In general we consider it bad form to report on rumors, but this one has grown so persistent, detailed and wide-spread in the last few days that not reporting it is beginning to seem peculiar.
The primary rumor is as follows:
Sheriff Lee Baca will soon announce that he is demoting his ultra-powerful second in command, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. In addition, sources say, he is demoting Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo while the third member of the sheriff’s triumvirate of top command staff, Assistant Sheriff Marvin Cavanaugh, will retire.
The rumor goes on to say that Tanaka will be replaced by Chief William McSweeney— and that, although, Tanaka and Rhambo will drop down a rank or so, they will not have a salary decrease.
Chief Roberta Abner is said to be the most likely candidate to replace Assistant Sheriff Rhambo, but her possible promotion is mentioned less often than the shuffling of the four named above.
And… when I say rumors, I mean information coming from multiple sources within the department, plus very plugged-in recent retirees, and a mention in one of the widely-read retirees newsletters….and so on. Yet none of the sources are people who got this information first hand from the sheriff or one of his proxies.
Moreover, for all the rumoring, nothing has happened-–at least not publicly.
We’ve spoken to two different people in the department’s media affairs office and they swear they’ve heard no such thing.
(The LA Weekly’s Simone Wilson, who has heard similar rumors and with whom we’ve exchanged emails on the topic, asked the question of Steve Whitmore, the sheriff’s personal spokesperson, and he mostly got testy with her.)
So if it is true, what is taking so long? If it is not true, where is all this detailed disinformation coming from?
In a recent meeting with people outside the department, Sheriff Baca reportedly said that he felt no “political pressure” from the raft of critical press, an ever-widening FBI investigation, a gigantic ACLU class action suit, and the now up-and-running Citizens Commission on Jail Violence that is determined to dig deep into the management—or lack thereof— of his troubled jails.
Yet, however dismissive the sheriff may be when he is speaking to others of the trouble swirling around the LASD, Baca would have to be willfully blind not to guess that more and more department insiders are coming forward, both to media outlets such as WitnessLA, and to the Feds. And those insiders bring with them facts and direct knowledge of things going on in the sheriff’s department that, when exposed to light, are not going to look pretty.
So would all of the above cause Baca to do damage control in the form of a big reshuffle at the top?
It is a difficult question to handicap. For one thing, when a department official has amassed as much power for as long a time as has Paul Tanaka [See Matt Fleischer's Dangerous Jail's Part 3 and Part 4 for the details], it is difficult to imagine him—especially someone of Tanaka’s ambition and temperament—going gently into that good night, so to speak.
More as we know it.