Sheriff’s Official Allegedly Undermined Probe of Deputy Misconduct…and is Still on the Job. Does He Have a Protector?August 5th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon
Sunday’s LA Times story by Robert Faturechi is a doozy.
It involves a high level official inside the jail system who allegedly derailed an investigation into misconduct by a deputy and, in so doing, may have done damage to the careers of two jails investigators and put an inmate informant into harm’s way.
Since the story broke, department members have been asking why the official is still on the job.
We’ll get to that question in minute.
First, here’s the short form of Faturechi’s very well-reported story.
Sheriff’s deputies Michael Rathbun and James Sexton are part of the Custody Investigative Services Unit—or CISU— that, as the name suggests, in an investigative group that works inside the county’s jails.
Not too long ago, a trusted inmate informant who had provided solid information in the past, told Rathbun and Sexton that a fellow deputy had become good friends with a white supremacist inmate with the nom-de-gang of “Fritz.”
It seems that Fritz was allegedly engaged in, among other activities, co-running a drug smuggling operation going on inside the jail. His outside partner was another white supremacist gang member who goes by the name “Pest.”
Fritz allegedly persuaded the deputy—who like Fritz was a tattoo enthusiast—to contact Pest, originally for free tattoos, but soon after that to allegedly act as a go-between, passing messages and, in one case—according to the informant—a packet of some sort, that had allegedly travelled between Mr. Pest and Mr. Fritz.
Faturechi also reports that, in Fritz’s non-smuggling spare time he reportedly had so much influence among the white inmates in CJ, that he was the guy who “…had ‘ordered physical discipline’ against other inmates from his cell.”
In any case, the Times obtained a copy of a February 9 memo written by Rathbun and Sexton, in which the two investigators outlined all that they suspected, based on the information gained from the informant, whom they described as reliable.
According to the Times, the memo was delivered to Thompson who then, presumably, would pass the info along to ICIB—the department’s internal criminal investigative division—which would then follow up with a full-fledged investigation and likely a sting. (Which is how they caught the drug-stuffed burrito smuggling deputy).
ENDANGERING THE SOURCE
And what did Thompson do with the memo? According to the Times:
Thompson allegedly revealed the contents of the memo to the accused deputy and asked him if the allegations were true.
Incredibly, Thompson also reportedly gave the deputy, not only Rathbun and Sexton’s names, abut also the name of the inmate informant—the latter an action that, if true, is unimaginably reckless.
In other words, if it is found that the above is what Thompson did, that means he:
1. Derailed any possibility of investigating a deputy who was allegedly engaged in criminal activity.
2. Grievously endangered the life of the informant.
3. Had a potentially ruinous effect on the careers of two deputies.
Here’s what Faturechi wrote on the matter:
Even more than most tips, this one should have been handled discreetly, experts say. In the wrong hands, the information was dangerous. Inmates who cooperate with police are violently targeted by fellow inmates. Deputies who report colleagues for misconduct can be ostracized. And, if the deputy suspected of smuggling contraband got wind of the tip, catching him in the act would become nearly impossible.
The Times has found that days after the informant’s cover was allegedly blown, he was moved out of protective custody and sent for at least several hours into general population housing, where he was more vulnerable to retaliation, according to internal custody records. Sheriff’s officials were unable to explain why he had been moved.
The inmate was brought back into protective custody at the urgent pleading of Rathbun and Sexton, according to Rathbun’s father, David — a retired sheriff’s official. A short time later, Sexton was confronted late one night in the employee parking lot by another jailhouse intelligence deputy who warned that Sexton and his partner had better keep their mouths shut, David Rathbun said.
And what has happened to Thompson?
According to the Times, the matter is being investigated, but while the investigation procedes, he was first transferred to the Narcotics division, a plum assignment in a unit that “…also handles sensitive informant information.” He has since, writes Faturechi, “been moved again, to the sheriff’s Temple Station.”
(Interestingly, we noticed that over the weekend that Thompson is already being quoted in the press as the Temple Station spokesperson.)
SO WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO DO AROUND THIS PLACE TO GET RELIEVED OF DUTY?
After reading the Times article, we wondered why, given the seriousness of the allegations, Lt. Thompson had not been relieved of duty until the investigation into his actions was concluded. We asked some of our LASD sources for clarification on the matter.
A recently retired department manager with extensive Internal Affairs Bureau experience told WitnessLA that, hypothetically, with a case involving an employee implicated in allegations of the same nature and seriousness of those reported by the Times, “the normal protocol would be removal of duty.”
Another retired IAB officer concurred. He wrote:
“The criteria for relieving an employee of duty (ROD) are the following:
- allegations are of a serious nature and may result in significant discipline up to and includindg termination;
- leaving the subject on-duty during the investigation may affect operation of the subject’s unit of assignment;
- leaving the subject on-duty during the investigation may endanger witnesses of complainants or cause them to not cooperate with investigators
“Based on Faturechi’s article’s contents, Thompson should have been ROD by now.”
Then why hasn’t that happened?
Are there extenuating circumstances of which we are unaware?
IN THE CAR?
We have learned from multiple department sources that Lt. Thompson is a longtime friend of Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and that they have been friends since Tanaka’s Viking days at the Lynwood Station.
We’ve also been able to verify that Thompson was at Lynwood during the bad old days of the early 1990′s when the Vikings were a font of negative publicity and civil suit payouts for the department.
In fact, Greg Thompson is named personally in LA’s famous lawsuit involving the Lynwood Vikings: Thomas v. The County of Los Angeles. This is the high profile case that the county finally settled in 1996 for $9 million in fines and retraining costs, and which caused a federal judge to, in a fury, issue the much quoted statement about the Vikings being a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang.”
As it happens, Thompson is named in the complaint in two different places describing incidents of alleged misconduct and brutality.
You can read the original Thomas complaint here. For the incidents in which Thompson is named go to pages 26 and 31.
Certainly, we have no way of knowing whether or not the undersheriff would have reached down from his command staff perch to give Lt. Thompson a “soft landing” while Thompson is being investigated.
But we do know that such a thing would be in keeping with Mr. Tanaka’s past patterns of rescuing those whom he favors.
One last thought: We hope the decision to transfer the inmate informant out of protective custody to the jail’s main line was simply an unintentional bureaucratic kerfuffle that easily could have had—but thankfully didn’t have—deadly consequences. However, just to be on the safe side, we hope someone in an investigative capacity has preserved the trail of paperwork showing who ordered that transfer.