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Dangerous Jails, Part 3: THE PRINCE – by Matt Fleischer

December 8th, 2011 by Celeste Fremon


EDITOR’S NOTE: The article below is Part Three of WitnessLA’s investigation into the culture of violence and abuse that, for years, has been reported to exist inside the Los Angeles County Jail system—and the dysfunction inside the sheriff’s department that has allowed the abuse to flourish.

(You can find Part One of the series here, Part Two, here.)

This 8-month investigation, reported and written by Matt Fleischer (and copy edited by Craig Gaines), is the second investigative series to come out of the LA Justice Report, which was created through a partnership between WitnessLA and Spot.Us.


DANGEROUS JAILS, PART 3: THE PRINCE

by Matthew Fleischer

LASD insiders say that, for years, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka—not Lee Baca—has ruled the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department though a system built of favoritism, pay-to-play campaign donations, and loyalty rewarded over competence—and the jails scandal is one of the results.



SYSTEM BREAKDOWN

Six years ago, Men’s Central Jail commanding officer Captain John Clark had had enough. Plagued by a spate of bad press over some high-profile incidents, plus calls for reform from the ACLU and the County Board of Supervisors over the dangerous conditions inside his jail, Clark sent his operations lieutenant, Casey Bald—second in command in the jail behind the captain himself—to read his supervisors the riot act. It was time to get his facility under control.

The symptoms suggesting something was going wrong with the running of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s largest and most troubled facility were becoming increasingly evident to anyone paying attention. There had been the brutal beating death of mentally ill inmate Chadwick Shane Cochran on November 16, 2005. The emotionally unstable Cochran was locked in a room with 30 other inmates, where a group of gang members mistakenly believed his red ID tag indicating mental illness meant he was a police informant—a snitch. They attacked 35-year-old Cochran with fists and food trays and then, once he was on the floor, repeatedly stomped his head until his skull shattered. The frenzied assault lasted nearly a half hour. Yet no deputies intervened, even as other inmates in the locked room repeatedly pounded on the door and called out for guards to rescue the dying man.

“[What this] suggests to me is a cascade of errors,” Merrick Bobb, the special monitor who advises county supervisors on Sheriff’s Department matters, told an AP reporter when asked about Cochran’s death. “It wasn’t just one guy messing up one thing, it was a systemic failure.”

The “systemic failure” was one of eight murders in two-and-a-half years inside CJ—as Men’s Central Jail is known.

The Office of Independent Review would release a report in November 2006 noting that inmate deaths in the County Jail system in general nearly had nearly doubled from 2004 to 2005—from 23 to 43. Yet, despite the alarming uptick in fatalities, many of the departmental investigations into the jail deaths—inquiries known as “death reviews”—languished unfinished on desks of supervisors inside the jails. According to the OIR report, 18 of the 43 death reviews took more than a year to complete. Another 13 death reviews were more than 300 days old and still incomplete. The time frames are significant because departmental investigations of wrongdoing have a one-year time limit. After a year, even if a deputy behaves with gross negligence resulting grave harm or death to an inmate, unless the DA chooses to file criminal charges (the chances of which are miniscule without a departmental investigation) the matter is procedurally dead. There will be no discipline, no consequences.

“If you sit on these reviews and the year runs out, we can’t do anything about investigating them even if we want to,” explained a former LASD higher up.

But the death reviews were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to systemic failure. Force packages—reports on deputy-on-inmate violence—were also sitting uninvestigated on supervisors’ desks for months, if not years, inside the jail.

At the same time as this systemic breakdown in the realm of paperwork was occurring, cliques of deputy gangs like the now-infamous 3000 Boys were beginning to flex their muscles inside the jail. Like the gang members they often guarded, these groups shared flashy group tattoos and threw hand signs. Clique members also had the habit of waiting for their entire crew to get off work—sometimes lingering for hours at a time—before leaving the station together en masse. Not only was this a violation of departmental policy—off-duty deputies are not supposed to mill around the jail—but it was eerie gang-like behavior, meant to intimidate both inmates and other nonmember deputies, the message being “screw with us at your own peril.”

More ominous than these showy displays, however, was the violence Clark determined the cliques were inflicting on inmates behind closed doors—which accounted for the growing piles of force reports littering his supervisors’ desks.

Inside CJ, a perfect storm of departmental dysfunction was quickening: bold groups of deputies prone to violence were being overseen by supervisors who failed to consistently hold anyone accountable. It was with these growing concerns that Clark summoned Bald and tasked him with cracking the whip on jail supervisors to finish their paperwork and stay on top of troublesome deputies. Bald immediately went to a supervisor who sources with knowledge of the situation say was one of the worst offenders, a lieutenant named Christopher Nee, who had nearly a year’s backlog of force packages piled on his desk and was seen by many as too friendly with the third-floor deputies.

Bald instructed Nee in clear terms to catch up on his paperwork and help crack down on the deputy gangs, but he did not get the response from his subordinate that he anticipated.

“I don’t work for John Clark,” Nee said. “I work for Paul Tanaka.”

In a paramilitary organization like a police force, or the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, this was an extraordinary statement. As with the military, chain of command is everything. Sergeants report to lieutenants, who report to captains, who report to commanders and so on. What Nee was saying, in essence, was that he didn’t work for his superior officer, Bald, thus did not have to do as Bald said. Nor did he have to obey Bald’s superior officer, Captain Clark, or for that matter Clark’s superior who was, at the time, Commander Dennis Conte. The only person whose orders he really had to follow was Paul Tanaka.

It was an extremely telling statement that pointed to a power struggle going on inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that would help foster patterns of misbehavior and violence into the next decade. One of the primary flash points of this struggle was CJ.


THE TANAKA FACTOR

So who is Paul Tanaka? As it turns out, this is not a simple question to answer.

At the time of Nee’s statement, Tanaka was the assistant sheriff of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department in charge of custody. These days he’s the department’s undersheriff, Sheriff Lee Baca’s No. 2 in charge. Tanaka is also a man of political ambition, whom sources say Baca has been grooming for years to take over the department when the sheriff himself decides to step down. Added to that, he’s the mayor of the city of Gardena, a position he’s held since 2005. Prior to being elected mayor, he was a Gardena city council member, first elected in 1999, the same year Lee Baca became the L.A. County Sheriff.

Tanaka ascended to the powerful undersheriff position in June 2011. Yet, according to sources close to and inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, it is Tanaka, not Lee Baca, who has effectively been running huge portions of the day-to-day operations of the department for nearly eight years.

When the ongoing jail inmate abuse scandal heated to a boil three months ago and Sheriff Baca told the L.A. Times editorial board that he was unaware of much that was going on in his jails, that his command staff kept information from him, this was likely true. For years, Baca has showed up to his weekly Wednesday executive planning council meetings at 9:30 a.m.—one hour later than the rest of his command staff. According to sources who have attended these meetings, before Baca arrives his staff carefully decides what information they should or should not tell him. The person in charge of orchestrating these meetings and choosing what information is filtered to Baca is Paul Tanaka.

“Tanaka tells Lee only what he wants him to hear,” says a former LASD higher-up who was privy to multiple meetings. “It gives Baca plausible deniability for the department’s problems and it gives Tanaka a tremendous amount of control.”

Another former command staffer agrees. “The attitude is always that Lee has to be ‘handled.’”

With this informational control, plus control of most of the LASD departments that oversee revenue streams and resource allocation, Tanaka has obtained power in the department that often far outstrips his rank.

Our sources on these matters are all either current or former LASD members with deep internal knowledge of the department. They range from retired LASD higher-ups who worked alongside Tanaka for years to current members of the force who are fed up with the state of the department.

No matter the departmental rank, all our sources tell us the same thing: Long before Tanaka officially inherited the No. 2 spot there were already two camps inside the Sheriff’s Department—those “in the car” with Tanaka and those on the outside. Those outside the car can be “rolled up”—meaning transferred to department backwaters—if they cross Tanaka, regardless of their performance on the job. Those in the car with Tanaka are promoted quickly and insulated from performance failures. For years, Lee Baca has, with few exceptions, granted Tanaka the power to pick and choose what supervisors get promoted and where they’re placed—even in units over which Tanaka has no formal organizational control.

Furthermore, our sources allege a pay-to-play-like promotional system headed by Tanaka—whereby donors to Tanaka’s Gardena political campaigns have moved up the ranks faster than nondonors, even when the nondonors are more qualified. Campaign finance records we acquired from Tanaka’s Gardena political campaigns through Public Records Act requests, together with internal Sheriff’s Department documents obtained by the LA Justice Report, back our sources’ contentions. Tanaka campaign donors—often with troubled or mediocre service records—have found themselves in critical supervisory positions in the department in lieu of more qualified individuals. The result of this in-crowd/out-crowd system is a department beset by violence in its jails, insubordination in its ranks and multiple federal investigations into criminal misdeeds—a large part of which, argue our sources, can be traced to Paul Tanaka’s rise.


WORKING IN THE GREY

For one of the most powerful men in Los Angeles law enforcement, Paul Tanaka keeps a remarkably low public profile. He avoids the media whenever possible, preferring to operate behind the scenes. When Baca recently gave a press conference to address media reports of uncontrolled violence within the L.A. County jail system, the sheriff stood flanked by all of his command staff—except Tanaka, who was conspicuously absent, especially considering how Baca had appointed him to lead the departmental investigation into the jail situation.

(Tanaka declined to comment for this story.)

Colleagues who have worked with Tanaka describe him as a highly intelligent man with a gift for number crunching. He’s a certified public accountant who sources say has been doing Lee Baca’s taxes for years. In 1992, ten years after joining the LASD, he scored top in his class on the department’s lieutenant’s exam. But then, because of some early clouds over his service record, under former sheriff Sherman Block, his career appeared to get stuck. Under Lee Baca, by contrast, his rise has been nothing short of meteoric.

“Baca plucked him up from obscurity,” says a source who is a contemporary of Tanaka’s in the department. “He was going nowhere under Sheriff Block.”

Tanaka’s career reportedly stalled under Block largely because of his involvement in the 1988 shooting death of Korean immigrant Hong Pyo Lee. Tanaka was one of five deputies who shot the 21-year-old 15 times after a car chase left Hong cornered at a dead-end street.

A Long Beach police officer who witnessed the shooting told investigators he “just observed the sheriffs execute somebody.”

L.A. County paid out $999,999 in a settlement with Hong’s family. Tanaka and his fellow deputies were cleared of all charges. But Block had to do major community damage control—especially after it was revealed that Tanaka had a Viking tattoo, the insignia of a controversial deputy clique that a federal judge once labeled a “neo-Nazi white supremacist gang.”

Despite the shooting and the Vikings membership, Tanaka made lieutenant thanks to his high-scoring exam. But, sources say, Tanaka’s career was dead in terms of further promotions as long as Sheriff Block was in charge.

All that changed in 1998, when Block died days before the sheriff’s election, suddenly leaving dark horse candidate Baca the winner. Tanaka had jumped on Baca’s initial long-shot campaign for sheriff early. (Sources say he managed—and continues to manage—Baca’s campaign funds.) Baca rewarded him by making him one of his top aides shortly after the election.

Within four years of Baca becoming sheriff in 1998, Tanaka went from lieutenant to chief of the Administrative Services Division—effectively running the department’s 2.4 billion dollar budget. By 2005 he was an assistant sheriff—the third most powerful position in the department.

Baca’s ascendancy to sheriff happened to correspond with Tanaka’s own political ambitions. In 1999 he was elected to the Gardena City Council—mainly with the support of the regional Asian-American community. By 2002, however, when Tanaka became a department chief, his campaign finance reports show a marked influx of donations by LASD deputies. By 2004, when he was made assistant sheriff, Tanaka had dozens of deputies and supervisors—and in some cases, their family members—on his donor rolls, helping him raise more than $100,000. He was elected mayor of Gardena in 2005.

But despite his intelligence and political acumen, sources say, Tanaka has a fondness for vulgarity and tough-guy swagger. “Everything with Paul is ‘fuck this’ or ‘fuck that,” says a former LASD higher up. “The guy has an extremely short fuse.”

Tanaka is known for telling deputies to “work in the gray”—a phrase that essentially translates to “do whatever it takes” to hook ’em and book ’em.

“If we know there are drugs in a house, but we don’t have a warrant,” explains one deputy who worked under Tanaka, “‘working the gray’ would mean manufacturing a reason to search the house. We could say we were responding to a complaint of a domestic disturbance, or that we personally heard a disturbance. Whatever it takes to get inside that house and get the job done.”

Tanaka has repeated this advice even at the department’s most troubled stations. In 2005, Century Station was struggling with violence stemming from the resurgence of a deputy gang known as the Regulators. As supervisors struggled to deal with the rogue deputies, Tanaka visited the station and gave his “work the gray” speech. He then went on to tell the assembled deputies—“I don’t think much of Internal Affairs.”

“That is not the kind of thing a supervisor should tell a station like Century,” says a former supervisor with knowledge of the situation. “For their own protection, these deputies need to be taught to respect IA.”

Interestingly, despite his cowboy attitude, most people we interviewed described Tanaka as “deputy five”—a supervisor who talks a tough game but doesn’t have the track record to back it up. Tanaka did his patrol time at Carson Station—not considered a hotbed of action.

Tanaka did work at Lennox—a renowned tough-guy station—as a lieutenant. But, says one retired supervisor who worked under Tanaka for years: “He was behind a desk. He’s spent almost his whole career at headquarters. I’ve never seen a guy rise as far as he has in the department without moving around.”

His insulation from the day-to-day realities of deputy work failed to strip him of his cowboy notions about how the job needs to be done.

“He lives vicariously through his deputies,” says a supervisor. “He never got the chance to work a serious patrol. So he has no idea what constitutes good police work.”


THE SMOKING CLUB

In a back courtyard of the COPS Bureau at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department headquarters building in Monterey Park sits a quiet area reserved for LASD personnel. (COPS oversees federally funded community policing teams and other specialized units.) Technically you could call the area a smoking patio, but the space is not your typical civil servant’s break room. The patio is tented and climate controlled, complete with a refrigerator, a sink, a barbeque island and an elaborate cigar-smoking section. Sources say its construction cost upward of $25,000.

But there’s a catch. Not all members of the Sheriff’s Department are allowed access to this pleasantly appointed enclave. Since its construction sometime in 2008, the patio has reportedly been reserved exclusively for friends and allies of Paul Tanaka.

“I would classify the patio as an executive meeting space,” says LASD spokesman Captain Mike Parker. “Can any member of the department hang out at the patio? No. But they wouldn’t have access to an executive meeting room either.”

But there’s more to the patio than simple executive privilege. There’s only one entrance to the smoking patio—directly through the COPS Bureau captain’s personal office. To use the facility, sheriff’s deputies need a unique coin—known as a “challenge coin”—or someone with a coin must accompany the deputy. Each of these coins is presented to the bearer by Tanaka himself. The LA Justice Report has obtained photographs of the smoking club coins from two different sources. The front bears the emblem of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, bracketed by the words “Ramona Blvd. Smoking Patio.” The back features a picture of a cigar wrapped in a leaf, encircled by the names of various LASD divisions.

Tanaka gives out these coins to only a selected few, and each coin is serially numbered, in part, so no forgeries can be made, but mostly to emphasize the special nature of the talismans. They are earned, say sources, through loyalty to Paul Tanaka.

“I can’t prove it, but from what I’ve observed, there are two ways to get ahead in this department,” says retired LASD commander Bob Olmsted. “The official way is the civil service way of solid performance reviews, expected performance and various forms of testing. The real way is to become a ‘Tanaka boy’—by volunteering and donating to his campaign and smoking cigars with his inner circle.”

The LA Justice Report sat down with one LASD supervisor who donated and was among roughly 40 volunteers working on one of Tanaka’s Gardena political campaigns at the behest of a friend in the department. (Our source asked we not mention the year he volunteered, nor his name or rank, for fear of being identified. But we were able confirm his name among the political donor rolls for the year in question.)

“Tanaka was a rising star in the department,” says the supervisor. “It was understood that volunteering would be good for our careers.”

Although there is no airtight pattern of cause and effect, the supervisor, his friend and several other campaign contributors were given choice assignments within the department within a year of their donations.

The LA Justice Report has obtained Paul Tanaka’s campaign finance statements dating back to his early days as a Gardena city councilman in 1999. They reveal a number of disturbing trends. For instance, in 2004, in the run-up to his first mayoral election, Tanaka had a banner year in fundraising—pulling in more than $42,500 from members of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. Since that time, the majority of those donors have been promoted or given plum positions, like that of the Sheriff Baca’s driver, a Tanaka-controlled post that brings with it substantial monetary rewards in overtime pay, and is considered a surefire springboard to better things. Several of the larger donors have seen particularly dramatic rises in their careers.

Christopher Nee, the lieutenant who told Casey Bald “I work for Paul Tanaka,” has been donating generously to Tanaka’s campaign since June 2002—when he gave $500 as a deputy. Two years later he was a sergeant—and donated $900. He made lieutenant soon after and was placed inside CJ.

Sources say Nee was never punished for his 2006 insubordination against Bald. In fact, in the months that followed, Paul Tanaka himself visited the jail to speak with Clark and Bald.

“Leave these deputies alone,” Tanaka explicitly told them, in reference to the deputy cliques whose growing influence—and violence—Clark was attempting to stifle. When Bald attempted to justify the need for a crackdown, citing the obvious violations of code, Tanaka reportedly shouted him down. Clark and Bald were transferred out of the jail to lesser assignments soon after. Nee, meanwhile, was allowed to stay on inside CJ, and worked under Clark’s replacement, then-Captain Bob Olmsted (now retired). Nee was later transferred as a lieutenant to the personnel department—a powerful position that makes one extremely useful to higher ups, because of the ease of obtaining information from various divisions throughout the department. He was recently promoted to captain.

Bald, meanwhile, who has never donated to Tanaka’s campaign, languishes as a lieutenant in the court services division.

Loyalty is more important to Tanaka than competence, says a retired LASD higher-up, thus Tanaka acolytes are often placed in positions for which they are unsuited. “That way they come to him when they run into problems, and he gets to micromanage every situation in the department.”

The effect of this leadership style, the source tells us, has been amplified in recent years as Tanaka has effectively taken control of nearly all major promotions within the department.

“The chiefs have no input at all [in promotions]. These days, qualified is the last thing on the board. Paul has the first and final say-so. … That creates a morale problem, because the deputies know what’s going on. They know their division chiefs have no juice.

“You never used to see deputies involved in department politics,” the source continues. “Now, as soon as guys get on the force they start asking, ‘How do I get in Tanaka’s car?’”


IN CROWD/OUT CROWD

Nee is certainly not the only member of the department with a less-than-perfect track record who has seen his pay grade boosted in the wake of a campaign donation—and has been insulated from the standard repercussions of poor job performance. Former CJ captain Dan Cruz, who, thus far, has been the highest-ranking member of the department to be put on leave in relation to the recent jails scandal, is among Tanaka’s campaign donors and someone whose promotions the undersheriff has shepherded.

As the LA Justice Report previously reported, Tanaka promoted Cruz and then installed him as captain of CJ in April 2008. He arrived at the job with a troubled supervisory past. As a lieutenant at Lennox Station in Inglewood several years earlier, Cruz’s boss, Commander Ralph Martin, and Martin’s boss, LASD field operations Region II Chief Ronnie Williams, pushed hard to get Cruz transferred out of their area because he was as much as 18 months behind in investigating citizen complaints (called “watch commander service comment reports” or SCR’s) against the station. A source describes “at least three massive boxes of complaints” piled on his desk.

Cruz was transferred to what was universally known as a “dead end” job inside the department at the Facility Services Bureau. Coming from a high-profile station like Lennox, this was a major punishment. And yet, less than a year later, in fall 2006, he was rescued by Paul Tanaka and installed as operations lieutenant of Men’s Central Jail—second in charge under Olmsted.

Less than two years later, Dan Cruz was running Men’s Central Jail.

“When we saw Cruz made captain,” says a former supervisor who knew Cruz from his Lennox days and was surprised by his sudden sprint up the promotional ladder, “all of us thought the same thing—it sure must be nice riding in Tanaka’s car.”

Just as at Lennox, problems arose almost immediately under Cruz’s watch. In 2009, after two years of steady decline, deputy-on-inmate force incidents jumped from 273 to 330. Force packages and complaints again started to pile up.

The troubling rise in violence inside CJ prompted an investigation by Cruz’s supervising officer, Bob Olmsted, by then the Custody Division commander—who had a lieutenant pull 30 force reports at random that were in various stages of oversight. A second lieutenant, Mark McCorkle, analyzed them. Of that group of 30, 18 uses of force were questionable in nature and conceivably fell outside department policy. And yet, all were either signed off on or were on the verge of being cleared.

Olmsted says he took McCorkle’s findings up the chain of command to Custody Chief Dennis Burns, Assistant Sheriff in charge of custody Marvin Cavanaugh, and Paul Tanaka. No action was taken.

In fact, sources say, Cruz only became more emboldened. When one of Cruz’s lieutenants came to Cruz relaying directions from Olmsted, the captain allegedly recited his own version of Christopher Nee’s message: “I don’t work for fucking Olmsted, I work for Paul Tanaka.”

As it happens, public records show, right around the time Olmsted began to ramp up his criticism of Cruz, the CJ captain made two very timely donations to Paul Tanaka’s political campaign—on December 18, 2008, and on January 6, 2009.

Could these donations have been a contributing factor to why Cruz was never reprimanded by Tanaka for his performance inside CJ? Sources claim that they were. As evidence, they point to the way Cruz’s exit from the jail was handled.

In the fall of 2010, Olmsted’s insistence that CJ was out of control under Dan Cruz finally forced Tanaka to investigate what was happening. Up until that time Tanaka had been relying almost exclusively on Cruz’s word that all was well at the facility. Tanaka sent his close ally and longtime campaign donor, Duane Harris, into the jail to lead an investigation. Harris came back 10 days later with a report that found Cruz culpable for the escalating violence in the jail—which, in turn, forced Tanaka’s hand in transferring the captain from his post.

Bob Olmsted says he met with Tanaka to plan Dan Cruz’s exit strategy from CJ. Olmsted says he was surprised to find that the plan was not to punish Cruz for his inaction and incompetence, but to transfer and then reward him. Cruz would be made a commander.

“Tanaka told me Cruz was ‘the only viable candidate’ he was willing to promote to commander,” says Olmsted. “And this was after he had received Harris’ report that Cruz was 100 percent at fault for what was happening in the jail. The plan was for Harris to come in as the operations lieutenant, I would be his commander, and together we’d sandwich Cruz and turn him into a viable candidate.”

Olmsted says Tanaka then ticked off a list of three candidates for commander that, for reasons he did not specify, he was unwilling to promote, under any circumstances: Ralph Webb, Joaquin Herran and Ray Leyva.


THE LAWSUIT

As it happens, both Leyva, who ran Men’s Central Jail in 2003 and 2004, and Herran are suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for what they allege is discrimination and unfair practices in its promotional system.

“Based on our investigation,” says Herran and Leyva’s lawyer, Bradley Gage, “it appears that Tanaka is at the heart of most Sheriff’s Department actions. Officially, Baca runs this department. Unofficially it’s Tanaka. And he appears heavily involved in the retaliation against the plaintiffs.”

Both Leyva and Herran are still active members of the force and, due to the pending lawsuit, are not authorized to speak to the media. But Gage told the LA Justice Report that in 2004 it was Leyva who, even prior to Clark, proposed the concepts of shift and assignment rotations as antidotes to the growing problem of violent deputy cliques inside the jail. In response to his reform efforts, Gage says, Leyva was summarily “rolled up” and transferred to the Pitchess Detention Center—a major demotion—where he has remained ever since.

In 2006, when John Clark followed up on Leyva’s recommendations for reform and instituted assignment rotation, Tanaka reversed his strategies and Clark too was “rolled up.”

Gage says that Leyva has been passed over for promotion 58 times since his transfer to Pitchess—the most in the department.

“In a normal situation, you’d really have to be incompetent to be passed over that many times for promotion,” says a former LASD higher-up with knowledge of Leyva’s situation. “That’s not Ray Leyva. He’s being punished.”

Indeed, as Bob Olmsted’s conversation with Tanaka suggests, Leyva is on a blacklist. The question is why.

Sources point to the fact that Leyva ran for sheriff against Baca in the last election.

“You have a constitutional right to run for office,” says one LASD insider. “But not in the sheriff’s department. You run against the sheriff, that’s the kiss of death.”

Gage agrees that the election may be a factor: “There’s always the possibility that Baca wants to punish those who exercise their constitutional democratic rights.” But he had more to say about the LA Justice Report’s findings that there is an in-crowd/out-crowd dynamic in the Sheriff’s Department—centered on Paul Tanaka.

“I have seen some documents of certain people who were promoted over the years who have contributed money. Other people who have not contributed have been passed over. That does raise concerns that a pay-to-play scenario is going on.

“You take that,” says Gage, “and then you include the coin to get in the smoking club—which has become a private fiefdom for Tanaka and his cohorts. It sends the wrong message.”

Gage’s legal complaint cites ten captains who were promoted to commander ahead of Leyva and Herran in 2009 and 2010. Of that ten, the LA Justice Report has identified six who have donated to Tanaka’s various campaigns: Jaques La Berge, Buddy Goldman, Jack Jordan, Thomas Martin, Eric Parra and Daryl Evans.

As yet a more striking example, sources point to the case of James Lopez, chief of field operations Region II.

In 2009, Lopez was Paul Tanaka’s most generous campaign donor—giving $1,000 on February 2, which is the maximum allowed by Gardena city law. He was transferred to a choice position inside Sheriff’s Headquarters and promoted to chief shortly thereafter—despite an underwhelming supervisory performance record that sources say rivals Dan Cruz’s.

In 2004, Lopez was the captain of the Century Station in Lynwood, which was struggling to get a handle on a troublesome Viking-like gang of deputies who called themselves the Regulators.

“The whole point of the Regulators was to find supervisors who were weak and walk all over them,” says a retired LASD supervisor with experience at Century Station.

As had happened inside CJ, force packages and watch commander service reports were not being investigated in a timely fashion while Lopez led Century. Internal sheriff’s documents obtained by the LA Justice Report show that, in 2004, of the 40 closed investigations into deputy misconduct at Century under Lopez’s watch, eight had been allowed to sit for more than a year. Included among those eight were one allegation of excessive force and another complaint that a deputy had lied on the witness stand during a trial.

“If you lie under oath, that’s a violation of the Brady Law,” says a retired LASD supervisor with knowledge of the problems at Century. “You’re never allowed to testify again. And if you can’t testify, you can’t be in law enforcement. This deputy got a free pass.”

In a legal deposition taken from Lopez in 2006, obtained by the LA Justice Report, Lopez admitted to being lax on completing SCRs. In one case, Lopez left a pile of SCRs in his car for weeks or months, making it impossible for one of his subordinates to complete them in a timely fashion.

When asked in the deposition if he had taken too long to sign off on SCRs at Century, creating a backlog that reflected poorly on his subordinates, Lopez answered, “Probably in retrospect, too long on my behalf, on my action.”

When Ronnie Williams was made chief of field operations Region II, the swath of LASD territory that includes Century Station, he told all the station heads under his umbrella that captains who let internal investigations sit for more than a year would be disciplined. Williams was good to his word. In November 2004, Lopez was given a written reprimand over his stalled SCRs, a sanction that was later deemed “founded.”

LASD spokesman Parker confirms that late SCRs are a serious business. “For a person in management with supervision over employees,” says Parker, “it is the minimum expectation that an investigation will be completed in under a year. It’s a reasonable expectation of the public that we manage this department well, and that’s one of the expectations.”

In March 2005, however, Lopez made yet another glaring supervisory error in judgment. Sources who worked Century at the time say that Lopez allowed members of the Regulators deputy gang to use the station to throw a fundraiser for a deputy who had been put on 20-day administrative leave for a laundry list of infractions—including sexual harassment, inappropriate conduct and misuse of electronic communication equipment.

“They raised more money for [this deputy] from that fundraiser than he would have made if he had been working,” says one source. “That’s not punishment. That’s a vacation. And Lopez let it happen on county property.”

Those we spoke with in the department say this is not the kind of track record that warrants fast-track promotion—especially with seasoned captains like Ray Leyva waiting in the wings. But on March 3, 2004, Lopez donated $500 to Tanaka’s mayoral campaign. Less than a year later, Lopez was promoted to commander, with full supervisory oversight over Century. He has since taken over his old boss Ronnie Williams’ job as chief of field operations Region II.


THE BILLION $ QUESTION

The question remains as to why, with the controversy surrounding the LASD, with so many of his rank-and-file pointing fingers in his undersheriff’s direction, Lee Baca has allowed Tanaka to gain—and retain—so much control in the department.

Some believe that Baca enjoys shepherding his progressive projects, like the Education-Based Incarceration program, plus his frequent trips out of the country as “Sheriff to the World”—but that he no longer wants to deal with the daily operation of running the department.

“When Baca was first elected sheriff,” explains an LASD veteran, “he would constantly hold meetings at the various stations across the department, asking what we needed. And he would make those things happen.

“But after a few years of that he seemed more interested in taking trips to the Middle East and bolstering his political career. He thinks he’s going to be governor or something.”

Others suggest that Tanaka, with his skill in financial matters, used his budget-crunching acumen to rescue the sheriff in crucial instances when a countywide budget crisis meant that the department faced huge cash-flow shortfalls, and that Baca was grateful ever after.

Still others mutter darkly that Tanaka must “have something” on the sheriff, although they offer no specifics.

In the end, no one seems able to explain definitively why Lee Baca continues to allow Paul Tanaka to control so much of the department that he was elected to lead.

Attempts to reach Baca for comment were unsuccessful as he is currently in Abu Dhabi.


BACA, TANAKA AND THE SHAPE OF DEPARTMENTAL REFORM

Removing an LASD captain from his or her duty is such a rare occurrence that most sources we spoke with cannot remember it ever happening. In the past several months, however, two Tanaka-appointed captains have been relieved of duty: Dan Cruz and Bernice Abram.

Cruz was, of course, removed while he was being investigated in connection with the jail abuse scandal. Abram, the head of Carson Station and a close ally of Tanaka who has contributed to his campaign since 2004, was relieved of duty in August after federal investigators notified sheriff’s officials that Abram’s voice may have been heard on a narcotics wiretap relating to an investigation of a Compton drug ring.

So what does all this suggest about the departmental reform—particularly of the custody division—that LASD watchers agree is so urgently needed?

LASD spokesman Parker says our sources’ concerns are overblown. “This is a department with 18,000 employees,” he says. “I’m a captain and I have never donated to Paul Tanaka’s campaign. I earned my position through hard work.”

To be sure, most of those in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are dedicated, hard working men and women who are deserving of their promotions—likely including many of those who are part of Paul Tanaka’s inner circle. Yet, the perception—and evidence— that in crucial areas of the department one man’s power and influence supersedes all else, to the LASD’s detriment, is difficult to ignore.

Three months ago, in the wake of investigations into the violent treatment of inmates by sheriff’s deputies inside the L.A. County jail system by the LA Justice Report, the ACLU, the L.A. Times and other media outlets, and by the FBI, Lee Baca promised to appoint an internal LASD investigatory panel to look into the dangerous state of the county’s jails. Baca made good on his word. On October 9 he announced that he had convened a “Special Jail Investigations Task Force” with a staff of 35 full-time deputies to get to the bottom of what was happening in his jails.

The man Baca selected to head that task force? Paul Tanaka.

Underneath Tanaka on the task force is Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo—who is Tanaka’s oldest friend in the department. The two were once deputy squad car partners. Rhambo has been generously donating to Tanaka’s campaign since 1998. Filling out the task force are commanders Eric Parra, Joseph Fennel, Christy Guyovich and James Hellmold—all of whom are longtime Tanaka campaign contributors; and all but Parra are reportedly Tanaka’s closest allies in the department.

Says one LASD supervisor of the new Tanaka-led investigative group: “It’s like sending the wolves in to figure out what happened to the henhouse.”


NOTE: Be sure also to read Chris Vogel’s excellent and horrific story in Thursday’s LA Weekly about disabled inmates being denied basic care in Men’s Central Jail.

Posted in jail, LA County Jail, LASD, law enforcement, Los Angeles County, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 57 Comments »

57 Responses

  1. Tyrone Smith Says:

    Outstanding journalism, Matt. You have hit the nail on the head with a jack-hammer. Tanaka has hurt many good people, ruined careers as a sport. His “cigar smokers” are a bunch of unethical jackals who have sold their souls just to light his cigars and clean his ashtray. Keep digging Matt, you have only scratched the surface. I hope the main stream media take your lead. THIS is why Baca has not and will not discipline Tanaka, regardless of what he has done. He cannot and will not because of the secrets of the money, and Tanaka knows it.

  2. LA Justice Report Launches Third Investigation Into LA Sheriff’s Department - FishbowlLA Says:

    [...] of the LA Justice Report’s investigation into the dangerous state of LA County’s jails is up and running. Yours truly was the author of the piece, which was published on Witness LA in collaboration with [...]

  3. sam dangeol Says:

    I am one of the inmates who has beentortured by these rouge deputies.I would love to talk to one of your reporters.I assure the facts I have will turn people on their heads.I can be reached at 818 421 0989. The collusion and coverups go all the way into the fbi.How do I know this? Well just call me to find out.Even the ACLU is guilty of collusion. If you really want to do something to stop these bastards from getting away with more or you see this country going down the toilet do call.

  4. Carmen Gonzalez Says:

    Great reporting. I am flummoxed that Baca has not stepped in himself and still chooses to rely on Tanaka. I hope this news reporting gets to the Sheriff so that his eyes can be opened to the travesty being perpetuated by Tanaka. Time for a house cleaning.

  5. Woody Says:

    “Colleagues who have worked with Tanaka describe him as a highly intelligent man with a gift for number crunching. He’s a certified public accountant who sources say has been doing Lee Baca’s taxes for years.”

    You can’t ask for better credentials!

  6. Once Proud Says:

    The information contained in the article is exceedingly accurate. The revealing of Paul Tanaka’s misdeeds is long overdue, and perhaps, the grip of fear with which he has asphyxiated the Department with his small frail hands, will come undone, The article, though well intentioned, did not dramatize the complete malaise and poor morale that has permeated the agency because of his unbreakable control.

  7. Archives Says:

    [...] with Spot.Us,  investigation, published Dec 8.   For the full version please click here.  Part Two was published Dec 1, and Part One  on Sept 16, 2011.  Readers’ [...]

  8. Once Proud Too Says:

    Matt, agree with Tyrone and Once Proud, well done! Unfortunately, what you are reporting on are only symptoms of what really ails the LASD. The real problem is Lee Baca. The reader comments questioning why Baca does not do something about Tanaka are asking the wrong questions. The question should be “What kind of manager and person is this Lee Baca, who would allow this to occur?”

    The answer is very easy to ascertain if you just do a little digging, but you need to go back…………..way back and talk to those who were around before he was Sheriff, during his first election, and during the aftermath of his “victory” over a dead guy (BTW Baca brags that he got 60% of the vote in that election……he fails to mention that a dead guy got 40!).

    You will discover an incompetent who could care less about the LASD as an organization, those who work there, and the tax-payers to foot the bill.

    With little effort you will find many Lee Baca-LASD insights such as:

    Baca was promoted to Division Chief over the STRENUOUS objections of the LASD’s ENTIRE command staff. Their objections – which were based on Lee’s incompetence as a Commander – were overruled by Sheriff Block after Gloria Molina put pressure on Block to promote a latino – in particular Lee Baca. Maybe you don’t want to touch that one, might not be the good PC that people like to hear. OK, if you don’t want to got there, there are plenty of other Baca pre-sheriff career stories that will be well-worth reporting. Just ask a few old timers.

    You might also want to look in to those who were early “insider” supporters of Baca during that first election? As you suggest with Tanaka, they were a bunch of dead-enders. People who had risen to their own level of incompetence and had no chance for further promotion under Block or any other knowledgeable Sheriff who might succeed him.

    After the election these incompetents were quickly promoted to all the top positions in the Dept and, like their boss, were in way over their heads. Those who were not in the Baca “camp” soon retired or stuck it out with clinched jaws because they were to young to retire. With very little digging you will find out what kind of “managers” took over the Department after the election. And who – like their boss – had, and as you point out still have a sliding scale of ethics.

    Speaking of ethics, you might also find that soon after Baca’s first election, he sent one of his “people” to run the Asian Crime Taskforce. Over the strenuous objections of the unit’s Captain, that person, a Deputy, would decide which cases the unit would investigate and, more importantly, which they would not. The Captain? He retired over the issue.

    You might also discover what happened to all the managerial over-sight tools that had been put in place by the Block administration. Previous Assistant Sheriff Graham had implemented many, many innovative and effective management control procedures which were quickly abandoned under the new regime. Merrick Bobb can tell you how much management oversight existed in “old days” – before cigars were so popular – and how it compares to today.

    With very little digging you will also find out how Baca liked to the tax payer’s money on some of his pet projects. How about that $800,000 he spent to build decorative fence at Pitchess Honor Ranch. The fence – which resembles the type you’d see around a thoroughbred ranch – has absolutely no security purpose. But it “looks nice.”

    And then there is the $11 million he spent at the Biscialuz Center (BC) jail where he wanted a “showcase” drug rehabilitation project housed. He was told by Custody Division management that the inefficient BC was not suited for such a project – the cost per inmate was already the highest of all the jail facilities and the staff-intense project would only sky-rocket costs. The Sheriff would not take no for an answer and the money was spent. The program? DOA after just a few years. The facility with all of it’s “upgrades”? Torn down.

    Or how about Baca’s desire build another showcase facility at the Pitchess Honor Ranch. This one was for female prisoners who could be incarcerated in a “cottage-like” atmosphere and could raise their children at the facility. Again over the objections of the Custody command staff – this one based on the fact that moving females to Pitchess would result in astronomical by-product costs of housing females away from facilities which were properly equipped for female health services, additional transportation costs, visiting issues, liability attached to having children in a jail facility, etc. Again, “NO” was not an option. Baca’s vision? To achieve that “cottage” feel, Baca instructed staff to have window boxes and window-shutters installed. He also designated his sister – a civilian who had NO idea about jail matters – to be the decorator/architect. Amount of money spent on the facility?? Millions. The facility? Never used.

    You might also find out about the visits your article mentions where visited various LASD units during his early tenure as Sheriff. The true story of those visits?? He made the visits alright, and LASD personnel found a great vehicle to tell the boss all the things that “needed to be done.” Some of the suggestions were of reasonable and of benefit to the organization, but most of it were typical of what you might get when employees such a sky-is-the limit question. Baca’s response was typically “Great idea. We’ll do it.” and, in the presence of the audience, direct managers to see that it was done. Because of the ridiculous nature of many of these directives, most were ignored because staff knew that Baca was never going to ask about them again. They knew that Baca was only interested in standing in front a group and appearing to be the benevolent ruler he envisioned himself to be. They knew that he would be happy to move on the next facility and “grant” the wishes of his underlings.

    You might also find about the Captain Baca hand-picked to run his cherished “Leadership” training. Now that was a sorted-affair, involving an affair with a staffer and the very questionable “suicide” by the Captain’s wife with the Captain’s gun. That Captain? Retired before the media got wind of it. That’s what Captains Cruz (no surprise there) and Abram (frankly, a surprise) should have done.

    I could go on and on about the real problem that the is the root-cause of the problems at the LASD, but my old fingers are getting tired and I need to go take a nap.

    But you youngsters can help fix what is wrong with a once proud organization. You just need to start kicking over a few OLD rocks to get the real story. There are plenty of old LASD insiders who are sick of what has happened to “our” Department and who have some great LASD Lee Baca management war-stories to share. Not to worry, tell your editor that the effort only involves the picking low-hanging fruit which will tell the Lee Baca story.

    Signed, Once Proud Too- but not to old to care.

  9. CARONE1033 Says:

    How can an expereiced major executive of a several billion dollars a year public entity shield behind, His people were keeping bad news from him? What a profound statement about anyone who is a top manager that is! How can he have as his second in command, a succession of more than one questionably respected and uninspiring assistants since his assumption of power in late 1999? Why do they get these lofty positions then? How can this man come to his executive offices and not see the audacity of having the equivilent of a cheap private smoking club errected on his public premises’ back patio? Moreover disregard the appearance, and message, of this to other employees including jail deputies who are not suppose to linger together after working hours. Do as we say and not as we do? Tatoo’s are bad? The “Ramona Patio” Smoking Club coins are good? As many of us understand, Challenge Coins are to exemplify pride. This tent hardly qualifies?

    I feel very bad for ALL the focused, hardworking 99%’ers on the LASD that are sufferening with this current news. Hang in there everyone of you. This “baring” the Department’s backside may be the very best thing to return your Department back to where it’s suppose to be. Let’s hope so.

  10. Frito Says:

    OK, so old racist cops are against Baca. Anyone else?

  11. Jane Doe Says:

    There is much more.

  12. Tyrone Smith Says:

    Matt, if the donation documents you obtained are public documents, can you scan them into a PDF file and generate a link that your readers can download and review? This is public information, correct? Again, great report.

  13. Anon Says:

    This is a great article and is right on the money.
    LASD’s dirty little secrets and the truth is finally out.
    Funny how Bob Faturechi of the LAT has been slamming Baca, when the truth is, Tanaka’s boys have been feeding the Times dirt all along as part of their move to get Baca out of Tanaka’s way. What will Faturechi write about now?

  14. Captain Obvious Says:

    I’m pretty sure it’s Baca’s job to know what is going on in his department. When he says “I didn’t know” isn’t he saying that he didn’t do his job? Even if we take his word for it that he didn’t know, what does that say about him that one of his underlings was able to pull the wool over his eyes for so long? Do the citizens of LA County not deserve a Sheriff who is a little sharper than that? If Baca isn’t intelligent enough to realize when his underlings are attempting to “handle” him, he is not intelligent enough to have that job.

  15. ILEFTANDNEVERLOOKEDBACK Says:

    This loose cannon – Mr. Tanaka- has discredited and DESECRATED not just the badge but also the soul and heart of many hard-working deputies who put themselves on the line everyday. I can confidently say that Matt’s report bears no exaggeration. Though I must admit that I’m still sore about a few years ago having to “donate” a hundred dollars, upon Mr. Tanaka’s order, to a retirement fund that Mr. Tanaka had set up for his buddy who retired as a division chief so that Tanaka can buy this buddy a Harley Davidson.
    That in itself is no different that the mafia boss strong-arm the underlings to bear money and gifts and rule with fear.
    And your honor and loyalty to your friends can be proven by how quickly in front of the media you disassociated yourself from your close friend Bernice Abram.
    Your house of cards is falling, Mr. T! You may feel so invincible and untouchable that you act as if have to be accountable to anyone else, but someday you will have to face your maker, and hopefully some day in this life time, when you look at the man in the mirror, you will see your true self looking back.

  16. Retired Commander Says:

    “Once Proud” and “Ileft…..’ have it on the money. It is truly amazing how accurate this report is. As a retired person I get calls weekly from those still working asking how they can effect a change. Until now I have not known how to help them or how bad the problem is. There are those of us retired talking to each other and are willing to provide as much information as it takes to get them both indicted. I bet the same person that Bernice Abrams had been “in bed” with has also given money to the department, drug money. She was one of those who attempted to collect money from Deps at Carson who didn’t even know the retiring Chief under penalty of failing to permote.
    Congrats to Matt Fleischer. You accomplished what many other reporters in the past 8 years have not. Now let’s get them to hell out.

  17. Retired Sgt. Says:

    I was an aide to Sheriff Block’s Under Sheriff, Robert Edmonds. The U/S’s job is to run the department, through the assistant Sheriff’s and down the chain of command. What Tanaka is doing is to isolate Baca from whats really going on.

    I have a brother-in-law who is still working at a station in Region III. He was on the Sgt’s promotional list but no one from Region I or III got promoted. Only Tanaka’s boys from Region II. If you can get a list of promotions it will show Reg. II always has more promotions than the rest of the dept.

    It really is a shame how far down the dept. has gone under Baca. It was truly a great dept. to work for, now I am glad I am gone. Oh ya, you need to look into Baca’s domestic violence case after hitting his wife. I hear he got that record sealed….

  18. Eliot Ness Says:

    Amazingly accurate as stated with no exaggeration at all. Some may think this is not possible or just the typical complaints of disgruntled employees both past and present. These statements have also been made by those loyal to Tanaka who recognize that it is only by blind allegiance will they succeed on the department under his rule.

    This “Tanaka” rank by loyalty structure can most accurately be described as organized crime. There are nine rank levels on the Sheriff’s department from Deputy to Sheriff and Paul T. has absolute control over who moves through those levels. Imagine, once you are “appointed” to Captain, you are a “made man”. I say appointed because there is no testing process, no interview and no oversight for this so called promotion. I say “made man” because suddenly, huge financial rewards are lavished upon Captain and above that do not exist at the lower ranks of Lieutenant, Sergeant or Deputy. These huge financial rewards are hidden in medical and benefits plans called “Megaflex” and in company cars that are filled with tax payer gas.

    The Tanaka damage that has rained down from above has now become systemic. This is due to his control and manipulation of assignments and promotions. Deputies promote to Sergeant and then Lieutenant through a testing, interview and appraisal process. The Captains (loyal to Tanaka) have absolute control over the appraisal process. Even if a poor tester (less than competent) is placed on a less than desirable list (referred to as “Band Two”), that underachiever can be hand picked from that list by Tanaka and promoted over more competent individuals.

    Many of us now work with these Tanaka loyalists that completely rely on their relationship with “Paul” in order to function. Some of these relationships go back to when “Paul” was in high school with the likes of Bernice Abrams. Paul is also very fond of his relationships formed in Lenox.

    We can only hope that these lawsuits that have been filed by some brave individuals will succeed in taking all promotional processes out of the hands of Paul Tanaka. Too much damage has already been done and it will take the department well beyond my retirement to heal. That healing really should start by controlling the organized crime boss that continues to inject his poison into the ranks of our department.

    I think it’s all because he is like five feet tall. Imagine, the shortest Sheriff in Los Angeles County history.

  19. Insider Says:

    Besides the executive “Coin” only patio at SHQ, you should also look at the membership roster of City Club on Bunker Hill. The FBI would probably also be interested….

  20. Once Proud Says:

    There is little criminal, but much compromised about what’s going on under Mr. T and his minions…with the known exception perhaps of the Asian campaign money coming out of the San Gabriel Valley. The rumor of the contribution game goes something like this. A donor who wants access is willing to contribute a large donation, say, $50,000. This would be illegal because the amount a single donor can give is very restricted. Mr. T would find several personnel on the Department willing to donate smaller sums, perhaps $1,000. The smaller donations would be accepted, but the large donor would covertly reimburse each of the smaller donors, effectively making his large dollar contribution. That wouldn’t be hard to uncover. Are you listening FBI?
    There’s likely a similar game being played in the Gardena mayoral campaign!

    A great place to start would be with a City of Industry businessman, Mr. Duc Huong. He is perhaps the most powerful person on the Department, who was never actually hired!,,,

  21. Brad GAge Says:

    anyone with evidence of Baca or Tanaka discriminating against or retaliating against members of the dept, I am interested in that .

  22. Current dep Says:

    You losers are just mad cause you aren’t in the car. The department promotes region II deps cause they see more and deal with the most violent and busy areas in the department, therefore are more qualified to promote than a walnut Deputy with 10 years on EM’s. Stop whining. If you weren’t a lazy turd you would get promoted and get good jobs and get recognized by Tanaka. He rewards hard working people whose number one priority is going 10-8 and fighting evil daily. If you aren’t doing that, then you will work at your region III station your whole miserable career.

  23. Retired LASD Commander Says:

    Traditionally, the jails have been staffed with young, relatively new deputies. At this stage of their careers, the men and women feel a tremendous need to prove their “metal” not to their supervisors but to their peers. Every single deputy works at being considered “good backup”. It is also where newly promoted supervisors are sent. The newest of supervisor having recently been at the lower rank relates more to the lower rank than to the new one. They are generally eager to prove their skill/ability/courage to their subordinates. Frequently they do so by being “one of the boys”. Usually the tendency subsides and maturity is achieved over time. There is a need for the wisest and sagest of supervisors (Sgt. And Lts.) to be assigned at the jail. The current situation seems to completely intimidate the greenest of supervisors

    In the Part I article, the whistle blower gave examples of where management decisions were not supported at the highest level (Undersheriff). When that happens even one time, any attempt to control and manage personnel is lost. Complicating the circumstance in L. A. County jail is the perception (or the reality) that the Undersheriff has made it a practice to identify his “boys” in many parts of the department including internal affairs. Once the Undersheriff undercut an MCJ Captain, all semblance of control was lost. The deputies had a direct and more effective line of communication with the U/S than with the managers. His trust was perceived as greater with the line level than with management. Ironic because the managers were frequently those he appointed. U/S Tanaka has a reputation for forming alliances with individuals and “taking care of” those with whom those alliances exists. A common term among the rank and file in describing Sheriff employees is, “Oh he/she is one of Tanaka’s boys.”

    The Sheriff is not as diabolical as Tanaka but equally at fault. The Sheriff suffers from a “Gandhi Complex”. He seems to believe that he has the last and final insight to the nature of man. He further conducts business in a manner that suggests he believes that no matter the flaw in the individual he can fix it. He has been warned by many over the years about the antics of U/S Tanaka. But whether Sheriff Baca is beholden to Tanaka because Tanaka is his accountant or he just does not see Tanaka the way most others on the department see him is unknown. Tanaka has influenced promotions, budget, assignments, discipline and many other aspects of the department to the degree that many of the good and solid employees are just counting the days until they can retire. It is also acknowledged somewhat universally that U/S Tanaka is bright and ambitious. Since it is believed that he is the Heir apparent to the position of Sheriff, it seems useless to try and influence change. Many who would otherwise be better leaders have taken the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em attitude.”

    Part I of the article basically calls attention to the immaturity at the deputy level and could also be equated with lowering standards for hiring. The issue of maturity is also related to the promotion of U/S Tanaka. His rise from Sgt. To U/S is unprecedented and without a doubt occurred so fast that he has never had time to mature into the jobs the he has held. He is still relating at the deputy level and exercising power that he is far too immature to hold. U/A Tanaka was at one time involved in a deputy gang, Vikings, at Lynwood station. He has not apparently risen from that level of maturity even though he holds the second highest office in the Department.

  24. Jakal Says:

    Hey “Current dep”: Keep drinking the Kool-ade and sniffing your own fumes. Your comments reflect exactly the immaturity and blind allegiance that is the problem within LASD that this article has exposed.

  25. The truth hurts Says:

    How will this article help to effect change if it remains unseen by the public at large? The issues you describe are true nd well known throughout the department but yet still nothing is one about them. If employees stood together maybe they could effect some type of change against the wrong doings of Tanaka and others. However, this will never happen because in the end people are concerned about themselves and their individual careers even if they know it is morally wrong to jump in the car with Tanaka. I have seen many people I thought were hard, honest workers jump in that car when offered leaving their morals at the curb.

  26. Insider Says:

    I have not jumped ship and will not. I love the Sheriff’s Department and I am saddened to acknowledge the corruption. Where is Alads, Popa, the unions to support the working deputy, silent, Wow !This has been going on for years and everyone just turn their cheek and accepted it. Without s doubt this was wrong, all of you that stood by and allowed this to continue, should be ashamed of yourself, me included.

  27. Insider Says:

    Brad,

    You need more, Ray is a great man and has been totally screwed, But I have much more…..

  28. Jerry Lewis Says:

    Paul Tanka sounds just like a fat guy at the LA County Probation Department.

  29. Interested Observer Says:

    Q: Where is ALADS and PPOA in all this?
    A: 1) Most board members are on the LASD payroll and still loyal to the administration. They may bark occasionally, but won’t bite the hand that feeds them.
    2) No one in this discussion has mentioned the other layer of protection that the LASD top brass has. It’s called the “Office of Independant Review”. This group of attorneys has been put in place to insulate, deflect blame and advance the LASD top brass’ interests by heading off problem issues, finding scapegoats and feining reform initiatives. They are a step ahead of the unions who are no match for these guys and the department’s deep pockets.

  30. Lost Faith Says:

    Funny how Sheriff Baca placed suggestion boxes at all LASD facilities. Yet, none of his deputies, sergeants, lieutenants or professional staff ever make any suggestion on how to deal with the problems he is facing. One plausible answer is that the existence of the suggestion boxes is a ploy to show how much Baca “cares” about his employees, and his employees know about it. The second possible answer is that his employees totally lost faith in the current leadership since Baca is no longer accessible to them. The further U/C Tanaka shielded the Department’s day-to-day operations from his boss, the more Sheriff Baca lost touch with reality. Baca blindly trusted U/S Tanaka to the point of deleric of duty. The second in command, U/S Tanaka, ran the department to the ground while Baca traveled the world and enjoyed the perks or freebees offered by people who want to take advantage of the badge, which is paid with the blood and sweat of his deputies. Within a few years, Baca litterally gave away the badges to his “rich and famous” reserved deputies. Recently, Baca wasted manpower and money on frivolous complaints made by his rich clients. He ordered Major Crimes Bureau detectives to conduct criminal investigations, which had already been handled by another police agency. I remembered the LA times had an article about Baca accepting perks from his rich clients such as free trips, free hotel stays, gifts, and recognitions at various Black tie events. If U/S Tanaka is half way competent as a manager (he does not need to be a leader), the Department would not be in this predicament today. Tanaka filled important positions within the Department with a bunch of “yes-men” and people with integrity issues. For example, his lieutenant lied to the POST inspector after helping a family member cheated on the test at the Sheriff’s academy. The Department almost lost the ability to run the academy. The same lieutenant was later demoted to the rank of Sergeant, but he was quickly saved by Tanaka. He went to Carson Station as the Operations Sergeant, a position which is highly sought after by other sergeants. Guess what, he worked for Bernice Abram, another loyal follower of U/C Tanaka. People often say, “birds of the same feathers, flock together.” There is no way Sheriff Baca could say he did not see the problems. Just look at the questionable issues arose with the kind of people being promoted by his second in command.
    In the most recent event, Baca first spoke with the inmates at Men’s Central Jail. A week later, he ordered his deputies to attend a briefing with him so he could talk to them. Well, the deputies did not show up. This is the result of U/S Tanaka’s misdeed long ago. When Captain Clark and Lieutenant Bald wanted to change the culture of 3000 Floor, they obtained approval from now retired Chief Sammy Jones to rotate assignments of deputy personnel. Some rogue deputies resisted and skipped the chain of command by voicing their concerns to Tanaka. In response, U/S Tanaka called for a meeting with the jail deputies. At the meeting, Tanaka “kicked out” all command staff and even the operations deputies. He held a closed door meeting with “his” deputies and elected to verbally counsel Captain Clark and Lieutenant Bald for doing their job. In essense, Tanaka instilled the disrespect and implicitly ratified the deputies’ misconduct when he allowed them to skip the chain of command. Let’s get back to Baca’s recent meeting with the deputies, he lost face when they didn’t show up, so the next best thing he could do is to mass punish the deputies with his standing order to close MCJ’s gym. It is really sad to say that I’m a member of this organization. I will continue to do what I had sworn to do, “to protect and serve the citizens of Los Angeles County.” I hope Baca reads some of these comments, and change the way the Department do business. I, however, won’t hold my breath too long. At the next election, I’ll exercise my constitutional rights by voting for Baca’s challenger, because I truly lost faith in the current leadership. I hope I don’t face the punishment that Baca did to other Department members for exercising their constitutional rights

  31. Sarge. Says:

    Love the Department and what it represents and its core. Respect and live by our Core Values. Go back to the basics and we can survive and rebuild. What took so long.

  32. A Deputy Says:

    I think it’s worth noting that virtually all of the criticism, and all of the investigations we’re currently aware of, deal with department executives and specific units (Custody, specifically MCJ), that have little to do with the other 15,000 or so people on the department, including the department’s primary focus: patrol. There are no widespread allegations of department-wide abuse, or racism, or evidence tampering, etc. Nothing that would merit a consent decree or federal intervention. While leadership changes may be in order, while there may be weeds and cancers to remove, the organization is far stronger than the Sheriff, or Tanaka, or any of the problem managers, all of whom are temporary. I think this reporting and dialogue is great. It shows that the department members and community are stronger than its leaders, as should be the case.

    As an aside, while I wasn’t around when Sheriff Baca took office, I have had occasion to meet him four times since coming on the department. On each occasion he shook my hand, said “Nice to meet you” or something to that effect, and by the time I went to make eye contact with him, he was already looking over my shoulder to find some more flesh to press. Obviously this has told me, and reinforced each time, that he’s moved beyond the men and women who work for him. And, as evidenced by all these issues, he’s apparently moved beyond the problems they experience, problems they suffer and problems they cause.

  33. Tom Smith Says:

    I worked for the Sheriff’s Department for more than 39 years and personally witnessed the current corruption. All of the comments about Baca,and Tanaka are true. Their unethical behaviors make ex-Sheriff Corona look like a boy scout. Recently retired Undersheriff Waldie is just as guilty as Tanaka and I’m calling on the FBI to do their job and stop this corruption. The promotion process under this Sheriff is totally based upon “being in the car”, not your work. They haven’t improved the lives of the citizens of Los Angeles County, but they have improved their lives…I will work with anyone who wants to know the truth…

  34. Close to Retirement Says:

    to A Sarge Says;
    With all due respect Sarge, the Core Values is a Baca idea. I say we go back to before that and just do what we are supposed to do;
    1- Protect life
    2- Protect property
    3- Prevent crime

    We also need to raise our hiring standards to pre-Bowman Decision levels. The decision was meant to raise the female deputy numbers, but Baca went way overboard extended the premise beyond just women. We ended up hiring these thugs and lazy kiss-off artists.

    After that, everything else will fall into place.

  35. Observer Says:

    Great investigating and accurate reporting! Matt you are a beacon of light exposing the ugly and dark side of the department. We want to be proud of our Department once again and we know there needs to be change, not only at the top but several levels below the Sheriff. I hope your story will be the start of positive change. Like Tyrone Smith, I request that you make public the list of donations to Tanaka. I think my Captain, a close friend of Tanaka, contributed along with his family. This could be the only logical explanation for him ever making Captain. He brags about his friendship with “Paul” to intimidate not only his deputies and sergeants but also even his superiors, a Chief and Commander. This Captain does whatever he wants, to whomever he wants and can get away with it as long as he is loyal to Tanaka and Tanaka is loyal to him. Matt, please keep digging.

  36. Reality Check Says:

    Close to Retirement, if it were only that simple.
    1- Protect life
    2- Protect property
    3- Prevent crime

    Baca’s agenda is a little different.
    1. Get reelected
    2. Be as PC as possible
    3. Position myself for maximum deniability

  37. John Stites Says:

    To the citizens of L.A. County, you elected Lee Baca, mostly with the APPROVAL of the media. To those who complain about the unions, PPOA and ALADS, they are also elected by their members who are on the department. The conditions existing on the department have always been there. Getting promoted has always come down to who is “in the car” rather than merit. Years ago before banding took over, the rank of Sergeant was the most honest promotion though it too was controlled to an extent. After sergeant it is all about who likes you at management level and not how you do your job. The Undersheriff has always had operational control of the department as the Sheriff is the political head. I don’t think anyone in recent years has promoted above sergeant without compromising their values and sucking it up. My opinion, but perhaps some personal soul searching is indicated. I know most of the players involved, some very well, so I do have some institutional knowledge. I was at Lynwood when the so-called “Vikings” were supposedly out of control. What a bunch of BS. No, I don’t have a tattoo nor was I loved by some deputies while there as a deputy or newly promoted sergeant. I was not a favorite of the brass either. Regardless of all of the complaints, I view LASD as still the premier law enforcement agency in the nation. If you are there and don’t, find another agency to fit your needs or fight to fix the one you’re in. I did even though it cost me promotions and career progression. All that is required is to do your job. Yes, you will be faced with adversity but that comes with the job. The question is answered when you look in the mirror. Many of you do have valid points but apparently fear reprisal so you remain unidentified. Always remember that regardless of how high you go or the fine job you do, someone is always willing to take you down often using nefarious and underhanded tactics.
    The greatest problem within LASD is untested, untrained and misguided leadership and the willingness of subordinates to undermine their leaders. Nothing special about that, it’s common throughout the world. Oh, the name I use is mine. I retired as a Sergeant in September, 2009, but would have used it if active as I did when I was there. Keep the faith. These articles will do nothing to change the scheme of things. That’s up to you. Good luck.

  38. Thomas Keach Says:

    I have just read all three articles and am really saddened to hear about all the apparent corruption now going on within the department. I retired (medically) in 1975 as a Deputy III and was always so proud of LASD as the finest law enforcement agency in the country, and so corruption free. These articles, sent to me by a retired deputy friend still living in LA make me wonder if I can ever brag about my years as a deputy again. How can the Justice Department not be investigating both Tanaka, and Baca as totally corrupt and a danger to not only the department but to the citizens of LA? I think for once I’m glad I retired and moved to Oklahoma – tornadoes and all.

  39. Timeline Says:

    Mr. Stites, I’m a little confused. You said:

    “The Undersheriff has always had operational control of the department as the Sheriff is the political head.”

    It seems U/S Tanaka had “operational control” of the LASD as Asst. Sheriff. He hasn’t been the U/S for very long at all. Larry Waldie was the U/S when the things listed in the article took place. Was Waldie just an ineffective U/S or what?

  40. I love LASD Says:

    Thank You Matt for a spot on article. I have worked for LASD for 27+ years and I am so proud of this Department. WE, the 99+% work horses of this Department, are good folks who work hard and follow the “Core Values”. That being said, the “Core Values” does not apply to the folks in the “T car”. I have seen a big changes in this Departmentin the last 15 years. The biggest change has been the quality of the supervisors being promoted. Also, Custody facilties has been a dumping ground for those who have ticked off Mr. Tanaka. It is like a revolving door and thus no consistency to figure out who the problem folks are. Please Please continue digging! I love this Department and want to see positive change. Thank you insiders for helping as well as those of you who have retired. I support your efforts and I know many many other Department members do too.

  41. Swat dog Says:

    As I’m sure you know….you’re right on the money.
    There’s another area that is fertile ground and you should really look into. The Sheriff’s Reserve program.
    The majority of reserve deputies are dedicated hard working and genuinely interested in helping their community. ….and then there is the special crowd, wealthy individuals who want a badge to gain special consideration and special treatment.
    There are “reserve deputies” that have vehicles and cell phones owned and maintained by LA County. They have a final say in which sworn deputies may transfer/work in specialized assignments within the Sheriffs Department. They cater to specific executives and take advantage of their position. It’s a travesty and probably illegal….

  42. Region II Reserve Says:

    As a reserve deputy myself, I echo the above comment by Swat dog. I bust my ass working patrol and other assignments and am just as trained and certified (frankly, probably more so) than the average deputy on the department. But circa 2006-2009 or so, there were special classes of reserves that a handful of department brass put through on their own program (generally known as the Friends of the Sheriff program, or F.O.S). These were basically donors or well-connected types who received virtually no actual, legitimate training. I don’t know if it was as extreme as the Orange County situation, but it definitely has not been adequately reported upon. In a way I think this is good because a lot of the problems are in the past and the department has enough black eyes for the time being. On the other hand, the facts should be out there, there may be some lingering issues, and frankly, in my opinion, the department as an entity (without getting into leadership questions) should be proud in having recognized, frankly, the corruption occurring within the reserve program at the time, in rectifying it as best possible within the chain of command, and in since then completely rebuilding the program.

    Regarding the F.O.S.’s: When I was in the academy, we never even saw them except for at the range, EVOC and graduation–who knows where they were or what they were doing. I seriously heard that their “classes” were held on boats in the marina and backyards in Beverly Hills–no joke. (To be fair, at least one F.O.S. wasn’t even allowed at graduation because he was too fat and someone in the chain apparently, and presumably with a culpable conscience, knew his presence would prompt questions.) When we did see them, they were a total embarrassment and it was obvious they had basically gotten a pass on everything from backgrounds to academy training to physical standards to general ethics. Everyone knew it. They cheated at the firing range, they got a pass on getting pepper sprayed, they parked in staff parking spaces while the real reserve recruits parked down the hill and hiked up like the full timers. If they got called on their conduct, one would invariably threaten to call his buddy the former undersheriff and the full time deputies generally chose the path of least resistance (as did, obviously, everyone who was still a recruit and not even hired yet). Once they got their badges and guns, a few immediately got into trouble, including one who apparently badged his way into another city’s crime scene (reported in the LA Times) because he knew the parties involved and another (possibly the same person) who bought and rigged himself up a tinted out, well-equipped Ford Police Interceptor and drove around in that doing God knows what until some other police department eventually jammed him up. No idea what ended up happening with that. Well, the state eventually got word of all these reindeer games and put it a stop to it, the academy was suspended for a few years, some of the special reserves lost their badges, a few of the middle managers responsible were transferred around, but I’m not aware of any consequences for the parties actually responsible.

    Since then, and as a real testament to the ability of the department to rebuild, the reserve application process and training program has been totally rebuilt and I don’t think this is a problem anymore. Reserve Forces Bureau is now led by a terrific captain and has a great staff with few of the apples from the past. The quality of the reserves coming into the department and working on the department, with the exception of any vestiges of the special classes mentioned above, is generally outstanding and is frankly probably superior to what’s been coming out of the full time academy. There are no more “special academies” and the current reserve academy is definitely no joke.

    I don’t know anything about reserves getting county cars or phones–I can maybe see that for very, very specific special assignments, as hard and as much as I work (for free), it’s definitely not a “car” that I’ve been invited into.

    In short, I think this issue is worth looking into–but, unlike the jails situation, I think the department has already come a very long way (which is not to say all the way) in making the necessary self-corrections.

  43. John Stites Says:

    To Timeline. Waldie had control. Just asked those who peed their pants each time he came around or called them to his office. Tanaka also had his sphere of influence and his own posse. It has apparently grown larger since his assuming the U/S position. This is the largest Sheriff’s Department in the free world. It has problems, most generated by politics as in other pulic and private entities. TO reemphasize earlier comments, it is the promotion system. Promote those who demonstrate ability, not because the fit a specific gender, ethnicity, etc. I know the courts controlled this but good leaders are still there awaiting promotion. It’s not just those who spend their weekends sucking up to the department brass at department fuctions. I don’t regret joining this agency. Again, Good luck.

  44. Retired Training Officer Says:

    I am saddened by this story, but not suprised. It seemed after Sheriff Block’s death, the Department went through a time of jousting for leadership.I worked for Mike Graham when he was a Captain and many bets were on him to eventually become Sheriff.That was not the case and eventually Sherman’s underlings were replaced with what seemed to be less experienced upper management. I retired in the late 90′s, but can tell you that I was shocked when I heard about some of the higher promotions.I worked patrol with Cecil Rhambo (didn’t he shoot two of our Deputies on search warrants, or maybe it was just one when he worked narcotics)and he was promoted to Sgt., just to get him out of the field. I also worked with Sam Jones in patrol and I can tell you that he is an honorable man and a stand-up Deputy who did the right thing, even when it wasn’t popular.I wonder why he retired as a Chief, when he should have gone higher? it is obvious to any seasoned experienced investigator, much less a newspaper investigator (which has done a very thorough and factual investigation) that an official investigation by the FBI & DOJ are warranted under these allegations. To all you men and women still out there in patrol, “keep your head down & go home safe at night.” 10-98 God Bless….

  45. Coyote Waits Says:

    The articles are accurate. The Union Reps fear Tanaka, because they have told me that they will one day work as a Deputy again and fear for their career. I have personally been denied promotions because I was busy doing my job instead of going golfing, smoking, donating money to or drinking with Paul. I did an outstanding job (per my evaluations!) for the Department, made thousands of arrests, and worked the busiest Stations ( and they are in Region 1, not 2 – check the stats you little brown noser from region 2). I WAS proud of my Department and loved teasing LAPD brass and line personnel about being #2 in Blue (in a good natured way – ALL cops are brothers – never forget that). But not any more. The corruption at my department’s highest levels has sickened me. I have seen millions wasted on frivolous projects, unnecessary trips around the world taken, brutal dictators courted, and total incompetents promoted and placed in positions where their stupid decisions have gotten people (both sworn and civilian) injured or killed, and they STILL get promoted. PLEASE FBI, take down this group of clowns that make New Orleans look like a model of honest governing. Honest Deputies and the Citizens of Los Angeles County deserve nothing less.

  46. Williewillie Says:

    There are a few people that banged heads with tanaka and survived, ask chief williams

  47. sucks Says:

    alads is a travesty. pure shamalam BS they are now able to withdraw money from my paycheck without my ever giving them permission. and, since I never filled out that “add” card, I’m not a “full” member and am not allowed to go to meetings or vote. they raise their dues without notifying us. they spend money on river trips and raging waters days and give you gifts to help you forget that we haven’t gotten jack shift for a long time. all bark no bite. pathetic used car salesmen selling snake oil.

  48. Williewillie Says:

    Bottom line if your not in the T car and try to discipline a T deputy, you get dealth with bt the little man.

  49. Firestone Says:

    Say what you will about Tanaka, love him or hate him, he likes deputies who do the lords work and take people to jail. Yeah he backs some weak non cop incompetents , but it’s always been like that at every level of supervision. The problem is when these deputies become supervisors due to loyalty to Tanaka, they think they are untouchable, even if they really never worked the field and sat as a watch deputy bragging about his tattoo.

  50. LA Justice Report Scores Major Victory For Good Government in LA County - FishbowlLA Says:

    [...] stop county managers from soliciting campaign donations from their employees was a direct result of The LA Justice Report’s investigation into LA Sheriff’s Department number 2 Paul Tanaka and donations made to his Gardena mayoral [...]

  51. Fly on the Wall Says:

    To #22. I’m a region III deputy. I bet I have more hooks than you and can investigate more complex crimes than your typical Region II, 245 or possession of a rock. Wake up and smell the coffee dude. There are much better cops out there than you. Stop hiding in someone’s car. Get out and earn it on your own.

  52. ML Says:

    Some of these comments are just ridicules. A bunch of narcissist deputy sheiriffs blaming each others for problems inside the sheriffs dept. I came in under sheirff block in the early 1980s what a great experience it was. We were unified and during the Lords work as good men and women in law enforcment. Yes Tanaka has a shady background but we deputies dont have to follow in his foot steps. cant anyone see that we have new deputies that want to use the badges as a power base to immitate the criminal element by which they grow up in. or maybe they are students of racial hate group that use tanaka to get away with violence for their own purposes. It is not just Tanaka It´s a mentallity.

  53. All lack God Says:

    GoodJob…Typical white America..Gone are the days when men were men..the bottom line is WitnessLa..Latimes..etc..cant touch those corrupted souls at.. all levels bars stars stripes circles…etc..why..because we All Lack a religious foundation..i work Norwaq station….and yes we have our share of lost souls ie Cptn..n below…HUMANS we are cruel..animals get along better…

  54. WitnessLA.com » Blog Archive » PAUL TANAKA OUT! LASD Announces Resignation/Retirement of Department’s Controversial Undersheriff Says:

    [...] Matt Fleischer first broke the news that the largely unknown Mr. Tanaka wielded a startling amount of control in the LASD, [...]

  55. WitnessLA.com » Blog Archive » Why Did LASD’s Scandal-Plagued Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Announce His Resignation: Decoding the Decision Says:

    [...] Matt Fleischer first broke the news in December 2011 that the largely unknown Mr. Tanaka wielded a startling amount of control in the [...]

  56. 10-15 Says:

    What’s the point.

  57. 10-15 Says:

    Re: #22

    So you work to get noticed by someone (tanaka) who never worked a crime car. Good job dude. It sounds like you like to ride coat tails. That’s probably why you went to region II. You must have been a part of the last group of sgts that promoted, which had a big group promoted from lnx. Must of had the cliff notes..

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