THE SHERIFF MAKES THREE CHANGES AND INSIDERS SEARCH FOR HIDDEN MEANING
reported by Matt Fleischer and Celeste Fremon
It is rumored that there may be one or two unexpected shifts in personnel in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department command staff. More on that later as we sort fact from gossip.
In the meantime, three small but interesting changes have occurred inside the department, each of which have insiders sifting through them for hidden meaning.
Change Number 1:
Last Wednesday morning, during the Sheriff’s weekly Executive Planning Council meeting, Lee Baca announced that Chief Roberta Abner, the department head who oversees Internal Affairs, the LASD’s self-investigative bureau, would now report directly to him on all matters concerning IA. This meant that top level say so over IA would effective bypass several other members of command staff—most prominently the undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Baca’s ultra powerful second in command.
For Baca to involve himself this directly with oversight of Internal Affairs was an extremely unusual move, sources inside the department told us.
According to one source, Baca’s direct oversight of IAB means he’ll be the tie-breaking vote on matters of discipline in the department–which is a responsibility with serious ramifications. “If deputy gets a pass on a bad case, Sheriff Baca now could be now be deposed to figure out why that deputy was let off easy. It opens him up to all kinds of scrutiny. I think it does show he’s taking the situation seriously.”
What made the move even more unusual was the fact that, last spring, Undersheriff Tanaka had himself taken over direct control of Internal Affairs and its companion bureau, ICIB (the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which investigates criminal matters involving department personnel).
As we reported last month in Part 4 of our ongoing Dangerous Jails series, Tanaka’s move was considered to be a power grab by many, especially since Tanaka had long been vocal about his loathing for Internal Affairs.
Weirdly a week after WitnessLA began inquiring into the matter, Tanaka handed IA back—officially anyway. Sources inside the department said he still maintained iron control—however not on paper, so to speak.
That was around a month ago. Now, as of last week, Sheriff Baca is in charge. According to several of our department sources, this means that Undersheriff Tanaka is effectively out of the loop as far as IA is concerned.
“Skipping over Tanaka is an unprecedented move,” one source inside the department told us. “It shows a lack of confidence in Tanaka by the Sheriff.”
At least that’s the supposition bouncing through certain streams of department chatter.
Chief Abner did confirm that she will be reporting directly to Lee Baca on IAB matters. When we asked about ICIB, however, Abner said the unit still is under Paul Tanaka’s control. “The Sheriff plans to have some discussions on the matter, but as of now nothing has changed.”
Change Number 2:
At last week’s same Executive Planning Council meeting, it was announced that LASD Correctional Services Chief Alexander Yim will be assuming the duties of recently retired custody chief Dennis Burns. Baca has no immediate plans to promote another chief. Instead, Yim will handle oversight of both divisions.
“In a division as troubled as custody,” one source told us, “you want twice as much supervision, not half. But I think it shows that Baca really doesn’t know who he can trust right now.”
When we asked Sheriff Baca’s spokesman Steve Whitmore about this and a list of related questions, he said he had no comment.
However, Michael Gennaco, who oversees the Office of Independent Review, confirmed that Yim would be heading both Custody as well as Correctional Services. “It’s going to be a lot of work for him, that’s for sure,” Gennaco said referring to Yim. Gennaco also confirmed that Baca would be overseeing IAB directly, and said that the OIR had no objections to either move.
However, another source familiar with the situation and the players said that Yim had pretty much been running both divisions anyway, and that he wanted to “clear out the obstructionists” in the troubled custody division—meaning, we were told, those individuals who stood in the way of reform.
Change Number 3:
On Tuesday of this week what is known as an “Intent to Promote” teletype was sent out from the Sheriff’s office announcing that two captains would be promoted to the rank of Commander. This would have no particular significance except that one of the about-to-be commanders is Captain Ray Leyva—a man who, along with Captain John Clark, and now retired Commander Robert Olmsted, was one of the supervisors who attempted reform in Men’s Central Jail, but whose efforts were blocked and/or undone by Paul Tanaka.
Ray Leyva was also one of three captains that Tanaka said he would never under any circumstances promote, according Bob Olmsted.
Tanaka made good on his word.
After being transferred out of Men’s Central for a less prestigious posting, Leyva was reportedly repeatedly passed over for promotion in favor of men with far less experience than his, but who were Tanaka proteges. In fact, in the past eight years, Leyva has been passed over for promotion 58 times—the most in the department.
As a consequence, Leyva along with another on Tanaka’s “never promote” list, Joaquin Herran, brought suit against against the department alleging discrimination and unfair practices in its promotional system. (See Dangerous Jails Part 3 for the rest of the details.)
Now Lee Baca appears to have reached around Tanaka and Leyva is about to become a commander.
So what does it all mean? Do these changes mean anything at all past the actions themselves?
Do they presage a weakening of the control of the undersheriff?
Or is sometimes a cigar—just a cigar.
When it comes to Internal Affairs, we do know that the three people Paul Tanaka promoted to head up IA and ICIB are still in place. In fact, one of the three, Commander Joe Hartshorne, who oversees both bureaus, is the person who is now personally overseeing the investigation centering around Bob Olmsted, who told WitnessLA and the LA Times last year that he had warned Paul Tanaka and the sheriff about the problems of jail abuse but was ignored, his attempts at correction derailed.
Olmsted told the LA Times he feared the investigation was a witch hunt.… So how does all that factor in?
More as we have it.