Refusing Paul Tanaka & the Weird Case of the Magically Lengthening Jail Sentences
On Tuesday, May 2, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted to award a $1.275 million settlement to former LA County sheriff’s deputy Tara Jan Adams.
Adams was reportedly retaliated against and “refused promotional opportunities” after she testified as a whistleblower against members of LASD in the obstruction of justice trials that would eventually result in federal convictions for ten department members, including the once powerful former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and four-term former sheriff Lee Baca, who will be sentenced on May 12.
Yet, according to her civil complaint originally filed in June 2015, Adams also became a whistle blower when she noticed that someone in the department was unaccountably adding months of time on to certain inmates’ jail sentences.
We’ll get back to the matter of the magically lengthening jail sentences in a minute.
But first there was the incident that caused Adams to be known as the person who defied Paul Tanaka, which in turn reportedly transformed her into a pariah at work, and ultimately caused the end of her career at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
At the time, Adams was working in the LA County jail system’s Inmate Reception Center or IRC, which is the part of the jail responsible for admitting and releasing inmates. Adams joined the department in March 2007, and was transferred to IRC after her stint at the academy where she had reportedly done well enough that, in 2009, she was promoted to the position of watch deputy in IRC.
“She was one of the brightest, most talented deputies I worked with,” said Katherine Voyer, a former LASD lieutenant who was a supervisor at IRC during much of the time when Adams worked there. “Very resourceful, very hard working, very law abiding, and ethical. Someone you could really count on to solve a problem, and an independent thinker.”
On August 25, 2011, however, Adams was approached by three deputies working in the jails. Her direct supervisor at the time, Lt. Libertone, reportedly accompanied them.
The deputes asked Adams to access the jail database and make it appear that an inmate named Anthony Brown had been released from Men’s Central Jail, so they could then rebook him under a fake name, at another location in the jail system.
(Adams could access the database in a way that they could not.)
The Deputy Who Refused Paul Tanaka
Brown, who had been sentenced to over 400 years in prison for several bank robberies, was also an FBI informant who had participated in an undercover federal investigation into brutality and corruption by deputies in the county’s jail system. With Brown’s help, the FBI snared a jail deputy in a scheme to smuggle in a contraband phone for Brown, in return for a cash bribe. The sting would later result in a criminal conviction.
But, in late August 2011, after higher ups in the department learned of Brown’s existence as a federal informant, through the discovery of his contraband cell phone, they cooked up a plan to hide Brown from his FBI handlers.
This was where Adams was supposed to come in.
To successfully hide Brown, the deputies charged with the hiding needed to make him vanish from the jail database and, then rebook him in the jail data system as a completely new person, with a new name, new charges, and new physical characteristics.
For this faux “releasing” and “rebooking” they needed Adams’ help.
When Adams checked the system, she saw Brown’s lengthy sentence, and the fact that he was due to be transferred to state prison, so she reportedly said, no, that she could not manipulate the database to make it appear that Brown had been released without the appropriate paperwork, namely a court order.
According to Adams’ civil complaint, filed in June 2015—and her later testimony at multiple federal trials—the group of deputies grew angry and said that they were acting on the orders of Paul Tanaka, who was then the undersheriff.
Fine, she said, then she would need something in writing from the undersheriff.
“Do you really want to tell Paul Tanaka, no?” Adams said that one furious deputy asked her.
Adams stood her ground. She needed paperwork or she wasn’t going to release this inmate who was not supposed to be released.
The deputies refused, and found a non-sworn employee working IRC who also had access to the system, and successfully pushed him to do what Adams had declined to do. According to Adams, at some point during the encounter, one of the deputies took Brown’s file, which was also against the rules.
All through the incident, according to Adams, her supervisor, Lt. Libertone, stood by saying little.
After the Anthony Brown business, Adams suddenly found that her “supervisors and many of her coworkers appeared to avoid interaction with her.”
“I was the deputy who said no to orders, and you don’t say no to Paul Tanaka,” Adams said.
In addition to being excluded and avoided, certain deputies became physically aggressive, according to Adams’ complaint.
One deputy named Juan Sanchez, reportedly “shoulder checked” Adams on two different occasions, deliberately slamming into her with his shoulder.
“It happened a few times,” said former Lt. Katherine Voyer, who said that she reported the incidents to internal affairs. “I had to because it had risen to a workplace violence issue. I had no choice. “ said Voyer.
Voyer was dismayed, she told WitnessLA, when department officials “blew it off, and then they notified all the people who she had named.”
Adams tried to solve the problem by transferring out of IRC, but her transfer attempt was turned down.
Matters reportedly got still worse in the fall of 2012 when word got out that Adams was subpoenaed to testify in front of a federal grand jury about the incidents surrounding the hiding of FBI informant Brown.
Adding Jail Time
At around this same time, another strange thing occurred.
Civilian workers at IRC reportedly told Adams that someone had added extra jail time to the sentences of two jail inmates. The additions were made through “a hand entry” into the IRC’s computer system. According to Adams’ complaint, there was no legitimate reason why this should be so.”
Adams investigated further and discovered to her alarm that “approximately twenty inmates had been subjected to such treatment.” Reportedly, the employee number that had been used to enter this additional sentence time into the department’s computer system belonged to a employee “who had been on disability for more than five years and could not have possibly been the one to have actually have made the computer entries.”
The deputy was reportedly told to back off her probe of the expanding sentences, there were additional work-place retaliations, and Adams started getting physical threats of a serious nature.
She confided in former sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, about some of what she was seeing and experiencing. Sexton, who would eventually be the lowest ranking department member to be convicted of obstruction of justice, had also—like Adams—been a whistleblower, and had himself been repeatedly threatened with physical harm by department members.
“He’d been threatened in the jail parking lot, and other places,” said Voyer, who had also worked with Sexton. “And she started getting the same kind of thing.”
Keep Your Gun With You
Sexton told WLA that he was “very concerned” by what Adams told him.
He told her to keep her gun with her at all times.
Sexton also examined the altered release dates. “These were all inmates who had validated complaints against department members.”
According to Sexton, the sentences of the inmates in question were lengthened by between four to six months.
When no one at the LASD was interested in investigating the matter, both Sexton and Adams brought the matter of the altered release dates to the FBI.
“Things just went downhill for her, after that,” said Voyer, who was no longer working with Adams by that time, but who still kept in touch.
After Adams got pregnant in 2013, the retaliation continued, and her sense of vulnerability increased. During her pregnancy leave, Adams was called to testify for the government in the obstruction of justice trial of six department members, who were convicted.
Fearing the post-trial retaliation would get even worse, according to her complaint, Adams requested to extend her maternity leave by six months—without pay.
The request that was reportedly routinely granted for most women, was denied for Adams.
Fearing that her physical safety, and that of her family “would be jeopardized” if she returned to work, Adams resigned.
On June 14, 2014, Adams was “constructively terminated.”
A year later, almost to the day, she sued.