Pandora's Box

Judge Tosses Convicted Sergeant’s Lawsuit Blaming Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca for Her Legal Woes

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

On Tuesday July 1, 2014, former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s sergeant Maricela Long, and five other members of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, were convicted of obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice for their involvement in a series of actions that took place during August and September of 2011, when the six and others hid federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, threatened a federal agent, tampered with witnesses, and in other ways worked to disrupt a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails system.

The series of obstructive acts came, unofficially, to be be called “Operation Pandora’s Box.

In late September of 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced the six to terms in federal prison ranging from 21 Months to 41 months.

Maricela Long, who was also convicted of making false statements to federal officials, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison.

(At this time, she is still serving her sentence.)

In February of this year, Long filed a civil lawsuit against former LA County sheriff Lee Baca and Los Angeles County, arguing in essence that Baca made her engage in the illegal acts that ended her career, and sent her to prison.

“Ms. Long, a deputy newly assigned to the investigations unit Baca ordered to investigate the FBI,” her lawyers wrote in her complaint, “carried out actions she was directed to perform within a rigid chain-of-command environment under which she was expected to follow the orders given to her by her superiors.”

In the lawsuit, Long sought damages for her loss of liberty, loss of employment, and loss of the ability to pursue a law enforcement career. (Long was employed by the LASD for over 23 years, until her employment was terminated by civil service in 2017, post conviction.)

Since the February filing by Long, Baca’s lawyers have moved to dismiss the lawsuit, and Long has fought back.

At a hearing last month, Long’s attorney, Chaka Okadigbo, argued to U.S District Judge Michael Fitzgerald that Baca set in motion “the chain of events that ultimately led” to Long’s violation of federal law.

At the Friday, May 18 hearing, the judge likened Long and Okadigbo’s argument to the infamous just following orders Nuremberg defense.

Then, at a second hearing on May 22, Fitzgerald lowered the legal boom and dismissed Long’s case altogether “with prejudice” and without leave to amend.

“She could have chosen to obey the law,” Fitzgerald wrote in his ruling. The court has not located, he continued, any relevant case “where a plaintiff herself committed a criminal act, was convicted and suffered the consequences of a conviction, and then turned around and sued some governmental actor (be it an employer or otherwise) for setting the stage for her to commit her criminal acts.”

The plaintiff, he concluded, “cannot be both the victim and the perpetrator of the intervening criminal activity.”

And just in case anyone missed the point, Fitzgerald added that if Long were to succeed with this lawsuit, “it would necessarily imply the invalidity of her prior, Ninth-Circuit-affirmed, criminal conviction on obstruction of justice, false statement, and conspiracy charges.”

And that was that.

(You can read Judge Fitzgerald’s ruling for yourself here.)

Former Sheriff Lee Baca, as most will remember, was also convicted for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and was sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on May 12, 2017, to three years in federal prison.

As of this writing, Mr. Baca is out on bail pending an appeal to the 9th circuit.

18 Comments

  • I’ve always thought that many of the people caught up in this mess were, in fact victims themselves of trusting those above them to be doing the right thing in giving them their orders. Sergeant Long was one of those folks. I hate to think what I would have done had I been in her shoes, knowing what little she probably knew, and told to go out and put the screws to that FBI agent. All she could do was TRUST that those above her were giving her a lawful order. I suspect that she did not feel comfortable doing what she did, but the thought probably never occurred to here that she was “interfering” with an FBI investigation. And if it did, she thought those “upstairs” knew what they were doing.

    The truth of the matter is that there are plenty above her in the chain of command who ran for the hills while this was going on who have this lady’s and others blood on their hands. They were too afraid to speak up for fear of their own “careers.”

    This caper did not happen in a vacuum. People in all the Divisions involved knew what was up – Custody, Detectives, Professional Standards – and the execs from these Divisions (and others) went MIA while this was crap was going on. Tanaka’s people could not just waltz in to IRC and make the demands they made without HQ being in the know – either before, during or after. Where were the Division folks? No objections? No paper? No advising their subordinates what to do and how to cover themselves? Nope, heads down, out to lunch, none of MY business! That IRC Deputy who refused to change Brown’s info in the computer was on her own. Good or bad, sink or swim. She became isolated and left the Department. She got out alive. No brass – except one Lt. ever gave her any comfort and support. Cowards, afraid for their selves.

    Yes, Cowards! That is what they were. Afraid to cross Tanaka. Many of these COWARDS are retired now and acting like they were stand-up people who were out for the troops fighting against the Baca-Tanaka tyranny. What a crock. Just ask them why they didn’t speak out while Pandora’s Box was going on. They must use the Stonich approach on LACERA payday when looking at themselves in the mirror – they don’t. They just look the other – just like they did when they were on the job.

    But in the long run, you to agree with the judge who has to go along with the law. But with Baca still out of jail playing the “Elmer Fudd” card – hell, he could have played it his entire career – another “win” for Baca is a pretty hard pill to swallow.

  • Unbelievable, she breaks the law and sues someone else because they “told her to do it.” Sounds like another upstanding LEO, breaks the law and when caught and prosecuted squeals and whines, everything but accept responsibility. And, her brethren in uniform sympathize with her. As Beretta would say, don’t do the crime, if you can’t do the time. [WLA EDIT—with prejudice] As you guys would say, Man up.

  • That mentality has not changed the IAB and the ICIB still do not act independently based on their knowledge of an investigation. They do their interviewing and then ask Diana, whether she wants thumbs up, or thumbs down. Whatever she decides, that is the route they will take, and make it happen. They will be compromising their integrity and violating the law, hoping Diana’s law degree will help them down the line. I have said this before many of the IAB and ICIB people were not known as proactive, street cops, while doing their two-year field training, before promoting to sergeant. They don’t know what they are doing, they just do the interviewing by “gotcha” the old overused tricks.

    When they got nothing, they trip deputies into yes that, “false statements”. Before they did it to please Tanaka, now they do it to please the CPA, and McBuckles, they want to please the master, to advance. They look so fake when they are next to McBuckles, like, “look at me boss”, I am all “smiley” fake.

  • Laughable how CF is talking about people being responsible and accountable for their own actions. Hey CF do you think all the people killed by cops would be alive today if they weren’t breaking the law? Do you think they might be alive today if they obeyed the commands of LEO. Whether the shooting we’re justified or not if they were doing the right thing they would be alive today. Something that is never brought up by YOU or the NEWS.

  • Former Sgt. Long and her attorney erred in their legal strategy by not including the Federal Government at the top of the pyramid of defendants who provoked her professional/ethical/legal morass.

    The Federal Government, by active deeds and passive deeds, helped to reinforce and sustain the perception that Sheriff Baca held a legitimacy and a primacy which exceeded the authority inherent to his elected position and which was not to be constrained by his oath of office.

    Sgt. Long could reasonably assume the Federal govt. considered Sheriff Baca, while not holding an official position and title in a federal agency, to wield a level of legitimate authority equivalent to/ or exceeding that of Secretary of an Executive branch agency.

    During the period prior to, during and following the Pandora box activities, the federal govt. had named Sheriff Lee Baca as their direct liason to Southern California law enforcement for Homeland Security.

    Despite various allegations of ethical breaches and reports of questionable practices relating to Sheriff Baca’s practices which popped up in local Los Angeles County news media from time to time, the federal govt. concluded there was nothing there that would diminish their trust in Sheriff Baca to properly manage the sharing of classified Homeland Security information and nothing to impair their confidence in Sheriff Baca as the best choice to lead SoCal law enforcement in partnership for protecting against homeland security threats.

    In 2010, the federal government, through their refusal to take any involvement or to initiate any investigation of Sheriff Lee Baca and the LASD in the matter of the arrest and disappearance of Mitrice Richardson, would send a strong signal to every one who paid the least bit of attention –
    that Sheriff Baca held status above liability for committing obstruction of justice type activities.

    Sheriff Baca, using his authority over his underling Captain Martin, took physical possession of all automatic surveillance video recordings from Sept. 17-18, 2009 at Lost Hills Sheriff Substation.

    Sheriff Baca then deceived the Board of Supervisors and the public about the existence of any video involving Mitrice Richardson.

    After 4 months, the video makes its first verified appearance.
    That was January 2010 in Sheriff Baca’s office at LASD headquarters when he presents a viewing for 3 members of Richardson’s immedeate family.
    However, the Richardson’s are not given a viewing of unaltered and unedited original source video.
    They are only allowed to view evidence which Sheriff Baca has had 4 months to conceal and to edit and to alter.
    No surprise that by 2011, Sgt. Long’s understanding of jurisdictional boundaries between LASD and FBI have become distorted.
    Her perceptions of primordinate and subordinate are confused.
    Her concept of the hierarchy of authority and the rule of law has been warped.

    The Federal prosecutors said that Pandora’s Box was an unlawful effort to prevent the fbi from their lawful prerogative to investigate civil rights abuse in the L.A. County Jail.

    What Sgt. Long may have perceived was a contest for influence by factions within the LASD and the FBI, 2 separately constituted agencies over which Sheriff Baca had the legitimate status to exercise primordinate authority within both.

  • EDITOR’S NOTE:

    Dear “Um,” the answer is YES. Thank you for calling this to my attention.

    CF: Dial it way back on the offensive and hateful comments. And please don’t attempt to pass off what you wrote as colloquialism and/or metaphor. That dog won’t hunt. It’s fine to be critical. The sort of viciousness I edited out above is not fine. And this is not the first instance. I have zero interest in being a playground monitor. So, please view this note as a friendly, one time warning.

    Thank you in advance for your cooperation.

    C.

    • Better late than never,I guess. Cf is very emotional and prone to hysteria. All this Trump success has been pretty hard on her, no excuse though, she has been very naughty.

  • Just sayn:I would tend to agree with you regarding Sergeant Long, but that won’t excuse the bevavior of the majority of investigators at IAB who do not possess the intestinal fortitude to “just say no” . Previous IA investigators have commented on this blog regarding theit own lack of integrity and “doing as ordered” especially under the Karyn Mannis regime. Just say in……..

    • Don’t know the what the exact orders were, but attempting to intimidate an FBI Agent should have rang a bell in their head. The arrogance from the top was the ultimate downfall. I equate the stop with Agent Marx equivalent to a Boy Scout telling a patrolman that his patrol car is dirty and he should go and wash it. Pecking order, anyone?

  • ….Looking at the mess coming to light now involving the FBI, the “highest law enforcement agency in the land”, it would appear the old adage, “who police’s the police” is appropriate.

    How can one assume the FBI and DOJ were not being driven by politics and the “individual personal ideologies” of the members of the involved government employees. It’s clear, there has been a pattern of no accountability of the FBI or DOJ to Congress as they (DOJ, FBI) have had a history of arrogance and behaving as if they were above the law.

    • @LHM: If you want to “keep it real” you would have to agree that your last paragraph can also be attributed to many in the L.A. Sheriff’s Dept, especially concerning accountability. The big bully pulled rank on the little bully as karma kicked in proving that payback is a bitch.

  • People in the know say that under James McBuckles regime, the ratio of IAB/ICIB personnel to deputies is greater than the ratio of field deputies to the community. Anyone out there who can confirm or deny. If it is true, or closely true, deputies watch out, the police is after you, forget about everything, but your own survival.

  • When the FBI evaluated prospective inmate informants at MCJ, no one had a lower probability of providing them with usable evidence of deputy brutality than convicted armed robber Anthony Brown.

    A terrible choice for an informant, Brown was a good choice to get outed and to serve as the subject of a scheme to hide him from his fbi handlers.

    Anthony Brown was their best choice for fulfilling his true purpose – to become an insurance policy for protecting the personal assets of U.S. AG Eric Holder.

    February 2011, a highly unexpected federal appeals court ruling in Starr vs. Baca
    sustained plaintiff’s request to strip away from Lee Baca the protections from civil liability normally afforded to a government office holder.

    The plaintiffs argued that Sheriff Baca had been notified of the severe problems at MCJ and made no attempt to address the issues.

    So in February 2011, AG Holder could see that Sheriff Baca was not the only person who needed to worry.
    Holder had served in the USDOJ during the Clinton Administration, when the MOU’s began with LASD on civil rights violations at MCJ.

    Over a decade passes and Holder is placed in charge of DOJ under President Obama.
    What if Deion Starr or another plaintiff with broken bones from MCJ names Eric Holder as a defendant along with Sheriff Baca?
    And puts forward an argument Holder had been notified for years about the problems at MCJ and was well aware MOU’s had not improved the situation, yet he failed as AG to take any further action attempting to rectify the situation.

    Could Holder lose the immunity provided by his office and find his personal assets placed at risk of a court judgement against LASD?

    Eric Holder is not the only person concerned by the February 2011 Starr vs. Baca appeals decision.

    The argument which made Lee Baca personally liable as a defendant could also apply to U.S. Attorney Andre Birrote and to former U.S. Attorney Thomas O’ Brien.

    They would need an insurance policy to counter an argument seeking to strip away their government provided immunity.

    They wanted to claim:
    Yes, we were notified of continuing violations at MCJ.
    It may appear we did nothing to force reform.

    But really, we made continuous effort to gather evidence usable to bring charges and win convictions.
    However, LASD always worked
    to block, lie, obstruct and deny our efforts.

    If you need proof of that – take a look at Anthony Brown.

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