of name changes and computer manipulation, came from the very top of the department, namely from Sheriff Lee Baca and then undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who were briefed regularly on the operation that Sexton began unofficially calling Operation Pandora’s Box.

Judge Anderson gave Sexton the shortest sentence of any of the seven, stating that the deputy was “the least culpable” of the group. (Co-conspirators Greg Thompson, Steve Leavins, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig and Maricela Long drew terms ranging from 41 months for former lieutenant Steve Levins, to 21 months for former deputy Mickey Manzo, after being convicted in July of this year in a trial separate from Sextons)

Sexton’s attorneys had pushed for a far lower six month sentence, or even probation with no jail time, pointing out that Sexton had repeatedly cooperated with the feds as a whistleblower in 37 different meetings, and had been convincingly threatened by department members once his whistleblower role became known. (Sexton was the only one of his co-defendents who was allowed by the judge to keep his personal firearms until his conviction this fall.) Anderson, however, was adamant that “the public” expected a sentence that did not trivialize the offense.

“The public expects that the police will not obstruct justice,” said the judge

At the same time, Anderson praised Sexton’s “loving family,” that the deputy “has respect of many in his hometown,” and was “smart and educated” and was “devoted to public service.”

Anderson paused, then added, “Obviously at some point he allowed the core values that had served him well to give way...to the corrupt values of the sheriff’s department.

Finally Anderson spoke directly to Sexton.

“Sir, you didn’t show courage in your misguided attempt to protect the LASD.”

While Sexton and his family looked both grim and saddened by the sentencing outcome, they seemed unsurprised. Sexton was found guilty in mid-September of this year of charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Brown from his FBI handlers.
The September trial was Sexton’s second legal go-round for the same charges. His first trial, which took place in May of this year, resulted in a hung jury, that split six-six.

When questioned outside the federal court, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox said that the sentencing of Sexton was not the end of the story when it came to pursuing civil rights violations and corruption inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He ticked off some of the trials of other LASD members that will take place in 2015. “This is the end of one chapter,” Fox said, “but we have many chapters yet to come.”

As to whether the feds are focusing on other department members for possible future indictments, Fox would only say “it’s an ongoing investigation.”

Fox also declined comment on the news that Captain Tom Carey, the former head of the department’s internal criminal investigative unit, ICIB, had recently been relieved of duty, pending an LASD investigation. Carey, who testified in both Sexton’s trials, was asked by Fox when he was then on the stand if he was aware that he was the focus of an ongoing criminal federal investigation.

Sexton will surrender to authorities to begin his sentence on February 2015. His six co-defendents are required to surrender on January 2.

Sexton reportedly has made plans to appeal his conviction.


Be sure to read ABC7 Lisa Bartley’s excellent account of Monday’s proceedings. Bartley has also linked to some documents pertinent to the sentencing including letters of support from such people as an L.A. County Deputy District Attorney, a retired CIA official, a Captain in the U.S. Special Forces, a Green Beret and the President of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

Posted in FBI, jail, Jim McDonnell, LA County Jail, LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 36 Comments »

Civilian Oversight of LASD Back on the Table….LAPD Union Spokesman Unwisely Axed….Report Looks at Barriers Barring 2nd Chances for Americans With Criminal Records….New Sentencing Date for Sexton

December 5th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE LA SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT IS PROPOSED AGAIN, THIS TIME APPROVAL LOOKS LIKELY

One brand new member of the LA County Board of Supervisors, Hilda Solis, has joined veteran board member Mark Ridley-Thomas in championing the idea of a civilian oversight commission for the long-troubled sheriff’s department.

Next Tuesday, December 9, Ridley-Thomas and Solis, will introduce a motion to establish such a commission.

This past summer, MRT and termed-out supervisor, Gloria Molina, did all they could to get a similar motion passed without success. At that time, termed-out supe Zev Yaroslavsky was considered the swing vote who might provide the third favorable vote necessary for passage, but no swinging ever took place. Mike Antonovich has been firmly in the NO camp all through discussions of the matter, and Don Knabe, who was, at one time, thought to be a far outside possibility as a swing vote, never came over to the YES column either.

Now, however, Solis and Ridley-Thomas appear to have their third supporter in newly sworn-in supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who had expressed strong support for a civilian commission while on the campaign trail.

Kuehl then reaffirmed her support in an interview on Thursday.

Back in the summer, one of the strongest voices in favor of the creation of the commission was the man who, as of Monday, has taken over the helm of the sheriff’s department, Jim McDonnell. A few weeks prior to the board’s decision to vote down the commission proposal this past August, McDonnell issued a lengthy statement explaining why he supported the idea, which he called “a necessary long-term investment in creating a better-run department.”

The statement read in part:

I support this concept and believe that there is great value in creating an independent civilian oversight body that would enable the voice of the community to be part of the LASD’s pathway forward. A civilian commission can provide an invaluable forum for transparency and accountability, while also restoring and rebuilding community trust in the constitutional operation of the LASD.

The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, on which I served, underscored the need for comprehensive and independent monitoring of the LASD and its jails and recommended the creation of an Office of Inspector General (the “OIG”) – an entity that is now in the process of formation. While our Commission opted not to express any view regarding a civilian commission, I believe that the time has come for the creation of an empowered and independent citizens’ commission to oversee and guide the work of the OIG and help move the Department beyond past problems.

Though a civilian oversight commission may be a new concept for LASD, it is not new to me or to law enforcement in general. Indeed, I spent many of my 29 years at the LAPD working with its citizens’ Police Commission. I have also worked with a citizens’ commission as Chief of Police in Long Beach. I have seen first-hand the value of empowering the community’s voice and welcome the opportunity to work with the Board of Supervisors, legal experts and community groups in developing the best possible model of civilian oversight for the LASD…..

At the time, John Scott—who acted as interim sheriff after the unexpected resignation of former sheriff Lee Baca last January—told ABC7 reporter Robert Holguin that he was generally for the commission but felt it was too soon to form one.

The Ridley-Thomas/Solis motion (which you can read in full here) also proposes the formation of a “working group” that will have 90 days to put together recommendations regarding the citizens commission’s “mission, authority, size, structure, relationship to the Office of the Sheriff and to the Office of the Inspector General.”

(We would presume and hope that the working group would also make recommendations about the proposed commission’s relationship with the board of supervisors. While a citizen’s commission would be the board’s creation, it should not be its creature.)

The working group would be made up of the sheriff (or his designee), the inspector general (or his designee) and one group member to be appointed by each supervisor.

Barring anything unforeseen, look for the civilian oversight commission to finally get a go-head next Tuesday.


LAPD UNION CONFOUNDS OBSERVERS BY DUMPING LONGTIME SPOKESMAN

In a move that has surprised many LA reporters who cover police issues, the LAPD’s union, the Los Angeles Police Protective League, has parted ways with longtime spokesman Eric Rose. A favorite of several administrations worth of department leaders, Rose is known for his breadth of knowledge of local law enforcement, and his ability to communicate with journalists in such a way that has repeatedly benefited both the union and the LAPD.

Most learned about Rose’s departure when he sent out a note early in the morning of Saturday November 29, explaining that Englander Knabe & Allen, the firm in which he is a partner, would no longer be representing the league. Rose has been the voice of the union for 19 years.

The LAPPL’s decision to acquire a new spokesman is viewed by some department watchers as a desperation-driven maneuver by union leadership frantic to find some way to pressure city officials into forking over a new-and-improved contract. (Good luck with that. In July, the department’s rank file rejected a proposed contract because, despite its multiple concessions, it contained no cost-of-living adjustment [COLA]—nevermind that, due to the city’s $242 million budget shortfall, no other city employees were getting COLAs either, including firefighters.)

On Monday, Daily News columnist Rick Orlov called the LAPPL’s action “another sign of its recent internal strife.”


REPORT CALLS FOR POLICY REFORM TO ENSURE AMERICANS WITH CRIMINAL RECORDS HAVE “A FAIR SHOT AT A SECOND CHANCE.”

A just-released report by the Center for American Progress called One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records looks at the multiplicity of ways that a single criminal conviction, even for a minor offense, can permanently damage an individual’s ability to rebuild his or her life even years after release from jail or prison.

Here’s how the report opens:

Between 70 million and 100 million Americans—or as many as one in three—have a criminal record.

Many have only minor offenses, such as misdemeanors and nonserious infractions; others have only arrests without conviction. Nonetheless, because of the rise of technology and the ease of accessing data via the Internet—–in conjunction with federal and state policy decisions—having even a minor criminal history now carries lifelong barriers that can block successful re-entry and participation in society. This has broad implications—not only for the millions of individuals who are prevented from moving on with their lives and becoming productive citizens but also for their families, communities, and the national economy.

Today, a criminal record serves as both a direct cause and consequence of poverty.

It is a cause because having a criminal record can present obstacles to employment, housing, public assistance, education, family reunification, and more; conviction can result in monetary debts as well. It is a consequence due to the growing criminalization of poverty and homelessness. One recent study finds that our nation’s poverty rate would have dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004 if not for mass incarceration and the subsequent criminal records that haunt people for years after they have paid their debt to society.

Failure to address this link as part of a larger anti-poverty agenda risks missing a major piece of the puzzle….

And there is this:

…The lifelong consequences of having a criminal record—and the stigma that accompanies one—stand in stark contrast to research on “redemption” that documents that once an individual with a prior nonviolent conviction has stayed crime free for three to four years, that person’s risk of recidivism is no different from the risk of arrest for the general population.

Put differently, people are treated as criminals long after they pose any significant risk of committing further crimes—-making it difficult for many to move on with their lives and achieve basic economic security, let alone have a shot at upward mobility.

The United States must therefore craft policies to ensure that Americans with criminal records have a fair shot at making a decent living, providing for their families, and joining the middle class. This will benefit not only the tens of millions of individuals who face closed doors due to a criminal record but also their families, their communities, and the economy as a whole.

The full report is 50 pages long, and features lots of interesting data, plus a series of recommendations for policy change, so worth reading for those of you with an interest in the topic.


LASD DEPUTY JAMES SEXTON SENTENCING RESCHEDULED FOR DECEMBER 15

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton, who was scheduled to be sentenced on December 1, will now be sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on Monday, December 15.

(Earlier, federal prosecutors had switched Sexton’s sentencing date from this past Monday-–the day that the new sheriff would be sworn in—to December 8th. Then more recently the feds agreed to the second date change at the request of Sexton’s attorneys.)

Sexton, if you’ll remember, was the seventh sworn member of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department to be convicted of obstruction of justice charges 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 in mid-September of this year of charges 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 September trial was the second time that Deputy Sexton had been 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.

The other six department members, who were sentenced in late September, received sentences by Judge Anderson that ranged from 21 months to 41 months, with an additional year of superversion after their release.

The six are required to surrender for their terms on January 2.

If Sexton is sentenced to prison, he is expected to be asked to surrender within a similar time frame.

Posted in FBI, LAPD, LAPPL, LASD, Sheriff John Scott, U.S. Attorney | 16 Comments »

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