LASD Pandora's Box Sheriff Lee Baca

Former LA Sheriff’s Deputy Sexton Expected to be Pivotal Witness in Retrial of Lee Baca

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

HOW SEXTON WAS RELEASED IN SURPRISE RULING

Last week, on January 12, after a surprise ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy James Sexton was ordered released into six months of home detention followed by another six months of formal probation.

As part of his resentencing, Sexton is expected to “…testify truthfully in all future proceedings and trials related to this matter,” Anderson stipulated.

Two years earlier, in December 2014, Sexton was sentenced to 18 months in federal prison after being tried twice (his first trial ended in a 6-6 hung jury) and convicted the second time around of the duel charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, for his part in helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers. Convicted bank robber Brown, a bright but often truth-challenged character, was part of an undercover FBI investigation into corruption and civil rights abuses by sheriff’s deputies inside LA County’s troubled jail system.

Sexton is one of eight former department members who have been convicted of obstruction. (A ninth former department member, former captain Tom Carey, was originally charged with obstruction but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of perjury, and has yet to be sentenced.) He was a 25 year-old junior deputy, and three years out of the sheriff’s academy at the time when the events resulting in the charges against him took place in August and September of 2011.

When government prosecutors made what is called a Rule 35 motion, asking for Judge Anderson to reduce Sexton’s sentence, they did so in part because he had cooperated with them by providing information and testifying at Baca’s first trial, and because they planned to have him testify again—likely more extensively. But as leader prosecutor Brandon Fox, and Sexton’s attorney, Tom Obrien, told Anderson, there was a lot more to the request. Due to Sexton’s cooperation with the feds, during the four-and-a-half months he’d already spent in prison, since he voluntarily surrendered himself early to the Board of Prisons on August 31, 2016, Sexton had been harassed and convincingly threatened by prison inmates, who had discovered his identity as a “disgraced cop,” and a cooperator, a whistleblower, a snitch.

Because of this label, Sexton’s year-and-a-half prison term was not being spent in anything resembling club fed. Instead, Obrien told the court, for his own safety the BOP had locked his client in the SHUs of various medium and high security prisons, where he spent 103 days handcuffed to waist chains everywhere he went, getting food through the tray door, and locked down for 23 hours out of 24.

Sexton was serving “much harsher time than I think the court intended,” Obrien told Anderson. For more than two months—70 days—the prisoner was in complete isolation. Unless he is released, this is how he will do his time, Obrien said. Furthermore, whenever he is transported between facilities, or to Southern California to testify or to be questioned by the government, he is back at risk, because he is likely to run into inmates he had contact with as a cop. “I am concerned for his safety,” said O’Brien.

Prosecutor Fox, with whom Sexton had previously maintained a notably adversarial relationship, also told the court that, at the former deputy’s grand jury appearances, he’d found Sexton to be cocky and arrogant with a self-assured “chip” on his shoulder. Yet, in talking to the waist-chained, far thinner, fully-bearded inmate now in court wearing khaki-colored prison jumpsuit, he’d found a changed person, with a “very different” demeanor, “humbled” by his conviction and his prison experience, which was “unusual” in these cases, Fox said.

After Fox and O’Brien spoke, Sexton requested that he be allowed to address Judge Anderson directly.


REGRET, SHAME & REMORSE

Still in handcuffs and the waist chain, he was at the podium for about 15 minutes, talking for much of the time about his feeling of regret, shame and remorse for his actions in the summer of 2011.

At one point he talked about how, at sentencing, the judge used Sexton’s father as the example of why the former deputy should have known better. “I don’t think you understand the extent of how true and right you were,” Sexton said to Anderson. “My father is the product of the foster childcare system, put there as the result of an abusive single parent.” His dad also “built himself from nothing,” he said, “told how, in 1991 Ted Sexton took over the Tuscaloosa, Alabama, sheriff’s office, that was in the heart of the American civil rights movement.” His dad modernized the department, said Sexton, through “accountability, collaboration, and transparency,” and diversified it “by recruiting and promoting people of color when it was still unpopular” and considered by some, taboo.

“He’s why I chose the profession,” said Sexton, who choked up several times as he talked. “He was then and is now my hero. I failed him and I failed his example in 2011, and that is something I will never be able to redeem in my life….”

A former eagle scout with a West Point appointment who once interned for Vice President Joe Biden, and was awarded a master’s degree at the University of Southern California, shortly before his 2014 conviction, Sexton is a bright guy and a smart writer. Still his broad and detailed expressions of regret seemed genuine, even seemly to Fox who, like Sexton, has a cynical streak.

Still many observers thought it likely that Judge Anderson would say no to cutting Sexton’s sentence.

But that’s not what happened. After a lengthy sidebar with the attorneys, and some very long minutes of the judge sitting in the courtroom in silent contemplation, Anderson announced that he was going to “grant the motion.” Sexton’s sentence would be changed to “time served.” He would have one year of formal probation, the first six months of which would be served in home detention.

At first, not everyone was positive that they’d heard right. One of Sexton’s attorneys, Sana Swe, burst into exhausted tears alongside Sexton’s wife, who began sobbing.

Prosecutor Fox came over to Sexton and shook his hand.

As so it was that, after spending four-and-a-half months in a total of 10 federal facilities, Sexton, now 32, was permitted to leave federal custody with wife, who picked him up from the U.S. Marshall’s office in downtown Los Angeles the same evening as the hearing, and drove him home.

Under the rules of his resentencing, Sexton is confined to his house, unless he has a legal or medical reason to leave, or a non-ambiguous emergency. When he has a place of work approved, he will be allowed to travel to and from the job.

(After his conviction in 2014, James worked as a project manager for a company that produces, among other things, “database integration software” developed for the intelligence community and other “public safety end users.”)

According to judge Anderson’s order, Sexton will also be required some kind of electronic ankle jewelry or other monitoring device

The other primary requirement of his resentencing and release is that he must “testify truthfully in all future proceedings and trials” having to do with the federal obstruction of justice issue.

Specifically that means that, as Anderson made clear, Sexton is expected to be a crucial witness in the retrial of former sheriff Lee Baca. In the last trial, the prosecution mined a small part of what Sexton reportedly knows personally about Baca, and about the former sheriff’s actions relating to the events that make up the obstruction charges. In the upcoming trial, government prosecutors are expected to dig a lot deeper.


“PRESERVING POWER” NOT “PURSUING JUSTICE”

In addition to talking about his regret and shame about his actions, at the January 12 hearing, Sexton also talked about the parts of the culture of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that allowed corruption to flourish, making clear that he not only had agreed to testify again, he wanted to do it.

One of the reasons he went to trial—twice—instead of trying to make a deal with the government, Sexton said, was that he and his family, “…wanted to preserve the record that the orders” that resulted in his conviction “came from the top, and that I was not a rogue operator.” Sexton said even his grandfather, a Korean war vet and “a self-made man form humble beginnings.” was “appalled at the casual nature, the indifference, and the expectations that my executives had for me to follow questionable orders that are now undisputedly found to be illegal.”

Sexton’s wife, Keely, he said, put it best. She said the higher-ups in the sheriff’s department “had no interest in pursuing justice. Rather it was an effort to preserve power.”

And he had personally “enabled” that pursuit, Sexton said, grimly.

Sexton also talked about the former sheriff, whom he has known personally since he was 15-years-old due to his father’s friendship with Baca. In his courtroom allocution for the judge, Sexton described Baca as “a man who continues fight and defend himself in the court of public opinion, but has always elected to remain silent and even disassociated” from his responsibility” for orders that Sexton said he could “not have possibly carried out if it were not for the delegation of his authority from the office of sheriff.”

Sir, Sexton said, as the judge stared silently back at him, “Operation Pandora’s Box did not happen in a vacuum. I want to be more than the problem, and a small part of the solution. I was well raised, well trained, and once well-respected.” But he was “bent” by “misplaced loyalties, a culture of plausible deniability and working the grey,” Sexton said. He had always prided himself on his willingness to “speak truth to power,” sometimes with more vigor than was necessary. But, the one time he failed to stand up against what he knew to be wrong was when it came to Anthony Brown and Operation Pandora’s Box. “And I washed it down with justifications and ambition.”

In 2013 and 2014 “it was the first time in my life that I have ever felt expendable,” Sexton said. “…I recognized that men who claimed they loved me and cared for my career would simply sacrifice me for their title and positions of power. “

He was, he said, “put on the road to perdition the day I stepped into those jails. But it’s not an excuse, and I can’t take it back.”


THOMPSON ALSO TO TESTIFY AND TANAKA SURRENDERS TO THE BOP

Although, for the past five months, Sexton was the only one of the eight sentenced for obstruction of justice to actually go to prison, that situation has now changed. On Monday, January 16, 2017, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka surrendered to federal officials, to begin his 60-month sentence at a minimum-security camp in Englewood, Colorado. His appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is still pending.

Former deputy Gerard Smith’s surrender date has been delayed until February 27, because reportedly the BOP is not ready for him yet. (Although the BOP seemed to get ready for Tanaka in speedier fashion.)

Former deputy Mickey Manzo, who is sentenced to 21 months, will surrender by March 27, which will give the government time to call him as a witness in the February trial of Lee Baca.

Former lieutenant Greg Thompson will also surrender on March 19, 2017, to begin his 37 months in federal lock-up. The two month delay in his surrender date is caused by the fact that two days following Sexton’s release, the government moved that Thompson’s surrender date be delayed because, he may also be a witness for the prosecution.


ADJUSTING TO LIFE ON THE OUTSIDE

As is the case with most former prison inmates, Sexton found his first days back included It was hard for him to go into a mall or large story when he went shopping with his wife for food and supplies. “I used real silverware for the first time. That’s was weird.” Plus he realized he no longer had to inhale his food, he said. In the SHU, he” had to be finished by the time [the guards] passed by a second time.” And when he was not in Supermax, he noted that mealtime was “by far the most dangerous time.” So he had to eat quickly and be on guard.

The best advice he got when he was new to prison, Sexton said, were the words last man and excuse me. “If you see a line, find out who the last man is. “Don’t cut through it. Don’t break it.” The third tip was, “everyone wants to see where your heart is.” But ‘last man and excuse me,’ he was told, “will eradicate 99 percent of your problems. It’s incredibly simple human behavior. The inmates don’t want fights. They don’t want to risk a lockdown,” he said.

Sexton told Judge Anderson that, his most valuable and also his most humbling experience during his time in the Federal Correctional Institution in Talladega, Alabama, was a friendship he developed with another inmate, “a gentleman who could not come from a more polar [opposite] background” than his own, a background that included “systemic poverty and gang violence,” including the loss of his brother less than a week before Sexton arrived.

“He extended to me a grace, and acceptance and understanding that I was humbled by.” Sexton realized with shame, he said, that, had their roles been reversed, “I don’t think I could have done the same.”

And did being locked-up change his view at all of incarceration reform in general…?

Sexton laughed sadly. “Yeah,” he said. “I get it now.”

28 Comments

  • “In 2013 and 2014 “it was the first time in my life that I have ever felt expendable,” Sexton said. “…I recognized that men who claimed they loved me and cared for my career would simply sacrifice me for their title and positions of power. “

    Federal prisoner Paul Tanaka, for you and your suckass Yes Men, it was all about your title and position of power. Well, how’s that working for you in Colorado? May your time be done long and hard.

    Excellent report, Celeste. Well written and an eye opener.

  • EDITOR’S NOTE:

    Dear Robinhood,

    A friendly warning: if you keep trying to embed in your comments links to sites that are selling or promoting something I’m going to consider your comments spam.

    C.

  • Celeste, great article. Thanks for all of your hard work in helping to clean up the mess that the LASD became under Baca and Tanaka.

  • We are all humbled during our lifetime some more than others. It is what you do with that experience that separates you from the rest. Sexton is very strong and I think we will see great things from him. He should have never been put in jail but now glad for him and his family that they are on the backside of this nightmare. Roll Tide!!!

  • Every large institution has people who break the rules; it’s when there is not only rule-breaking but justification for rule-breaking that a culture of corruption becomes entrenched.”
    —Pascal-Emmaneul Gobry

  • Here we have the mea culpa. Here we have Sexton admitting he knew it was wrong when he did it and admitting “I washed it down with justification and ambition”.
    That had to be hard for some who follow this blog and have frequently commented on Sexton’s integrity and character to read. For some others, who maintained the kid did what he did for the SAME reasons the others did it are now vindicated.
    I’m glad Sexton is out of prison and safe. He never belonged in prison.
    The kid payed an incredibly heavy price for sacrificing a small part of his integrity for a huge slice of ambition. The moral of the story……..Sometimes being a yes man and ass kisser can get expensive. Real expensive.

    • Agreed, Finally someone calls it like it is. Sexton was riding high on the coat tails of the “hook-up” his father got him. OSJ after a few months in custody was not common, but when your daddy is best friends with Baca, well not much more needs to be said. I agree maybe prison was harsh, but he did what he did to benefit himself, maybe he should of humbled himself and not took a OSJ spot so soon. Could’ve avoided this all or his involvement. Now he want’s to cry and blame the “higher up’s” same ones that hooked him up before, what a joke. Talk about integrity. “Loose Lips Sink Ships!”

  • Oh Well,

    https://youtu.be/TIIX640z8RE

    We are defending the totality of his character and the courage to speak out.

    The full context of that statement Sexton said, Pandora’s Box was the only time he never spoke up about the ethics of an order.

    Silence is a form of consent. Let’s us cast the first stone if we are without a sin.

    He is a human being too. On a very serious note, it was nice to see you humanize him in your last note.

    He is the only one who addressed the court to accept responsibility. I would have too to go home.

    • Jack,
      I don’t now, nor have I ever had anything against the kid. Don’t know him. I’m not casting stones now, nor has any of my previous comments/ opinions throughout this clusterfuck been in an attempt to cast stones on the totality of his character or demonize the kid. On the other hand, I never put the kid on a pedestal.
      I commend your loyalty and passion where your friend is concerned. He definitely needs all the friends he can get right now.
      Again, I’m happy he is home and safe. I hope he can put this very sad, very tragic part of his life behind him. I wish the kid Godspeed.

    • @ Jack Dawson..Thx for YouTube link. The fact that Sexton’s supervisor Lt. Greg Thompson “turned” on him, was wicked & sneaky. Granted that others duped him also, (ALADS & FBI ) but the supervisor?… Definitely a COWARD. Appealing the inevitable is a waste of money.

  • As I have wrote before, there are dealings in the background and people are trying to make deals……I have to laugh at the “Stoic” individuals everybody raved about and what they are doing now.

    I think Sexton does belong in prison and needs to serve out his time. Unfortunately, the Federal Judge disagrees and I have to accept that. I would simply ask ” Was the lesson learned ?”

    Lots of things going on in the background right now. The Feds are handling a lot quietly now and its not making the papers…..Look at some of the player’s associates and you will see what I mean. You have to look at the big picture as to what the Feds are trying to do.

    Anthony Brown should get some sort of benefit from this. I realize its not politically correct to ask for a reduced sentence for some of his crimes, but perhaps more palatable accommodations can be made for him as a reward for his work in bring Deputies to Justice. Then its his choice…..

    On the positive side, some of the convicted Deputies will probably be loosing a few pounds in prison and getting back into shape. With a prison population full of TB, Aids and so forth, let’s all say a prayer for their safety and their fellow inmate’s safety.

    • @lonestar you are a disgrace. If you are not in prison aka Anthony Brown himself then you either belong there or in a mental facility. “Anthony Brown deserves something.” Seriously, he is serving over 400 years in prison for MURDER!! Brown deserves nothing!! I still STAND by Sexton and PROUDLY! If you want to go home, I don’t think telling the Judge they were all wrong is going to get you released. He said what he had to and that was it!!

  • Mr. Brown is a convicted felon and to think..even consider he should be given any type of accolades is ridiculous. The FEDS had a “hard on” for LASD and found a willing pats(ies) in Convict Brown and Mr. Sexton. Both men were simply a ” means to the ends” for their (FEDS), no more..no less. Mr. Browns life was ruined the day he committed his first crime and will hopefully serve out his life sentence. Mr. Sexton on the other is a convicted felon on parole who was naive, tried to do the right thing and suffered the consequences. His life will be changed forever and good luck to him.

    It is scary and disturbing how quickly folks forget about the victims of criminal acts. Mr. Brown is a murderer. Maybe he didn’t kill your loved one or impact you directly but empathy is clearing lacking for many. Soon to be ex-President Obama is evidently of the same mindset as he pardons convicted felons and enemies of the USA (Chelsea Manning) without hesitation by the simple stroke of his pen.

    • He commuted Manning’s sentence, it wasn’t a pardon. Get your facts straight and your partisan rant will have more credibility.

  • I stand corrected…”commuted.” Thank you for pointing that fact out and I feel much better now knowing his/her sentence was “commuted” instead of “pardoned.”

  • The Convicted Criminal Deputies are having a “This is Real Moment” and trying to cut deals. They should read the words of Celeste regarding Mr. Sexton and prepare themselves for prison…

    Anybody know who burglarized the Internal Affairs Office of the Sheriff’s Dept and stole evidence ? As ” Curious” stated, “The cover up is always worse than the crime”

  • If Judge Anderson has resentenced Deputy Sexton to “time served”, then why is Sexton required to spend the next 6 months in custody at home under electronic monitoring?

    If Sexton is supposed to be in custody at home under electronic monitoring, then why is he out on the town with his wife getting readjusted to walking around at the shopping mall?

    If Sexton is supposed to be under electronic monitoring, then why isn’t he fitted with a monitoring device at the courthouse – instead they let him go and put him on the waiting list to maybe get an electronic ankle bracelet?

    If Sexton has been convincingly threatened by other inmates who found out he is a disgraced cop and whistleblower is that because they don’t like cops, or they don’t like disgraced cops, or they don’t like a whistleblower who cooperated with the prosecution of disgraced cops, or they do like whistleblowers who cooperate against disgraced cops unless the whistleblower is also a cop and is disgraced?

    How did other inmates find out that Sexton is a cop – unless it was somebody working at the prison or Sexton himself who put the word out?

    Is he wandering around the prison in shackles trying to find the line for BBQ Chicken or the line for Apple Pie?

    If he finds the line for the work crew getting sent to scrub the latrines and he gets in at the end of line – won’t that create a conflict with inmates who are already at the end of the line because nobody wants to be at the front of that line?

    When is Sexton finding time to befriend other inmates when he is getting transferred to another prison facility every two weeks and held in solitary confinement?

    How is Judge Anderson granting a motion to release based on what Fox and O’Brien told him about Sexton’s incarceration?
    Doesn’t he require the reports from Probation Services and from the BOP?
    Doesn’t Anderson first want to verify Sexton’s story about how his father desegregated the Tuscaloosa Sheriff Dept.?
    Doesn’t the Judge want more support for a claim Sexton is in danger from being recognized by criminals he met working at L.A. County Jail whenever he is transported in Federal custody?
    Do the Feds really think there is more to be learned by interviewing Sexton again?
    After all the Grand Jury appearances and the testimony at Baca’s trial – what did they forget to ask him?
    The Fed’s believe they need Sexton to come back and testify to what he knows from meeting Lee Baca with Sexton’s father when he was 15 years old in order to convict Baca at another trial?
    Are they serious?

  • @allisonbee you read bits and pieces and again haven’t a clue what you are talking about. Why don’t you ask Sexton these questions? You are attempting to sound intelligent with questions but answering them incorrectly yourself. Maybe you need to bone up on Rule 35 and find out how many days he spent in the shu. I doubt very seriously the prosecution is interested in what Baca and Sexton’s dad said when he was 15. Ted Sexton has nothing to do with this whole side show. Move on he served his time and is getting on with his life.

  • Tto those of you who think that his claim of ” early stages of Alzheimer’s. ” is a ploy, it is not. In 1970 he exhibited this along with rumors of ethical lapses.

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