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Paul Tanaka’s Attorneys Ask Feds to Give Former Sheriff Lee Baca Immunity to Testify….& Execs Charged with Skimming $$ From Group Home for LA Foster Kids

August 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


As the ongoing drama of the obstruction of Justice indictments against former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department continues,
the newest moment-of-interest is provided by the attorneys for former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, whose trial will commence this coming November.

Where we last left off was last week, when Tanaka’s co-indictee, former LASD Captain William “Tom” Carey took a plea deal—meaning, among other things, Mr. Carey will be a witness for the prosecution at Tanaka’s trial.

Clearly the former undersheriff could use a new witness of his own.

Voila! On Friday, Tanaka’s attorney, Dean Seward, filed a motion asking the judge to step in because the federal prosecutors have declined to grant former Sheriff Lee Baca immunity so that he may testify at Tanaka’s trial without taking the fifth, which Baca’s attorneys have consistently said to anyone who asks is exactly what their client will do, absent immunity.

This is the same answer Baca and company has given to other attorneys of other federal defendants who wanted the former sheriff to testify at their trials.

When prosecutors Brandon Fox and Lizabeth Rhodes have been asked if they will make the immunity deal, they’ve evidently answered with the rough legal equivalent of “Are you freaking kidding us?! No! Of course, not!”

So Seward has turned to a higher power—namely Judge Percy Anderson—in the hope he will intervene. Anderson, who seemed to be irritated with Tanaka’s antics on the stand as a witness in the previous obstruction trials, is not likely to catch this pre-trial Hail Mary pass now that Tanaka is a defendent.

Nevertheless the argument in the text of the motion, which will be heard at the end of this month, is fascinating. Here’s a clip:

…Moreover, the prior prosecution of LASD deputy sheriffs by these same prosecutors in this same courtroom would never had occurred but for the actions of then Sheriff Leroy Baca.

But the Court and jury will never hear from Mr. Baca unless this Court intervenes. That is not because his testimony is not relevant. That is not because his testimony is not exculpatory. That is only because the government refuses to bestow the same inoculation against criminal prosecution that it has used with such vengeance to enable it to charge Mr. Tanaka.

As a result of the government’s inaction and refusal to immunize an exculpatory witness, Mr. Tanaka will be prevented from presenting a valid and relevant defense unless this Court intervenes. In order to enable the defendant to present the complete events and not rely on the incomplete version from the prosecution, this Court should grant this motion and order the government to give Leroy Baca use immunity for any testimony he may provide at trial.

The government cannot, at this late hour, argue that it has not had the opportunity to investigate the matter and determine who should be prosecuted. Logically, there’s only one person for whom prosecution is still possible: Leroy Baca. The events in this case occurred nearly 4 years ago. Multiple grand juries have been convened. The government and F.B.I. have interviewed hundreds of witnesses. Hundreds of thousands of pages of documents, exhibits, and recordings have been generated. To say the government does not have enough before it to choose whether to prosecute Mr. Baca makes no sense. The motion herein is not meant to force the government’s hand. But it is meant to force them to let Mr. Baca have his day in Court: either as a witness in Mr. Tanaka’s trial or as a co- defendant in this prosecution.

The government, by refusing to charge Mr. Baca or grant him immunity to testify in Mr. Tanaka’s trial, is exercising its immunity power not for legitimate prosecutorial purposes but to deny Mr. Tanaka a level playing field of evidence.

In other words: either indict Lee Baca or give him to us as a witness!

There is, of course, lots more after that.

The motion will be heard on September 28. So stay tuned.


AND IN OTHER NEWS….EXECUTIVES AT YET ANOTHER LA COUNTY FOSTER CARE GROUP HOME ARE CHARGED WITH EMBEZZLEMENT

Just about a year ago, LA District attorney Jackie Lacey announced that a husband and wife team was being charged with embezzling more than $460,000 in taxpayer money from a nonprofit agency hired by Los Angeles County’s Department of Children and Family services to help some of the harder to place abused and neglected foster children.

The LA Times Garrett Therolf reported extensively on the story last year and has been on top of the issue since.

Now Therolf reports that a whole different set of executives for a different group home that cares for abused and neglected LA Youth have been charged by the DA with skimming and generally misusing money from the taxpayer funded enterprise the are supposed to be overseeing.

Lovely.

Here’s a clip:

As in the district attorney’s recent case against leaders of the Little People’s World group home, the alleged wrongdoing at Moore’s Cottage may have festered for years as county officials ignored signs of financial mismanagement, records show.

“It’s my fault that we didn’t know more about it,” said Philip Browning, director of the Department of Children and Family Services.

The activities alleged in the lawsuit occurred before 2013, and Browning said they might have been prevented by an improved monitoring system the department put in place about a year ago.

Prosecutors filed the criminal charges against Batchelor and Smith in April with no public announcement. The district attorney’s office declined to comment.

The two men, who pleaded not guilty and are free on bail, declined to respond to requests for comment.

They are accused of embezzling more than $100,000 from the charity and damaging or destroying property in excess of $65,000. The lawsuit also accuses them of filing false personal tax returns in 2011, 2012 and 2013 — the same period in which they failed to file tax forms for Moore’s Cottage. In total, Moore’s Cottage owed $460,000 in delinquent federal payroll taxes as of September 2013.

A court petition for a search warrant filed this year by the district attorney’s office says that “Batchelor had no intention of paying payroll taxes with the money he withdrew. His sole purpose was to split the withdrawn money with Smith for personal gain.”

Posted in LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, U.S. Attorney | 31 Comments »

Former LA Sheriff’s Dept. Captain Tom Carey Takes Plea Deal—Which Means Cooperation, Testimony….(And Maybe a Baca Indictment?) in the Future

August 13th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


William “Tom” Carey, a former captain of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the former head
of the department’s Internal Criminal Infestations Investigations Bureau*—ICIB—has just entered into a plea agreement with federal prosecutors that was filed in federal court Thursday morning, August 13, 2015.

Both Carey and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka were federally indicted on May 14 of this year on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, having to do with the matter of FBI informant Anthony Brown, whom members of the LASD allegedly hid from his FBI handlers, while also attempting to—allegedly—obstruct a federal investigation into corruption and brutality by deputies inside the county’s large and long- troubled jail system. Carey was also indicted on perjury charges for things he said when testifying the trials of seven other former department members who were convicted of obstruction of justice last year.

The deal is interesting in that, in return for Carey’s plea, the feds will drop the multiple charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy, leaving only the single count of perjury. (He could still get five years in prison for even the perjury conviction, but he will likely get far, far less.) The other part of the deal, obviously, is that Carey must cooperate with the feds completely and provide testimony in front of a grand jury or in any relevant trials, if he is asked to do so.

Certainly we can expect to see Carey as a witness at the November trial of Paul Tanaka. But we also think it is quite possible—based on past strategies used by the feds—for Carey to be called in front of a grand jury sometime soon, at which time he would perhaps be asked about the unidicted elephant in the room, so to speak–namely former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

There is already strong speculation from people like Paul Tanaka’s attorney, and others familiar with the LASD obstruction of justice investigation, that Baca is indeed the next target for federal prosecutors.

This presumption would seem to be bolstered, purely on a logical basis, by a quick perusal of parts of the plea deal.

For example, if one reads Attachment A at the end of the document, one finds that one of the falsehoods that Carey admitted to had to do with the following: “At the time of this testimony, and during the relevant time frame, defendant knew the orders of co-defendant Tanaka and others were in part to interfere with the federal investigation.

The italics are ours. In reading that sentence, one wonders what “others” there might be, in addition to Paul Tanaka, in a position to give orders to Tom Carey on this issue?

You’ll find the plea agreement below. Scroll down to Attachment A. We think you’ll find it an intriguing read.

TomCarey-PleaDeal


*UPDATE: Autocorrect produced an unusually bizarre mistake in this story’s first paragraph that none of us caught for more than a week. If you look, you can see the correct word and the word that Autocorrect clearly preferred.

Posted in LASD, U.S. Attorney | 59 Comments »

WitnessLA on KCRW’s Press Play With Madeleine Brand Talking About the Ins & Outs of the LASD/DOJ Settlement

August 6th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



On Wednesday, I was on KCRW’s news talk show, Press Play,
with the always excellent Madeleine Brand. We discussed some of the details of the newly signed agreement between the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Justice regarding treatment of the mentally ill in the LA County Jail system.

You can listen to our conversation here.

(And, yes, I know that I cheerily stated near the end of the interview that Sheriff McDonnell was formerly the Assistant Sheriff of the LAPD under Bill Bratton. Perhaps more coffee would have prevented that bobbling of titles. Perhaps less coffee was the key. Hard to say.)

PS: Later on Wednesday, I was on another KCRW show with afternoon news anchor, Steve Chiotaki. During that show Merlin-the-cat, who was sitting nearby as I talked, suddenly made an unscheduled, but very audible, comment. It was that kind of day.

Posted in LASD, U.S. Attorney | No Comments »

Former LASD Deputy Accuses Feds of Editing Testimony to Get Conviction

July 27th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



DID EDITED TESTIMONY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

The formal written brief asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was filed last Friday, and WitnessLA has obtained a copy. In it, Sexton’s defense attorneys, led by former U.S. Attorney, Thomas O’brien, accuse federal prosecutors of taking crucial grand jury testimony given months earlier by Mr. Sexton and presenting it to Sexton’s trial jury in an highly edited form that fundamentally changed its meaning—rendering it misleading and false.

If you’ll remember, last September, James Sexton was convicted of obstruction of justice in connection with the FBI’s investigation into civil rights abuses by sheriff’s deputies inside LA County’s troubled jail system.

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

It was the second time that Sexton had been tried for the same charges. His first go-round, which took place in May of 2014, resulted in a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury that split six-six.

Sexton was the seventh former LASD department member to be convicted of obstruction with regard to the Brown case. The other six—two lieutenants, two sergeants and two deputies—were convicted in July 2014 and all seven were given prison sentences that ranged in length from 18 months to 41 months.

Sexton and the other six appealed their convictions to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the 9th agreed to hear both cases.


SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES

The appeals of all seven former department members convicted of obstruction are, in certain ways, similar. For instance, in the 77-page brief filed Friday, Sexton’s attorneys argue that the case was the “..unfortunate product of a turf war taken to the extreme.” The appeal then goes on to describe “two law enforcement agencies”—namely the LASD and the FBI—that “..both thought they were more important than the other.”

This “jousting” by decision makers “resulted in lower level officers facing federal convictions for obstructing justice when they thought they were serving justice,” states the brief. The filing also makes clear that Sexton and the rest did what they were ordered to do by their bosses.

“This is not criminal activity,” write Sexton’s attorneys to the appellate court. “This is not obstruction of justice. It is a tragedy that this Court should correct.”

In an appellate brief weighing in at an impressive 161 pages, that was also filed on Friday, the attorneys for the other six, made a similar argument, albeit in even greater detail, that those convicted had followed what they believed to be lawful orders that came from the very top of the organization, along with expanded versions of the orders handed down by supervisors in between.

Yet, there are also certain critical differences between Sexton’s appeal, and the appeal for the other six.


JUROR NO. 5

In one of the latter’s brief’s most interesting sections, the attorneys for the six dispute Judge Percy Anderson’s dismissal of one particular juror late in the deliberation process, who wanted out because she was feeling “threatened.” The juror, wrote attorneys for the six, “revealed” at least a “reasonable possibility that her difficulties stemmed from disagreements with another juror (or jurors) about the merits of the case. The strong implication was that the dismissed juror, had she stayed on, was reasonably likely to have voted to acquit, which would have meant a hung jury.


IS IT LEGAL TO EDIT?

In Sexton’s appellate brief what is perhaps the most intriguing section pertains to the trimming of his testimony, which Judge Anderson permitted over the strenuous objections by his defense attorneys. At trial, the core of the government’s case was Sexton’s grand jury testimony, which the prosecutors characterized as a confession.

In Sexton’s first trial, which ended up with a hung jury, the government’s central piece of evidence was also Sexton’s grand jury testimony, a long segment of which was reenacted for the jury. Yet for the second trial, the feds took the same segment read to the jury in the first trial, and edited some of its content in such a way that, according Sexton’s attorneys, changed the meaning substantially from what the jury heard in the first trial:

Not coincidentally, the Government opted to edit out essentially all of the testimony relied upon by Mr. Sexton in his closing argument during the first trial. During the first trial, Mr. Sexton relied on portions of his Grand Jury testimony to establish and to argue that he did not have the requisite knowledge of the pending investigation in order to obstruct it.

The brief argues that snips made by the feds removed important context, and what was left suggested that Sexton had knowledge and intentions that the full transcript would have made clear he did not possess.

The removal of these excerpts rendered the testimony misleading…[to the jury] and it was not harmless. This Court need look no further than the facts that, in the first trial—with full evidence—the jury hung… and in the second trial the Government specifically targeted those portions of the testimony Mr. Sexton relied on his closing to know this error was not harmless and that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding this evidence.

In other words, according to the appeal, reading the unedited version of the grand jury testimony produced one meaning, and one jury outcome. Whereas reading the line edited version produced a very different—and false—meaning for the jury, and that Sexton’s conviction was the result.


TO TARGET OR NOT TO TARGET

There are a number of other interesting points in Sexton’s appeal: It maintains, for instance, that Sexton was given the clear impression that he was viewed as a cooperating witness, not as a suspect, in his interactions with the FBI and with federal prosecutors. He had after all met with the FBI several dozen times, and had brought them documents. Then when he went to testify in front of the grand jury, according to the appeal, the feds assured Sexton that he was not a target of their investigation, when it turned out that he was. This bait and switch, the attorneys wrote, was against the feds’ own policy.

The USAM [US Attorney's Manual] instructs the USAO [US Attorney's Office] that targets of the investigation should not be subpoenaed without special consideration. Here, Mr. Sexton was specifically advised he was not a target, participated in countless interviews, and offered fulsome grand jury testimony all based on the Government’s repeated statements that he was not a target, only to find out that he was a target and his Grand Jury testimony was to form the core of the evidence against him. The Government’s failure to follow its own written policies which were enacted to prevent “unfairness,” must not be allowed to go unchecked. If the Government is allowed to subpoena targets before the Grand Jury without warning, in violation of DOJ policies, the potential for abuse is endless.

In the next 60 days the government will send the 9th Circuit its formal replies. And then likely late this year or early next year, the 9th will actually hear the two appeals and render a decision.

So stay tuned.


UPDATE: Here are the two briefs for your reading pleasure.

Sexton Opening Brief_9th Circuit Appeal

Thompson, Et Al, 9th Circuit Appeals Brief 7-24-2015

Posted in FBI, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 54 Comments »

LASD Visiting Center Convictions: What the Jury Didn’t Know

June 29th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



IT NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE

As most readers are aware, a seven-woman five-man jury deliberated for just about four hours last Wednesday before finding former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and LASD deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano guilty of a string of civil rights abuses for delivering a vicious beating to jail visitor Gabriel Carrillo, then conspiring to falsify criminal charges against Carrillo in order to cover up the abuse.

In order to arrive at their verdict, the jury was appropriately only exposed to the facts and testimony having directly to do, or leading up to, that beating and phony report writing.

As a consequence, when defense attorney Joseph Avrahamy said multiple times in his closing arguments, “This has never happened before!”— meaning, one assumed, that the beating of someone for no reason in the jail or its visiting center, and the falsifying of charges to cover for such a beating, was all quite anomalous—the jury had no way of knowing that the statement was extravagantly untrue.

“Someone just mouthing off would never cause [these deputies] to use excessive force,” continued attorney Avrahamy. “Why would these deputies and their sergeant risk their careers and criminal charges by beating up a suspect and falsifying reports?”

Why, indeed? Well, perhaps it was because the defendants felt, quite rightly, that they were not risking much of anything—which would almost surely have been the case had the feds not stepped in. The truth was, in February 2011, when the beating of Gabriel Carrillo occurred, jail personal who engaged in such behavior were very, very unlikely to be held even the tiniest bit accountable for their actions.

This sad fact was documented in detail in such quarters as the department’s own internal reports, by testimony of department supervisors at the public hearings held by the Citizens Commission for Jail Violence, in the CCJV’s scathing final report– and in WitnessLA’s own reporting.

In answer to the spurious claim that “this has never happened before,” there are myriad accounts of similarly senseless beatings having taken place in the county’s jail system, often accompanied by the fabrication of charges against the beating victims to cover the brutality.

The ACLU’s massive class action suit, Rosas v. Baca, featured 70 signed declarations by victims of—or witnesses to—such incidents. The abuse described in the declarations was deemed credible enough that it forced a landmark settlement that was approved by the LA County board of supervisors last December, and then given final approval in April 2015 by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson. (The settlement, just to remind you, was not for money, but to force a system of jail oversight that is intended to help prevent such incidents from happening in the future.)

Moreover, the name of Fernando Luviano, one of the just-convicted defendants, is featured prominently in several of the Rosas declarations, plus in the accounts of still other former inmates who were not part of the lawsuit.


PROLIFIC LUVANIO

At WLA we have read declarations by eight different former jail inmates, some of them also witnesses, who described beatings, pepper spraying, outsized threats of retaliation, and similar actions in which Luviano allegedly took part. In the majority of cases, he was the main player, or at least one of them.

This spring I spoke to one of the Rosas victims, a 35-year-old named Michael Hoguin, who works for a car auction company. Holguin explained how he was badly beaten in 2009 by several deputies, Luviano prominently among them.

Holguin was, at the time, in jail on a charge of possessing an illegal weapon—-namely a cop baton, which was inside the compartment on his motorcycle, where he’d reportedly stashed it, then forgotten about it.

According to Holguin’s civil complaint, in October of 2009, he and the other inmates of the 3500 unit of Men’s Central Jail, where Holguin was housed, had not been allowed showers for more than two weeks. “We had to bird-bath out of the sinks in our cells,” Holguin told me.

On October 18, however, along with others in his unit, he was finally let out of his cell for a shower. “It was odd cells one day, even cells the next day,” he said. But, after he was moved toward the shower area, at the last minute, Holguin was informed that he would not be allowed a shower after all. When Holguin asked why and protested that we wanted his scheduled shower, Luviano reportedly replied, “Turn around and I’ll tell you why.” At this point Holguin was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, then moved to a “nearby area,” where he was allegedly beaten severely, kicked, slammed repeatedly in the head and body with a hard object, presumably a flashlight, while the deputy chanted the requisite “stop resisting,” over and over, even long after inmate Holguin had been knocked—still handcuffed—to the ground.

“But I wasn’t struggling, except to kind of brace myself for the blows,” he said. “I was mostly trying to curl myself into a fetal position.”

At some point two other deputies reportedly joined in, spraying Holguin with a long stream of pepper spray. Then Luviano allegedly rubbed the spray in Holguin’s closed eyes, a description that now sounds creepily similar to Luviano’s close range and entirely punitive and gratuitous spraying of the handcuffed Gabriel Carrillo, who by then had open wounds on his face.

Although he declines to disclose the dollar amount, Holguin has already won what is thought to be a decent sized sum of money in the settlement of a civil suit against the county that concluded in the fall of 2013.

According to the diagrammatic record made by LASD’s Medical Services (see above), Holguin suffered extensive cuts and bruising requiring seven staples in the center of his scalp, plus four stitches over his right eyebrow. His knee was deeply lacerated, his tibia was broken in two places requiring a “short leg cast.”

But, again, Holguin’s report is only one of eight we read. There are also declarations by Robert Dragusica (2009), Antonio Candelario (2010), William Littlejohn (2011), Jonathan Goodwin (2011), Alex Rosas (2011), Jabaar Thomas (2011), and Arturo Fernandez (2011)—all naming Luviano.

And, yet, despite these reports, at least two of which have resulted in high ticket civil settlements, when Luviano was convicted by the jury last week, incredibly he was still employed by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (albeit relieved of duty, as was required once he had been indicted).


THE DAN CRUZ FACTOR

Part of the reason that department members like Gonzalez, Luviano, and Ayala were so rarely disciplined for excessive uses of force in Men’s Central Jail can be laid at the feet of Dan Cruz, the man who was the captain of Men’s Central jail from April 2008 until December of 2010—in other words, during the years immediately before Gonzalez, Luviano, Ayala and three other deputies pounded and pepper sprayed Carrillo on February 26, 2011.

During his tenure as captain, Cruz—and those below him—okayed questionable uses of force after only the most cursory review. As a consequence, during the first year of Cruz’s watch, force jumped from 273 to 330 incidents. Concerned about the spiking numbers, Cruz’s direct supervisor, then-commander Robert Olmsted, asked one of his lieutenants, Steven Smith, to randomly pull 30 force reports and then to start looking for some commonality.

When a stunned Smith came back, he told Olmsted that, out of the 30 randomly yanked force reports, all of which had been approved by higher-ups as essentially fine, he found that 18 were clearly out of policy. In other words, nearly two-thirds of the sampling of force reports that had been approved by supervisors—in some cases as high up as Cruz—had something obviously wrong with them.

What Olmsted didn’t know at the time was the fact that the bad approvals were not the worst of the matter. It turned out that, even more alarmingly, in many instances neither Cruz nor anyone else ever reviewed the force cases at all. Instead, he buried the force reports in drawers or on shelves until the year-long statue of limitations expired, and the reports were useless.

This report burying finally became very public when now-captain, then-lieutenant Michael Bornman testified before the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence and described what he found when he was transferred into MCJ to work under Cruz.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from the CCJV’s report:

The most disturbing examples of a systemic breakdown occurred at MCJ in 2010 when LASD Lieutenant Michael Bornman analyzed approximately 100 unprocessed and incomplete use of force reports spanning several years that had not been entered into the Department’s data tracking systems. As Bornman acknowledged in testimony before the Commission (discussed in greater detail in the Discipline Chapter), dozens of use of force cases were deemed unfounded years after the fact to simply close cases that had missing files, no witness statements, missing video tapes, and incomplete information upon which to assess deputy performance.

When Bornman tried to question all the deep-sixed reports, he said he was told to back off, that then-assistant sheriff Paul Tanaka, who was the man who had put Cruz in as captain, had no problem with what his protege was doing.

Here a clip from WLA’s 2012 story by Matt Fleischer regarding what Bornman told the CCJV:

Bornman testified that despite having three immediate supervisors in the chain of command between Cruz and Paul Tanaka—Commander Olmsted, Chief Dennis Burns and the assistant sheriff in charge of custody, Marvin Cavanaugh—bizarrely Cruz felt he needed to be accountable only to Tanaka who, as the assistant sheriff in charge of patrol, technically had no control over the jails at all.

In fact, in one instance, when Bornman suggested Cruz’s supervisor Bob Olmsted needed to be briefed on the massive backlog of administrative investigations at CJ that had been allowed to slide, Cruz told him: “Fuck Bob Olmsted. I don’t work for him. Lee Baca is my sheriff, but I work for Paul Tanaka.”

Cruz’s contempt for the chain of command went so far that, incredibly, he had a side access door to CJ alarmed so that Olmsted couldn’t make a surprise inspection. If Olmsted wanted to visit the facility, he had to check in through the front entrance.

And yet when Olmsted or anyone else tried to go over Tanaka’s head to Lee Baca about the use of force problem, they were roundly ignored.

For more on the Cruz-Tanaka era at Men’s Central Jail see WLA’s reports here and here and here and here.


GONZALEZ AND FRIENDS

Another document that the jury didn’t see was the original indictment, which got trimmed down after two of the five indicted department members—former deputies Noel Womack and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—made deals with the feds.

If they had seen the lengthier indictment, the jury would have been aware of three additional incidents of alleged abuse against people who came to the jail to see friends or loved ones, including the beating of a jail visitor who was slammed around by deputies to the point that his arm was fractured, all reportedly because he asked to see a supervisor when his combat veteran brother repeatedly couldn’t be located in the jail. (And, yes, that incident has resulted in potentially high dollar a civil lawsuit.)

Knowledge of the original indictment would also have informed jurors of additional charges against Sussie Ayala for allegedly helping to falsify records against the victims of some of these other visitors center beatings, in addition to reportedly engaging in aggressive behavior herself.

Plus they would have seen the allegation by the feds that former Sergeant Gonzalez would “maintain, perpetuate and foster an atmosphere and environment” in the visiting area “that encouraged and tolerated abuses of the law, including the use of unjustified force….” among other abuses.

According to the indictment, Gonzalez “would reprimand deputy sheriffs he supervised for not using force on visitors to the MCJ if the visitors had supposedly ‘disrespected’ these deputy sheriffs through the visitors’ words or conduct.” He allegedly would “praise overly-aggressive behavior by deputy sheriffs and criticize” deputy behavior “that was not aggressive” and would “encourage deputy sheriffs under his command to make unlawful arrests, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force,” according to information the FBI and the prosecutors gathered.


ABOUT THOSE FUN-LOVING TEXTS

The jury did hear that Robert Carrillo, the younger brother whom Gabriel Carrillo had come to visit in MCJ on the day of his beating, had also been beaten a few days at the time that he was arrested.

Then the jury heard that, the day after Gabriel’s beating, there had been an exchange of texts between defendant Eric Gonzalez and a deputy out in the field named Julio Martinez, who was the primary officer who had arrested Robert Carrillo.

In a screen shot taken of Gonzalez’ cell phone, the jury and the rest of the trial watchers, saw that Martinez—whom Gonzalez had known since the days when the two worked together at Century station—had texted Gonzalez a photo of Robert Carrillo’s bruised and swollen post-arrest face. In return, Gonzalez texted to Martinez a booking photo of Gabriel Carrillo’s grotesquely swollen, lacerated and elaborately discolored face, with the following message: LOOKS LIKE WE DID A BETTER JOB. WHERE’S MY BEER BIG HOMIE.

Gonzalez’ lawyer, Avrahamy, tried to dismiss the text exchange, first as a joke, then as a legitimate search for information by Gonzalez from his colleague, Martinez, who was a member of the department’s gang detail, Operation Safe Streets, or OSS.

The jury bought neither explanation for the gleeful exchange of images of the brothers’ damaged faces.

What the jury did not know is that, Martinez is a member of the deputy gang called The Jump Out Boys, and that, together with his OSS partner, Anthony Paz, also a Jump Out Boy, in April of this year, Martinez was charged with conspiracy, perjury and altering evidence, in relation to the alleged planting of guns at a marijuana dispensary in order to make an arrest. (For the details see the LA Weekly story by Gene Maddaus and this LA Times story by Kate Mather).

Martinez and Paz are involved in another case where there are allegations of a planted gun to justify a fatal shooting by Paz of an unarmed 22-year old, killed at his South LA home. In June 2014, the 22-year-old’s family was awarded $1.2 million in a settlement with LA County.

Yet, despite all the information the jury did not have, they still arrived with a cross-the-board guilty verdict—reportedly without any doubts or dispute whatsoever.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 41 Comments »

LASD Visiting Center Trial: Day 5 – Closing Arguments: It’s About the Handcuffs

June 24th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

After nearly five hours of closing arguments, the federal trial involving three former and present members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who are accused of brutally beating jail visitor, Gabriel Carrillo, then conspiring to cover up the beating by portraying the alleged victim as the aggressor, the whole matter could hinge on a single photograph of Carrillo’s bruised wrists.

When the case went to the jury at around 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon, both the federal prosecutors and the three different defense attorneys (one for each of the three defendants) had marshaled an array of facts and photos they said proved that the other side was lying about the most crucial elements of the events in question. Yet neither side was able to point to any tie-breaking eye witness who could be characterized as being entirely unbiased.

Everything comes down to whether or not Carrillo was handcuffed on the afternoon of February 26, 2011, when he was being pummeled and pepper sprayed by five sheriff’s deputies with the reported approval of their supervising sergeant in the visiting center of LA’s Men’s Central Jail. If the jury of five men and seven women concludes that Carrillo was not handcuffed during the beating, then jurors should vote to acquit former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and suspended deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano of all the government’s charges.

However, if the men and women of the jury believe that Carrillo was handcuffed when he sustained the panoply of injuries at the hands of the defendants and their colleagues, then they should vote to convict.


For the full story on the final day of the LASD Visiting Center trial check back later today.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 3 Comments »

The Visiting Center Trial – Day 3: A Deputy Tells of Lies That Were Far Too Costly

June 22nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


TRUTH AND LIES

Criminal trials are about the law, of course, and hopefully about truth. They are also about theater, and about narrative, specifically the daily push and pull to determine who can manage to control said narrative.

The trial of former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano will wind up with closing arguments on Tuesday of this week, and then the case will go to the jury.

When it came to the three federal trials that took place last year, in which seven former members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department were accused of obstruction of justice, the jury’s task was less about determining whether certain events and actions occurred, as it was about deciding what those events and actions meant.

In this trial, however, the outcome depends on which group that the jury believes is telling the truth. Either the three defendants are straight up lying about their account of the events of February 26, 2011, or it is the witnesses for the prosecution who are the bald-faced liars. There is no middle ground.

No one disputes that Gabriel Carrillo was badly beaten by LA County Sheriff’s deputies on that Saturday when he and his girlfriend and his grandmother went to the visitors’ center at Men’s Central Jail, in order to see Carrillo’s brother who had been arrested a few days before, and who had also been beaten by members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department in the course of his arrest.

Nor does any one dispute that both Carrillo and his girlfriend brought their cell phones into the jail visiting area, although phones are clearly prohibited, and to bring one in is a misdemeanor. It is agreed that Carrillo and his now wife, Grace Torres, got caught with their phones, and were each at different times escorted back to an enclosed area off the visiting area called the “break room.”

Once Gabriel Carrillo was taken to the break room, however, the description about what occurred between him and a cluster of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies plus their immediate supervisor, a sergeant, heads in two radically divergent directions.


CHANGLINGS

According to the defense, when former deputy Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—whom his former LASD colleagues refer to as “Z” or “Deputy Z”—learned that Carrillo had a cell phone in his possession, he handcuffed the man, then marched him into the small break room at which point he, shut the door, and uncuffed one of Carrillo’s wrists in order to fingerprint him. But, rather than cooperate, the angry and out of control Carrillo began swinging the handcuff chain dangerously at Z as a weapon. Zunggeemoge was hurt by Carrillo, at which point a “violent fight” ensued when other deputies came to Deputy Z’s aid.

Carrillo tried to escape the break room, “manhandling” defendant deputy Ayala, on the way out, and punching defendant Luviano as well. In order to subdue the highly aggressive jail visitor, physical force had to be applied, which included blows to Mr. Carrillo’s face and body, plus the use of OC spray also known as pepper spray.

Even after Carrillo was “taken down” and sprayed multiple times, he continued to try to assault deputies by spitting and kicking them, until finally the deputies were able to successfully subdue the man.

Zunggeemoge, was one of the five department members originally indicted in December 2013 for abusing Carrillo and others in the visitors’ center, and then writing false reports to cover up the abuse. But in early 2015, Zunggeemoge reversed his story and said that the above narrative was carefully concocted to cover what had been a brutal beatdown of a man who may have mouthed off slightly but who, while committing a misdemeanor with his possession of the cell phone in the visiting area, cooperated when the phone was discovered—albeit unhappily—and presented no threat.

On Wednesday of last week, “Deputy Z” was the first witness for the prosecution and was not easily rattled by the three defense attorneys who cross-examined him.

On Thursday, first Carrillo’s former girlfriend, now wife, Grace Torrez, then Carrillo himself testified, and each were consistent with their descriptions of what happened on February 26, 2011. Carrillo, 27, who is 5’5″ and weighed around 150-155 lbs at the time of he incident, gave a harrowing description of the day’s events and was not easily rattled by cross examination. (More on Carrillo later.)

After Carrillo stepped down, next up was former deputy Noel Womack.


GUN & BADGE TO FORKLIFT

Former sheriff’s deputy Womack is 6’4,” in his late 30’s, married with kids, and has the body of a defensive linebacker. He worked for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for 8 ½ years—much of that time spent working in the visitors’ center—and reportedly he liked his job very much. Now, he works in a warehouse and drives a forklift.

He is the second out of the five originally charged in the so-called visiting center indictment, who asked his attorney to find a way to make a deal with the feds.

The other deputy who flipped was Zunggeemoge, as mentioned above. But Z made his deal early in 2015. Womack did not have his come-to-Jesus moment until near the end of May.

Womack’s involvement in the actions that led to this case, began around midday of February 26, 2011, when he heard what is known as a 415 call over his radio. The 415 means that there is a some kind of fight going on and deputies need assistance. The call was made by his supervisor, former sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who is one of the defendants. The call indicated the trouble was occurring in the break room of the visitors center, which is a small, enclosed room used by deputies for rest and sometimes booking, accessible only by department members.

Womack said that, as he headed for the break room, he saw that the deputy who was his main work partner was also headed that direction. “So I followed him,” said Womack.

When he got to the break room, he saw various deputies inside the room and, most importantly, he saw two visitors’ center deputies—Z and Fernando Luviano (who is one of the five defendants)—hitting a “suspect” who was face down on the room’s floor.

“And there was a lot of blood on the floor.”

Assuming his colleagues were trying to subdue an aggressive dangerous man, Womack rushed to their aid and piled on, grabbing one of the suspect’s legs. His partner rushed in too. But when Womack actually reached the threesome he saw that the man—whom he later learned was Gabriel Carrillo—was actually handcuffed. He was “kicking,” Womack said, but given his facedown position, it was more of a squirming to dodge blows combined with a swimming “flutter” kick.

“He was no threat to anyone.”

“Typically, when a suspect is in handcuffs,” said Womack, “that means the use of force is concluded.”

Plus, as Womack noted in response to questioning by government prosecutor, Brandon Fox, Carrillo was a small man—around a 150 lbs. at the time—he was face down, and he had approximately 800 lbs worth of sheriff’s deputies on top of him. And that was in addition to the fact he was handcuffed.

In this case, however, use of force went on, according to Womack. Luviano OC sprayed Carrillo several times close-up in the face.

Shortly after the spraying, Womack said he heard Luviano say, “Stop spitting! Stop spitting!”

Although Womack knew that the man on the floor posed no danger, the notion that he was spitting at a colleague, even though he did not actually see any spitting action, caused the big deputy to join with the aggressive actions of the other deputies now surrounding Carrillo. Womack slugged Carrillo five times in the leg.

When asked by prosecutor why he repeatedly hit a man whom he saw was no threat, Womack paused for a moment or two, his expression pained.

“I was angry at the fact that he was spitting at my partner.”

Womack hit Carrillo hard enough that he injured his hand, a fact that was demonstrated to the jury with a projected photo of the former deputy’s red and slight scraped right hand in the area surrounding the knuckles.

According to Womack, he, Luviano and Ayala all sought medical treatment for scraped appendages and the like.


COPYING HOMEWORK

After his health clinic visit to get his scrapes looked at, Womack returned to the visiting center to write up his obligatory Use of Force Supplemental Report. But before he did so, Womack said he first checked with his main work partner to see what he had written in Womack’s absence. He checked with Zunggeemoge’s report as well.

Womack said he was not surprised to find that both reports told a completely different story than the events Womack had actually observed. For instance, in the new and improved version, Carrillo was portrayed as not being handcuffed.

Womack said he dutifully fashioned his own report to match the other two, using his partner’s writing as his main “guideline.”.

Although he didn’t copy “word for word,” Womack said, the made sure that his report contained the same essential points as those of his colleagues: Carrillo wasn’t handcuffed, he kicked “violently” at the deputies, attempted “to push himself off the ground, then rolled on his back and spat at deputy Luviano causing Sgt. Gonzalez to tell Luviano to pepper spray Carrillo… and so on.

So was his account true? prosecutor Brandon Fox asked him.

No it wasn’t, Womack said. But he felt he needed to protect his partners and colleagues.

The former deputy said he also lied on the stand at the preliminary hearing for the criminal case against Carrillo that had resulted from the reports Womack characterized as false. Similarly, he lied he said to the investigators from Internal Affairs, and the department’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB.

“Whatever is put on paper, that’s pretty much what you have to stick with.”

And, yes, he lied to the feds, when they came knocking. And kept lying to them.

“I know what’s right and wrong. I’m not denying that I lied,” he said.

But then in the spring of 2015, Womack said he heard a recording of former deputy Zunggeemoge’s revised account of the events February 26, 2011, and learned that Z had made a deal with the prosecutors.

Womack said that, after hearing the recording, he asked his attorney to approach the U.S. Attorney’s office and tell the feds he wanted to plead, and to try to get the best possible deal.

However, at his meeting with the feds on May 11, 2015, Womack wasn’t really ready to come clean. Instead, he basically stuck to a slightly modified version of the description of events that would continue to back up that of his colleagues. “I was still holding on to the defense of my partners,” he said, with an unhappy glance at those “partners” sitting at the defense table.

The prosecutors were not thrilled and made it clear, according to Womack, that he better fork over the full truth, if he wanted to even have any kind of conversation about deals—and even then, no guarantee..

Eleven days later, on May 22, Womack met again with the prosecutors. This time, he said, he told all.

Before he was protecting his partners, he said. This time he decided to protect himself.

“It wasn’t worth it for me to defend a lie and have it affect everything.”


I LIED, OKAY, I LIED!

When it was time for cross-examination, defense attorney Patrick Smith and his colleagues hammered Womack hard. If Womack lied on official reports, Smith said, and perjured himself at a preliminary hearing, why in the world should anyone believe him now?

I mean, wasn’t it true that, in order save his own skin, he’d done an about face and was just telling the feds what he knew they wanted to hear?

“I lied to protect my partners,” Womack countered, then said it again for good measure. “I lied for my partners. And, yes, I told the truth to help myself.”

As the cross examination continued, Womack’s composure, which had been solid in the beginning, began to slip.

I’m not denying that I lied. I’m not denying that,” he said. “But I got to the point when I couldn’t continue with the lie.”

As Smith continued to slam his veracity and his motives, Womack struggled for a few seconds to control his now very visible angst. Then, suddenly, he swiveled to face the jury directly.

“I lied!” he said to them, his voice laced with emotion. “I lied!”

The jury members stared back at him, quietly goggle-eyed.

Womack seemed prepared to go further with his jury-directed monologue. However, Judge King quickly pointed a parental finger, and barked at Womack to stop.

Womack stopped.

To be continued…

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 15 Comments »

Day 2: Former LASD Deputy Takes the Stand and Tells of Falsifying Charges at Jail Visiting Center to Cover Brutality

June 18th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Pantamitr Zunggeemoge was the first prosecution witness on Day 2
of the trial of former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano. Up until they were indicted in December 2013, the three worked in Men’s Central Jail, two of them at the jail’s visitors’ center, the sergeant on the 3000 floor.

Zunggeemoge and another former LASD deputy, Noel Womack, were originally charged on the same indictment as the three who are now on trial. But earlier this year both Womack and Zunggeemoge took deals proffered by the federal prosecutors. Among the various stipulations involved with both mens’ deals is that they resign from the sheriff’s department, and also that they testify truthfully in the trial of their former codefendants, if asked to do so.

Womack is expected to take the stand on Thursday.

Right now, Zunggeemoge is making his living as a tutor. Yet from 2008 to 20012, the former deputy worked in the visiters’ center of Men’s Central Jail. As its name suggests, the visiting area is where the husbands, wives, kids, parents, brothers, sisters and friends of MCJ jail inmates come to visit their loved ones who are guests of the county.

A compact, fit-looking man with his head shaved, Zunggeemoge appears to be somewhere in his 20s. When he took the stand, he seemed both calm and determined.

In response to prosecutor Lisabeth Rhodes’ questioning, after explaining how the visitors’ center functions, Zunggeemoge recounted the events of February 26, 2011, which is what this trial is about.

Zunggeemoge said that his boss, then sergeant Eric Gonzalez, was on duty on the day in question. Events that would ultimately form the substance of the charges, began to unfold when Zunggeemoge saw a young woman visitor drop something on the floor in the visitors’ area, and then pick it up. Zunggeemoge didn’t really think anything of the dropping incident. But a little while later, another visitor approached Zunggeemoge and told him that a young woman was using a cell phone in the bathroom.

Cell phone are strictly forbidden anywhere in the county jail system, including in the visitors area, so Zunggeemoge followed up on the matter. On a hunch, he questioned the young woman who’d dropped the unidentified object earlier. Sure enough, she admitted she was the one with the contraband phone. Zunggeemoge asked her to accompany him into the deputy’s break room, a small, room that is blocked from the sight from the rest of the visitors. She came along without incident. His colleague and now defendant, Sussie Ayala, a female deputy, was in the break room at the time. So Zunggeemoge asked Ayala to do a pat down on the young woman, who soon admitted that her boyfriend, whose name was Gabriel Carrillo, also had a cell phone.


THE QUESTION OF HANDCUFFING

While Ayala finished with the girlfriend, Zunggeemoge went out to find Carrillo. When he located Carrillo, Zunggeemoge asked if he indeed had a cell phone. Carrillo admitted to having the phone, but reacted with a burst of belligerence. “What’re you going to do?” he asked the deputy, “fucking arrest me?”

At that juncture, Zunggeemoge handcuffed Carrillo’s hands behind his back, and escorted him into the break room too.

According to Zunggeemoge, Carrillo didn’t physically resist him but, due to the man’s earlier agitation and attitude, the deputy wanted to make clear that he had control of the situation, so pushed Carrillo’s face into the small refrigerator that was in the break room, then pushed the lesson a step further.

“I lifted up his arms so he could feel some pain.” Zunggeemoge demonstrated for the jurors with his own hands clasped behind his back, as if handcuffed, then he rotated them skyward, as if shoved up by an invisible hand. Zunggeemoge said that, his shoving of Carrillo’s cuffed hands, caused the man to exclaim in alarm, “Why are you doing that?!” and the like. Zunggeemoge then searched Carrillo, finding the cell phone and the man’s ID.

At this point, trial defendants Sussie Ayala and Zunggeemoge’s boss, former sergeant Gonzalez, were in the room and Carrillo was much calmer, so the deputy sat him down and went out of the break room to run Carrillo’s ID to see if he had any warrants or the like.

Finding nothing of interest, Zunggeemoge returned to the break room where he saw that defendant number 3, deputy Luviano, was now in the break room with his hands on a standing Carillo, pushing him to the floor.

Not knowing what might have changed in his absence and thinking that Carrillo might be uncuffed, hence Luviano’s actions, Zunggeemoge rushed in to help Luviano do a “take-down.”

But as he pushed Carrillo’s face very hard to the floor, Zunggeemoge saw that, actually, the phone smuggling visitor was still handcuffed


THE SLUGGING BEGINS

As things started to get rough, according to Zunggeemoge, someone—either one of the deputies or the sergeant—yelled that they should get Carrillo’s girlfriend out of the break room. As the girlfriend, Esmeralda Torrez, was hustled out, both Zunggeemoge and Luviano reportedly began to punch Carrillo.

“I punched him in his legs and lower back,” said Zunggeemoge. “Deputy Luviano was punching Carrillo in the face.”

At this point, Carrillo was on his stomach and was not, according to Zunggeemoge, in any way resisting, but merely trying to dodge the onslaught by making sort of swimming motions with his legs, as he was being pummeled. “I started punching him in the leg area, and detective Luviano started using OC spray—AKA pepper spray—spraying Carrillo at close range “in the face area.”

In response to being sprayed, Carrillo’s eyes teared, his nose and mouth poured mucus. “He was having trouble breathing.” According to Zunggeemoge, Carillo tried to turn his face from Luviano, “by turning toward me.”

“I punched him two times in the face.”

Soon, Zunggeemoge was having trouble breathing himself due to the OC spray, so he stepped outside the room to catch his breath and the Carillo incident was over. Carillo needed medical care, but no deputies were injured, according to Zunggeemoge, save from cuts on some hands, the result of the punches they had thrown.

“There was a lot of blood in the break room,” said Zunggeemoge. “But it all belonged to Mr. Carrillo.”

Although the incident was over by around 1 pm, there were reports to write—which, Zunggeemoge said, required planning.

Later that day, “we all got together for a discussion” in order to come up with a plan for the reports. According to Zunggeemoge, it was sergeant Gonzalez who came up with the story that the deputies had uncuffed Carrillo in order to fingerprint him, but that suddenly Carrillo began swinging the handcuff chain dangerously as a weapon. Zunggeemoge claimed he’d been hurt by Carrillo, and that a “violent fight” ensued.

Gonzalez also reportedly came up with a scene in which Carillo tried to escape the break room, “manhandling” deputy Ayala, on the way out, and punching deputy Luviano as well.

According to Zunggeemoge, the narrative of the combative, escape-minded Carrillo was entirely fiction. But the matching accounts in the “probable cause declarations” that each deputy turned in and Gonzalez signed off on, plus additional 8-page “incident report” that Zunggeemoge wrote with Gonzalez’ input, protected the deputies from any kind of investigation or charges, while the carefully matched paperwork paved the way for Carrillo to be charged with assaulting law enforcement officers.

As a consequence of what Zunggeemoge described as false charges, Carrillo could have faced four years in prison. (After ten months and a long string of court hearings, the case was dropped by the DA.)


REFUSAL TO FALSIFY

During the last half of the court day on Wednesday, the various defense attorneys did what they could to impeach Zunggeemoge’s testimony on cross examination, but the former deputy seemed to hold his ground.

There was, however, one very interesting moment in the cross examination process. It came when one of the defense attorneys asked Zunggeemoge why he fabricated the reports?

Zunggeemoge answered without hesitation. “I didn’t want to go against my partners,” he said. We were all partners and there’s a bond. You don’t go against your partners.”

Well what about going to Sergeant Gonzalez? Couldn’t Zunggeemoge have just told his boss at the time, sergeant Gonzalez, I’m just not comfortable with this sort of thing.

Zunggeemoge shook his head emphatically, “No. I wouldn’t dare do that. That was Sergeant Gonzales. You don’t go against him.”

As to what the jury thought of Wednesday’s testimony and cross …that remains to be seen.


COMING UP

On Thursday, Carrillo, his girlfriend, and Zunggeemoge’s fellow deal maker, former deputy Neal Womack, are scheduled to take the stand.

So stay tuned.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 11 Comments »

1st Day of Newest LASD Trial Features Accusations of Out-of-Control Brutality by Deputies versus Claims of Wall-to-Wall Gov’t Lies

June 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



OPENING ARGUEMENTS

On Tuesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes told a seven-woman, five-man jury about a man named Gabriel Carrillo who, on February 26, 2011, came with his girlfriend to LA County’s Men’s Central Jail to visit Carrillo’s brother. However, both Carrillo and his girlfriend had cells phones with them, and cell phones are prohibited in the visitors’ center, said Rhodes. When the cellphones were discovered, Carrillo became defensive and mouthed off to a deputy who handcuffed Carrillo and led into a side room where, Rhodes said, the visitor was beaten by multiple deputies to the point he had to be hospitalized. Then those same deputies plus their supervisor falsified charges against Carrillo, Rhodes told the jury, claiming that he was the aggressor who had assaulted the deputies, not the other way around.

“Mr. Carrillo walked into Men’s Central Jail as a vistor, and left on a gurney,” Rhodes concluded.

And so began the opening arguments in the latest federal trial of members and former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The trio who sat at the defense table on Tuesday in the courtroom of Judge George H. King (who happens to be the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California) were LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, all three of whom were accused of participating, either directly or indirectly, in the vicious beating of Carrillo who came to the visitors’ center of Men’s Central Jail in order to visit his brother, Robert Carrillo—who had, a few nights before, been arrested and beaten badly in the course of the arrest.

When it was the defense team’s turn to deliver an opening, attorneys for each of the defendants got up, one after the other.

“What is this case about?” attorney Patrick Smith asked the jury. “Lies and nothing else! You are going to hear nothing but lies out of every witness that the government puts up.” Smith is representing deputy Sussie Ayala.

All three defendants are among the more than 20 members of the LASD who have been indicted as part of a multi-year FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system and into wrongdoing in department in general.


FORMER DEFENDANTS, NOW WITNESSES

The trial that began this week is particularly interesting in that two of the original five charged in the indictment—former deputies Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—have taken plea deals from the federal prosecutors in return for their willingness to admit to the charges of which they are accused and, it seems, to testify at the trial of their three former codefendants.

Since all this deal making began, both Zunggeemoge and Womack have changed their stories about what happened on the day of Carrillo’s beating.

Zunggeemoge will be first up when court begins again at 8 a.m. in front of Judge King at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and United States Courthouse on Temple Street in downtown Los Angeles.

After this trial is complete, next fall will bring the trial of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former captain Tom Carey in early November.

And still earlier this coming fall, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the appeals of the six former department members who were convicted last year of obstruction of justice and on the appeal of former LASD deputy James Sexton who was convicted of obstruction last year in a separate trial.


EDITOR’S NOTE: Corrections and clarifications were made in this story at 5:35 P.M. on Wednesday, June 17.

Posted in crime and punishment, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 11 Comments »

Oversight of Jail Inmate Health Care Away Might Be Yanked From LA Sheriff’s Department…& Will the Supes Reconsider the High Ticket Jail Building Plan? – UPDATED

June 9th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon



PROBABLE NEW MANAGEMENT FOR LA JAILS’ MEDICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH CARE

Los Angeles County is the only county in the state of California that lets its sheriff’s department run the health care system for its county jails.

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisor’s meeting, all that may change.

Tuesday is the day when the board will entertain a motion—proposed by supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Mike Antonovich—to take away responsibility for inmate medical care from the sheriff’s department, and to also to snatch the oversight of inmate mental health care from the Department of Mental Health. The two functions are then to be consolidated under the Department of Health Services (DHS), and overseen by the newly created position of “Correctional Health Director” within the DHS.

This new configuration for how LA County looks after the medical and mental health needs of its jail inmates is part of a larger plan that will be officially presented by Interim CEO Sachi Hamai. The plan was created in response to a request from the board back in early March, which asked the CEO and representatives of other county officials to take a look at “the status of jail health services in Los Angeles County,” and to make recommendations about how “the overall quality and delivery of the care provided in the County jails..” could be improved.

In other words, the supes had been aware for a while that the medical and mental health care in the jails sucked, but they wanted to know how much it sucked, and what to do about getting it not to suck.

The conclusion reached by the CEO and her fellow evaluators (which included representatives from the LASD) was that both functions needed to be removed post haste from those who’d been running them in the past. (Although the report said this far more politely.)

We have known for some time that the LA County Department of Mental Health (DMH), along with the sheriff’s department, has been doing a frighteningly lousy job of running the mental health part of the medical system inside our county lock-ups.

(For an idea of how lousy, see the federal investigation that resulted in scathing reports and a still looming federal consent decree.)

But while the mental health situation inside the jails—and the need for mental health diversion—has received a lot of public attention, plain old medical services have not.

And, yet, anecdotal information strongly indicates that matters are not healthy on the medical care side of things either.

For instance, a pattern of problems has shown up in the complaints filed with the ACLU, and in accounts by sources who work inside the jail system and who are troubled by what they see. At WLA we’ve also been getting harrowing calls from inmates inside the jail who describe fairly convincingly how they cannot get basic care and/or medication for very real and often serious medical conditions. So they call us in the hope that somehow we can help them get their needs met.

As legal director of the Southern California ACLU, Peter Eliasberg, put it, “We have every reason to believe that the quality of medical care in the jails is abysmal.”

Yet, it turns out that what reportedly amounts to inadequate medical care (or worse) does not come cheap: A budget of $238 million and over 1,700 budgeted personnel are allocated yearly to the Sheriff’s Medical Services Bureau (MSB).

“There are numerous reasons why these changes make sense including a) the obvious unsuitability of a law enforcement agency for the provision of medical care, b) the well-documented and long-standing failures of DMH to provide appropriate care to inmates with mental illness…” Eliasberg wrote on Monday in a letter to the board.

Time for a change. Good for the supes for calling for it. Lets hope they and the DHS and the LASD follow through and insist on—as they say in the movie script business— a Page 1 rewrite.

More on the jail medical care issue as it unfolds.


UPDATE: After lots of commentary from the audience, including people who won Tuesday the motion passed unanimously.



AND WHILE THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT JAILS, HOW MUCH WILL THE LA COUNTY SUPES CONSIDER SCALING DOWN THE MEGA BUCKS JAIL BUILDING PLAN ON TUESDAY?

Likely the presentation that will make the biggest splash at Tuesday’s LA County Board of Supes meeting will be the powerpoint of the retooled jail building proposal that scales down the nearly $2 billion plus Vanir building plan that was approved in May of 2014, before we had a new sheriff.

Among those presenting the plan will be Sheriff Jim McDonnell, Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald, Dr. Marvin Southard, of the (possibly soon to be ousted from the jails) Dept. of Mental Health and more.

The group has done some admirable scaling back and rethinking of the number of new beds, (See P. 19 of the report) but will the changes be enough?

Since both Supervisors Hilda Solis and Sheila Kuehl talked about their opposition to the existing plan in their campaigns for office, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstained during the Vanir vote, one presumes there will be some hard and lively questions asked.


UPDATE: Rather than accept the new plan put forth by the Sheriff, et al, a three member majority of the board decided to delay the go-ahead on the revised building plan in order to take a long hard look at how large the new jail really needs to be.

Stay tuned.

Posted in Department of Justice, jail, LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, mental health, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 9 Comments »

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