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Federal Indictments, Part 2: Where—and To Whom—-Will They Lead?

December 10th, 2013 by Celeste Fremon



On the day after United States Attorney Andre Birotte unveiled five criminal cases that have thus far resulted in the 18 federal indictments, it is instructive to look beyond Monday’s charges to see what they might mean in terms of the feds ongoing probes.


MONDAY’S INDICTMENTS POINT TOWARD FEDERAL CHARGES YET TO COME

Birotte made it clear that the 18 indictments unsealed on Monday—which he characterized has alleging “a wide scope of illegal conduct”—-were by no means an endpoint, that investigations were aggressively ongoing into these and other areas.

When asked by Warren Olney how high up the food chain he expected future indictments to go, Birotte said that the feds would “go where the investigations take us.”

If looked at as auguries of things yet to come, the three groups of indictments pertaining to the LA County jails are particularly interesting because they point to much broader indictments possibly on the horizon alleging a “pattern and practice” of abuse of inmates by deputies, and of related corruption in the jails.

For instance, one of the five clusters of indictments pertains to incidents at Twin Towers jail facility in which a training officer, Bryan Brunsting, along with Twin Towers deputy Jason Branum, is charged with planning an assault on an inmate “to teach him a lesson,” and then together with several other deputies, allegedly assaulting the inmate with kicks, punches and pepper spray to the point of “bodily injury.”

The indictment further alleges that Brunsting used deputies he was training to file reports that covered up the abuse and caused the beaten inmates to be falsely criminally charged to mask the beatings.

This alleged strategy of using accusations of violence against inmates to cover-up deputy assualts is one that has frequently turned up in high ticket lawsuits and incidents like the one WLA’s Matt Fleischer reported on here last week. In other words, it suggests something more widespread than a few bad apples, but rather “pattern and practice.”


ALLEGED ASSAULTS ON NON-INMATE VISITORS

The second cluster of indictments, labeled “the visiting center indictment,” charges that a sergeant, Eric Gonzalez, and four deputies, with civil rights violations, and alleges they arrested or detained five victims—including the Austrian consul general and her husband—when they arrived to visit inmates at the Men’s Central Jail.

According to Birotte, one of those victims suffered injuries that resulted in a permanent disability.

The indictment further alleges that Gonzales, who is no longer with the department, “encouraged deputy sheriffs under his command to make unlawful arrests, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force”….and to “criticize deputy sheriffs’ who were not aggressive.”

When Gonzales left Men’s Central Jail, the indictment charges that the attitudes he promoted continued.

Again, this cluster suggests possible “pattern and practice” allegations to come.

The visiting center indictment is also interesting because none of the people who were allegedly unlawfully detained and/or assaulted, were inmates. Instead they were simply the friends or family of inmates who had come to the jail to visit.


A FAILURE OF LEADERSHIP

So how responsible are Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka for the actions alleged in the indictments?

When Miriam Krinsky, Executive Director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, was interviewed Monday on KCRW as part of the station’s coverage of the indictments, Krinsky talked about “failures of leadership at the highest level,” leadership that, among other things, failed to address a culture in the jails where “a code of silence and excessive force was the norm.”

A failure for leadership to address such attitudes, “…causes small problems to become large problems,” said Krinsky.

You can listen to the rest of what Krinsky had to say here.


HOW WILL THIS AFFECT THE ELECTION?

Kevin Roderick of LA Observed made an interesting point in his KCRW segment on Monday, when he suggested that one of the reasons the sheriff, who has rarely spoken to the press these past months, felt he had to hold a press conference Monday afternoon after the indictments were unsealed, was because he feared a gaggle of reporters with cameras and mics would show up at his Monday night $1500-a-plate campaign fundraiser co-sponsored by Grey Davis, Carmen Trutanich, and attorney Mark Geragos. (“They probably showed up anyway,” Roderick said.)

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze went even further with his report on what the indictments might mean for Baca’s reelection race. Here are some clips.

When Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca woke up Monday morning, he was probably looking forward to the fundraiser being held that very evening for his 2014 re-election campaign.

But his mood probably changed about 9:30 a.m., when news broke that the U.S. Department of Justice had indicted 18 current or former members of the Sheriff’s Department on a wide range of misconduct charges that include excessive force, unlawful arrests and obstruction of a federal investigation.

At a morning press conference, United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. pointedly said the incidents “did not take place in a vacuum – in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized.”

[BIG SNIP]

…The sheriff faced a daylong deluge of criticism from various corners.

Former federal judge and former U.S. attorney for Los Angeles, Robert Bonner, served on a blue ribbon commission that just over a year ago issued a report that faulted both Baca and his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

“I think [the charges] are reflective of what we found on the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence,” said Bonner, “that there has been, in the past, a culture within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that fosters the use of unreasonable and unnecessary force.”

Bonner called the indictments something akin to a thermonuclear bomb delivered by the U.S. attorney, noting how unusual it is for the federal government to indict law enforcement officials.

Since, along with his other past jobs, Jails Commissioner Bonner also ran the DEA, and the US Border Patrol, he is likely in a position to know a bit about law enforcement.


SHERIFF’S CHALLENGER BOB OLMSTED SPEAKS OUT ON THE INDICTMENTS

Bob Olmsted, the retired LASD commander who is challenging Lee Baca for sheriff, pointed unequivocally to the involvement of Sheriff Baca and Paul Tanaka in the alleged hiding of FBI informant, Anthony Brown, which resulted in seven indictments on Monday.

Olmsted was on Which Way LA? with Warren Olney, and spoke to Frank Stoltze at KPCC, along with putting out a statement of his own about the indictments.

Regarding the cluster of indictments stemming from the Anthony Brown matter, Olmsted told Stoltze that the directions to hide FBI informant Brown, and to try to intimidate his FBI handler, could not have originated with the lieutenants and two sergeants who were indicted.

“Lieutenants do not have the capability to make decisions,” Olmsted said. “Those came from higher-ups. Being an investigator for years and years and years, I can tell you what’s going on: The Feds grabbed the low-lying fruit.”

Olmsted also pointed out that when Paul Tanaka was interviewed by the LA Times, and by ABC-7, Tanaka claimed that Baca ordered him to hide prisoner Anthony Brown. “He said it was Lee Baca’s idea and I was just following orders,” Olmsted noted both to WitnessLA and to Olney. “This could not have occurred without being condoned all the way to the top.”

Interestingly, when asked by Olney, if he would have the wherewithal to challenge two very well financed candidates with deep pockets—meaning Baca and Tanaka—Olmsted said he did, that by the end of the year he expected his fundraising to hit the same dollar amount that now LA District Attorney Jackie Lacey had raised at the same point in her campaign against the better financed and better known Carmen Trutanich.


LASD WHISTLEBLOWER ALLEGES RETALIATION

Backing Olmsted’s observations about the involvement of top leadership, Bradley Gage, attorney for department whistleblower, LASD Lt. Katherine Voyer (among others), told KNBC reporters on Monday that Voyer—-who was a supervisor in the jails at the time when Anthony Brown’s identity as an informant was discovered—was told that if federal agents showed up to see inmate Brown, Paul Tanaka was to be called immediately on his personal cell phone, and that no one should use department phones or email, because those forms of communications might be tapped by the feds.


LA COUNTY SUPERVISORS GLORIA MOLINA AND MARK RIDLEY-THOMAS WEIGH IN ON THE INDICTMENTS

Molina issued a statement late Monday that read, in part:

“This morning’s Department of Justice arrests are disappointing but not surprising – and, in some ways, expected. These arrests reveal that Sheriff Lee Baca’s claim ‘there is no institutional problem within the Sheriff’s Department when it comes to correcting itself’ is untrue – especially since 18 current or former Sheriff’s Deputies were arrested. Saying you embrace change is not enough. Reform starts at the top, and strong leaders don’t simply embrace reform – they initiate it. Unfortunately, strong management has been absent from the Sheriff’s Department for years…..”

Ridley-Thomas also put out a statement, and told LA Times reporter Seema Mehta that the indictments were yet another indication of the need for strong oversight of the department.

“Ultimately, the next step in this process of reform is oversight and this should not be taken lightly because of the need to make sure that we are building a culture where no one operates under the impression they are above the law,” he said in an interview.
Ridley-Thomas said the mechanism would be a blue-ribbon panel that he and Supervisor Gloria Molina proposed earlier this year that has stalled for the lack of a third vote on the five-member Board of Supervisors. They will revisit the proposal in January.


NOTE: Obviously, there are lots of important news stories that have nothing to do with the sheriff’s department or with new federal indictments. And we’ll be diving into those issues tomorrow morning.

Posted in 2014 election, crime and punishment, FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca | 24 Comments »

24 Responses

  1. CSN83 Says:

    Just watched Good Morning America and they are talking about the scandal of LASD. Guess it is really in the news now and not just local news……..

  2. Mutual Assured Destruction Says:

    An outspoken Tanaka supporter once described him as a man who can’t stand a butt kisser, yet loves nothing more than having his butt kissed. He is close enough to him that he stood behind him during the election announcement and he gave a 1500 donation to Tanaka’s election fund. This man is a lot like other supporters. He has a wife and kids.

    What is it about Tanaka that these grown men and women feel it is normal to support a department executive for an election bid to Sheriff when that executive has a long history of bullying and pushing others to ignore department policy, unit orders and directions given by lieutenants and captains? Is it not common knowledge that bullies only bully others because, for one reason or another, they feel inferior to most yet believe they can do something better or somehow have one up on the person or people they bully?

    Whatever happened to respecting and supporting others who have earned support and respect? Where are the supporters who worked a radio car with him? Does he have any? Do they exist? Did he actually go out in the field and chase criminals? Did he handle his calls to conclusion so others did not have to clean up after him? Did he help and protect those who couldn’t help and protect themselves? Did he lead and teach deputies who may have had sub par skills so that their skills would improve? Was he a field training officer? If so, what did he do to push his trainees to do better than him? If you don’t know the answer to these questions, you don’t know his foundation within the department. We all know the branches of his department tree, the members he pushed through the ranks and the members whose careers and lives he derailed. Do we know his roots?

    Is Tanaka’s concern enforcing the law to keep the public safe, housing inmates and prisoners in the county jail, maintaining security in the courts and doing a this while maintaining the trust of the citizens?

    What about the Sheriff? He has directed his spokesman on numerous occasions to report to the media and public that he did not know. He did not know Tanaka was running amok, he did not know the federal informant was being hid somewhere within the jails under an assumed name and he did not know violence was escalating in the jails. What was he doing when all the malfeasance and corruption was growing within the department? Was he not paid to do a job that he was not doing? We, the tax paying public deserve answers.

    What will be telling is how many Baca and Tanaka FOLLOWERS/supporters will jump ship and support a different candidate.

  3. Lookey lookey here Says:

    Just heard the Tanaka hand picked former Aero Bureau operations staff, Louie Duran, Bob Wheat , and Casey Dowling have been relieved of duty. For what? Something to do with misappropriation of federal property. Wonder when were gonna see them on the federal court docket.

  4. J.London Says:

    It’s time again to thank Pat Gomez, Bob Olmsted and all the witnesses that came forward, testified and gave evidence to the crimes committed by Baca and Tanaka!

  5. Generalhuthut Says:

    The sheriff truly had a “deer in the headlights” look. His canned answers are indicative of just how out of touch he is. I mean he nearly started spouting off the core values during LASD’s press conference as an answer filler. He never answered the question about morale on “his” department and just plain looked lost. He lacked any presence of command, sincerity or sense of the severity of the situation. Embarrassing.

  6. Wild Turkey Says:

    I think anyone who has any experience in law enforcement, or just has a healthy dose of skepticism combined with common sense, knows that the hiding of Anthony Brown would have been impossible to pull off without direction and support from Baca and Tanaka.

    If the Feds leave now, after picking low hanging fruit, they are complicit in allowing corruption to continue to flourish at the LASD.

  7. times awasting Says:

    I would like to know who were the Custody Commanders and Chief’s and what exactly were they doing while all this was going on (Pandoras Box). Yes, I would like to think it all goes back to one man, but to think all of these good hard working Deputies are having to go though all of this is BS. There were Commanders and Chiefs sitting on the 8th floor of TTCF doing what. If they were true to the Sheriff, true to the Department and most importantly true to the Deputies, they wold have stepped in. And I do not want to hear that crap, that they were told what to do. That is not Leadership.

  8. IsThisWhereMyHardEarnedMoneyGoes? Says:

    All that money …, all that time…, and all the feds could come up with was 5 “group” cases on 18 people. What a waste of tax payer money. Some of the charges are charges they themselves should be convicted of… “intimidation” of a Federal Investigator…, well certainly…, they’ve never intimidated anyone in law enforcement themselves (yeah right..), and this what I believe is payback for the Sheriff flexing what little muscles he had in the beginning of this mess. He should have opened his arms and let them in and the pissing contest would not have led to this political persecution at the expense of some good people (some not so good people also, but that does not mean they are all criminals nor that they should lose all they’ve worked for as much as it may make some of us grin.., just a little). This would not be national news if we were talking about any of the other largest law enforcement agencies in the nation. The Sheriff employs 18,000+ people .., 18 represents .001 of the employees in LASD. Its ridiculous, judgmental and frankly speaks volumes of the press, our Board of Sups and the self righteous at large. LASD is still a good Department full of employees whom do right every day despite this kind of b.s. publicity looming around.

  9. Mountain Man Says:

    Among the most interesting pieces of this puzzle are the two Internal Criminal Affairs (ICIB) sergeants. Craig and Long. Seems unlikely that they would have initiated the behavior of intimidating the FBI agent without being given unequivocal direction to do so.

    And that direction came from? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. If anything screams Paul T. induced behavior, this is it.

  10. 280D2 Says:

    Rhambo submitted his retirement papers today. He is out by March 2014. See you later [edit]

  11. bluepiggy Says:

    Spouting out core values ? it seemed that he was reading them from a paper. For a man who loves the core values so much I find it funny he didn’t know them by heart after 15 years of making it mandatory to place them on the back of our business cards. Oh I forgot, the back of his card is blank !

  12. gmanwhistle Says:

    Gee Sgt. Gonzales criticizing deputies for not using enough force, I wonder where he learned that from. He must of been friends with Lt Thompson. I remember years back, when we were all deputies in the jail, Thompson doing the same to other deputies. Carma is a wonderful thing. I guess my mature ability to deal with inmates afforded me a wonderful career and retirement, free of indictments and attorney fees. Good luck Gonzalez and Thompson, couldn’t happen to two of the most errogent and self righteous people. I’ll be living in Hawaii while your in prison.

  13. RetiredCommandPerson Says:

    After 30 plus years of proudly serving on the great LASD I knew it was time to get out. Although I think Sheriff Baca is truly a compassionate person who truly cares about all LASD personnel, he has been a horrible leader. He took care of his supporters and quickly promoted them through the ranks. The problem was the majority of them were not qualified to hold the positions they were given along with having reputations for being unethical misfits. Now we have arrived at the culmination of 15 years of corruption, favoritism, and often bizarre philosophical ideas about law enforcement management. I guess we can assume by the arrests of these 18 LASD members that Education Based Discipline has been a failure. I’m gonna guess Education Based Incarceration will have similar results.

    This is truly a sad time for the LASD and for the reputation of law enforcement in general.

    It is a bit confusing why the FBI limited their focus to no higher than the Lts. We all know the orders to hide the FBI informant came from much higher. Although it does not excuse their conduct, I cannot help but be angered that their leaders led them down this path.

    Unfortunately, it is likely others will fall behind their decision to support and condone the unethical behavior and decisions of those whom they thought would help them promote or be assigned to preferred assignments.

  14. Cry Me a River Says:

    RetiredCommandPerson, I submit that if Leroy Baca really gave a damn about all LASD personnel he wouldn’t have been traveling the world spreading his message instead of doing what he was elected to do and is paid to do; be the leader of the LASD.
    All Baca has been concerned with is leaving a legacy of being the guru of the new age enlightened progressive type of sheriff. Let’s not forget living to be 100. The last thing on his mind is anything to do with the actual nuts and bolts of law enforcement. If he ever had any focus on that he quickly lost it. He is the type of sheriff who would rather speak to a group of college professors than to a group of cops and everyone wearing a badge who has ever heard him speak knows it.
    His legacy will be that he was a disaster as the leader of what was once considered the premier LE agency in the world. Under Leroy Baca, the LASD had done nothing but fall in the eyes of our fellow LE officers who work for other agencies. Anybody who tells you differently is kidding themselves.

  15. Searchlight Says:

    This all was SO predictable. Tanaka is simply an evil, maniacal little man who is corrupt to the core. What he stands for, who he really is is symbolic of his Viking tattoo. Tanaka “hand selected” weak sergeants and lieutenants who would do his bidding and he placed them at MCJ and TTCF. Their marching orders, clean up the deputies, report any sergeant, lieutenant or captain who was doing their job by enforcing the rules and spread the word, “PT has your back.” Their reward for carrying his water? Promise of promotion and/or coveted job assignments that placed them “in the car.”

    Well, where is Paul Tanaka now? Right where I predicted he would be long ago, protecting his own ass at your expense. The FBI and AUSA are my no means, finished with these indictments, they are only starting. I’m sure the Federal stenographers are working overtime trying to keep up with the statements the defendants are and have been making. Deals will be cut, trust me. Paul Tanaka, you must be real proud of what you created and what you have done, this is ALL of your doing. To all you Tanaka Kool Aide drinkers, worshipers of the little man, those who thought they were in the car, how do you feel now? Proud? I seriously doubt it. I bet deep down inside, you are quite ashamed. You should be.

  16. Wild Turkey Says:

    Retired Command Person, you said:

    “It is a bit confusing why the FBI limited their focus to no higher than the Lts. We all know the orders to hide the FBI informant came from much higher. Although it does not excuse their conduct, I cannot help but be angered that their leaders led them down this path.”

    I could not agree more. I would further assert that the indictment of Sexton is pointless, as he blew the whistle very early on. Indicting him only frightens potential future whistle blowers into hiding from the feds rather than coming forward.

    The only hope I have is that the feds are plodding, step by step, in procedural fashion, squeezing Thompson, Leavins, Craig, Manzo, Smith, etc., to get the dirt on the top two.

    Manzo told me to my face during Pandora’s box that he sat in on a meeting where Tanaka, Baca and Thompson designed Pandora’s box and ordered Anthony Brown hidden.

    Mickey, I know you read WLA. Do the right thing by you and your department. Roll on the crooks. They aren’t worth it. There is no Omerta in law enforcement.

  17. Mutual Assured Destruction Says:

    Anyone in law enforcement who believes the feds are stopping the indictments at the rank of lieutenant must be living under a rock. The feds are going to treat the Sheriff’s department as a criminal enterprise. They’ll pressure those indicted to speak the truth and stop hiding those who gave the orders and direction.

    As tragic as it is for the families of those indicted, I highly doubt the investigation will be handled anywhere shy of fair and impartial. I am also certain those indicted will be given an opportunity to explain their side and I am sure their side will expose those responsible (Baca and Tanaka).

    Let’s also not lose sight of the season. Some are fighting for their freedom and if you’re a friend of theirs, please encourage them to keep their chin up and do the right thing. If they were following orders, they should let it be known. It doesn’t excuse criminal behavior, but it may mitigate their culpability and reduce exposure.

  18. J.London Says:

    Retired Command P: You seem sincere but no doubt you benefited from Baca’s promotion by Whatever! If Baca was so sincere and cares so much THEN why doesn’t Baca or Tanaka come forward and admit they ordered these crimes and that the deputies were just following orders? This would give 18 families a little of their lives back. But, neither Baca nor Tanaka will come forward and tell the truth! WHY? Isn’t this when LEADERS step up?
    Gray Davis didn’t show up last night, why?

  19. The End is Near Says:

    Yesterday was a very sad day, but is the first step on a long road to recovery. We are at Baker trying to get to Vegas. Some good people went down yesterday, but they got caught up in the Tanaka power and the no one can touch us attitude. Today, all employed were notified that they are now suspended without pay. These indictments will be devastating for the families of these men and women right before Christmas.
    The big question is, what is next. We all hope that the responsible executive is also held accountable. This intimidation tactic utilized has Tanaka’s DNA all over it. Leavins was Tanaka’s aide as a Sergeant (first ever) and then made Lt and went straight to ICIB. Leavins was a direct report to Tanaka and constantly went around his own Captain. With three people from ICIB indicted, the big question is What did or didn’t Captain Carey know.
    Now we come to the Sheriff and what did he know. Tanaka has already publicly stated Baca ordered him to hide the inmate. Based on that, Tanaka has admitted “guilt”. If if the Sheriff wasn’t involved, which is highly unlikely, he has the blood of 14 careers on his hands. He has been warned for years of Tanaka’s antics and has failed to supervise Tanaka and continued to promote him to the top which essentially validated Tanaka’s mis-conduct. I find it interesting that Tanaka has been quick to offer a quote in recent negative stories but was silent yesterday.
    I keep hearing credible quotes from some highly respected people and the common thread is failure of leadership. Baca should resign immediately. it would take a page or two to list all of his failures and scandals. He is like Humphrey Bogart from the Caine Mutiny looking for the missing strawberries. Yesterday was one of the darkest in our history, and shortly after the Press Conference Baca is attending a fundraiser for himself at 1500.00 a plate. What was even more insulting is that it was hosted by Mark Geragos, a defense attorney who has questionable clients including Scott Petersen who killed his wife on Christmas day and claims the killer is still out there. He also constantly sues Law Enforcement. So the next time County Counsel has a suit where he is the plaintiffs attorney, will this cloud Baca’s decision making to settle or go to trial. This is soooo Leroy to put himself in these conflicts that will allow another scandal down the road.
    A true LEADER would have never attended this. he would have sent a note or emissary to extend his regrets but he must stay at HQ to handle the current crisis at hand. Tanaka was dead bang on one allegation, Baca loves to be the politician.
    Over the last 18 months alot of comments on here referred to when everyone is indicted by the Feds, Tanaka will throw you under the bus. Out of the ones indicted, how many have heard from Tanaka since being released. Tanaka will swear and state, “I was not in the chain of Command” when it cones to all of these allegations.
    Baca needs to be indicted and convicted or a plea to where he resigns so we can move forward. Someone once said on here that everyone on the 4th floor has a gun pointed at each other and just waiting for the first shot. Well, yesterday was the shot that was heard around the County

  20. CSN83 Says:

    I watched the media circus with many of the Department execs “standing behind” Baca. I was embarrassed by his reading of his statement — especially the Core Values that he has pushed down so many throats — he couldn’t even remember the words. I remember years ago when he ran into a sergeant (Giunta) at the STARS Academy locker room and asked him to recite the Core Values to him. Giunta told him he didn’t know them, but no one had to tell him about values because his parents instilled “CORE” values in him long before the LASD was part of his life. The Sheriff lost it & totally went off on him, telling him he “had better” memorize them, & proceeded to give him a card with the words emblazoned on it.

    Seems to me the Sheriff has forgotten the CORE or OUR (LASD) values.

  21. J.London Says:

    CSN83: I recall when Joe told me that story. At that time many of us thought Baca was just crazy but harmless. Of course we know better now!!

  22. 10-35 Says:

    My Christmas wish is to see Tanaka and Baca carried away in chains like ghosts of Christmas’ past. Time to rid the tarnish they and their leg-humpers have put upon our badge.

  23. LeftattheBall Says:

    To those who drank the juice, where is your leaders loyalty to you?

  24. DOE Inc Says:

    I would be honored to escort both of them to 1750

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