THE INCREDIBLE ADVENTURES OF PAUL TANAKA’S HAND-PICKED MAN INSIDE MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL
by Matt Fleischer
The Jails Commission Hears About Repeated Failures to Investigate Deputy Brutality, Jokes About the Right Way to Slug Prisoners (“Not in the Face”)—All Done Under the Protection of Then Assistant Sheriff Paul Tanaka
At the close of his testimony to the Los Angeles Citizens Commission on Jail Violence last Friday, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Captain Michael Bornman told an audience made up of the seven commissioners, various commission staff and other LASD watchers, plus high ranking members of the Sheriff’s command staff, that “this is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.”
Bornman’s shell-shocked demeanor strongly suggested he was telling the truth.
An active LASD captain who now runs the sheriff’s Education Based Incarceration Bureau, Bornman’s testimony centered on his tenure as a lieutenant at Men’s Central Jail under the captainship of Dan Cruz from late 2009 to late 2010. Readers of our Dangerous Jails series are already familiar with many of the facts of Bornman’s testimony regarding the grossly lax supervision of troublesome deputies at Men’s Central Jail by 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.
During his tenure as CJ’s captain from April 2008 until December of 2010, Cruz sat on piles of force packages—often excusing deputy misbehavior after only cursory review, or sometimes not delving into the cases at all by burying the investigations until the year-long statue of limitations expired. Force jumped on the first year of his watch–from 273 to 330 incidents.
Bornman testified that, during Cruz’s tenure, he also found large numbers of incomplete investigations into MCJ deputies misconduct outside the jail, which Cruz seemed loathe to pursue.
In one such incident, according to Bornman, several off-duty MCJ deputies got into a drunken fight with a construction worker at BJ’s brewery in West Covina. During the furniture-throwing melee, a deputy punched a woman in the face. Another deputy allegedly flashed his gun. When Bornman approached Cruz with the incomplete administrative investigation into this reported assault, Cruz told him not to “look too hard.” Then when Borman further noted that the 365-day window to complete inquiries into the matter was fast approaching, Cruz was unfazed. Said Bornman of Cruz: “He said, ‘Oh, well. If it drops dead, it drops dead.’”
Bornman went ahead with his investigation anyway, and the reported misdeeds of two of the deputies involved in the fracas were deemed “founded.”
FUCK BOB OLMSTED….I WORK FOR PAUL TANAKA
One of the things in Bornman’s testimony that seemed to particularly capture the commissioners’ attention was his account of the ways in which Cruz and other CJ supervisors invoked then-Assistant Sheriff, now Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka’s name in justifying these shoddy or nonexistent administrative investigations into deputy misbehavior.
Bornman went on to tell the jails commission that on repeated occasions Cruz made no efforts to disguise his close connection to Tanaka.
“He made it very clear that Mr. Tanaka had been helpful to him” said Bornman.
Cruz’s reported blurting only bolsters what we reported back in December of last year: that Cruz’s rise to captain of CJ was almost entirely thanks to his relationship with Paul Tanaka. As a lieutenant at Lennox Station in Inglewood several years before his promotion to captain of CJ, Cruz’s boss, Commander Ralph Martin, and Martin’s boss, LASD field operations Region II Chief Ronnie Williams, pushed to transfer Cruz to a lesser assignment because he was as much as 18 months behind in investigating citizen complaints (called “watch commander service comment reports” or SCR’s) against officers working at the station. One source told us Cruz had “at least three massive boxes of complaints” piled on his desk.
Thanks to these supervisory lapses, Cruz eventually was transferred to the Facility Services Bureau. Coming from a high-profile station like Lennox, this was considered a “dead-end” job and a major punishment. But less than a year later, in the fall of 2006, Paul Tanaka rescued Cruz from career oblivion and installed him as operations lieutenant of Men’s Central Jail—second in charge under then- Captain Robert Olmsted. When Olmsted moved up the position of commander in April of 2008, Tanaka insisted that Cruz move into his place as captain, meaning Dan Cruz was now in charge of Men’s Central Jail, long the most troubled facility in the County’s system.
(A few months later, Cruz donated twice to Paul Tanaka’s Gardena mayoral campaign—once on December 18, 2008, and again on January 6, 2009.)
Bornman testified that despite having three immediate supervisors in the chain of command between Cruz and Paul Tanaka—Commander Olmsted, Chief Dennis Burns and the assistant sheriff in charge of custody, Marvin Cavanaugh—bizarrely Cruz felt he needed to be accountable only to Tanaka who, as the assistant sheriff in charge of patrol, technically had no control over the jails at all.
In fact, in one instance, when Bornman suggested Cruz’s supervisor Bob Olmsted needed to be briefed on the massive backlog of administrative investigations at CJ that had been allowed to slide, Cruz told him: “Fuck Bob Olmsted. I don’t work for him. Lee Baca is my sheriff, but I work for Paul Tanaka.”
Cruz’s contempt for the chain of command went so far that, incredibly, he had a side access door to CJ alarmed so that Olmsted couldn’t make a surprise inspection. If Olmsted wanted to visit the facility, he had to check in through the front entrance.
THE OTHER CELLPHONE SMUGGLING DEPUTY
After the hearing, I spoke with Olmsted, who said that up until Bornman’s testimony, he was not aware of the extreme measures taken by Cruz to keep him out of the loop. The BJ’s incident, for instance, never reached his desk during his tenure as Cruz’s supervisor. However Olmsted told me of another, perhaps more serious investigation that sat untouched on Cruz’s desk, but that Bornman didn’t happen to discuss in his testimony.
In summer of 2008, LASD homicide investigators sent a memo to Men’s Central Jail informing Cruz that a deputy on the 3,000 floor had smuggled a cellphone to an inmate. The deputy was relatively new to the force, and was apparently trying to turn the inmate into an informant—so he could dig up dirt on a Palmdale drug ring.
The inmate, however, was no ordinary drug pusher. He was under investigation for murder. And whatever information he may have had about drugs in Palmdale was overshadowed by the fact that he used the cellphone to harass and threaten witnesses in the case against him. Homicide investigators were rightfully livid.
“This was a young deputy who had no idea what he was doing,” says Olmsted.
Putting aside the fact the deputy may have compromised a homicide investigation, the gravity of smuggling cellphones into jail was made abundantly clear last year by Sheriff Lee Baca himself, who was outraged when Federal investigators failed to inform him about a sting operation they launched against a deputy whom they paid to smuggle a cellphone into Men’s Central Jail.
“It’s illegal,” Baca said of cellphone smuggling in September, 2011 story in the LA Times. “It’s a misdemeanor and then there’s a conspiracy law that goes along with it.”
Baca went on to dismiss the usefulness of using these types of tactics to gain information from inmates. “Jailhouse informants quite frankly are problematic,” the sheriff said in the same story.
But despite the gravity of the smuggled cellphone incident and its interference in a homicide case, Cruz apparently sat on the memo for more than a year. The deputy in question wasn’t punished or reprimanded, nor did he receive additional training in the proper way to cultivate a jailhouse informant. Olmsted says he only learned of the cellphone incident months after he retired in late 2010.
“If I had been informed about this when I was still a commander, I would have taken it to my chief immediately,” says Olmsted. “This is something that needs to be investigated and that the top three in the department need to be briefed on. This could be a fraternization issue, which is a dismissible offense.”
After speaking with Olmsted, I called Michael Gennaco at the Office of Independent Review. Though aware of the cellphone case, Gennaco said he couldn’t comment. He did, however, confirm the potential gravity of charges facing any deputy who smuggles a cellphone to an inmate. “If a deputy is charged with fraternization, that’s automatic grounds for dismissal.”
One would assume that, given Cruz’s previous pattern of supervisory incompetence, once stories like this one were brought to the attention of LASD upper management, Cruz would be immediately reprimanded—and/or transferred out of the jail and into a less consequential assignment. However, as we reported in Part 3 of our series Dangerous Jails, Cruz was never sanctioned at all for his list of managerial transgressions.
To the contrary, when Bornman’s discoveries eventually made their way up the chain of command, in the fall of 2010, Paul Tanaka sent his close aide and longtime campaign donor, Duane Harris, into the jail to lead a follow-up investigation. (It should be noted once again that Tanaka was the not the Assistant Sheriff in charge of custody at this time. Oversight of Cruz’s performance should have fallen to Assistant Sheriff Marvin Cavanaugh.)
Harris came back 10 days later with a report that found Cruz culpable for the escalating violence in the jail. Shortly after the Harris report was delivered, Olmsted said Tanaka (not Cavanaugh, the actual custody executive) called him into a meeting to plan Dan Cruz’s exit strategy from CJ. Instead of sidelining Cruz for his incompetence, Olmsted told us that Tanaka’s plan was to promote Cruz to the position of commander.
“Tanaka told me Cruz was ‘the only viable candidate’ he was willing to promote to commander,” Olmsted said. “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.”
“NOT IN THE FACE”
In the days since Bornman’s testimony at Friday’s jails commission hearing, some in the Sheriff’s Department have pointed out that Cruz’s backlog of administrative investigations was no different than any other captain trying to run the chaotic Men’s Central Jail. Bornman testified that, indeed, the “system was chronically overburdened,” and that several of the cases he discovered in the backlog dated back to 2005—a span that also includes the tenures of Olmsted and John Clark as captains of CJ.
But while an overtaxed system might arguably give Cruz a marginally valid excuse for falling behind in some of his paperwork, it doesn’t explain his repeated willingness to give deputies a pass for their misbehavior, some of which—like drunken assaults on civilians—edges into the criminal.
And it doesn’t explain this: Bornman says he was present at a 2009 Christmas party for CJ personnel where Cruz got up in front of the assembled deputies and shouted: “What do I always tell you guys?”
In unison, with laughter all around, the deputies responded: “Not in the face.”—a reference to beating inmates in a way that avoids leaving visible marks.
Nor does it explain Cruz’s and his CJ operations lieutenant Pat Davoren’s open disdain for the investigative process. Bornman claims that, just like Cruz, Davoren discouraged him from looking into the misdeeds of problem deputies. “He sat back in his seat, and he said, “What are you going to tell Paul Tanaka when he asks why you’re disciplining deputies?” Bornman says Davoren asked him, mirroring Cruz’s attitude.
(Davoren, incidentally, donated to Paul Tanaka’s Gardena Mayoral campaign in May of 2005.)
It certainly doesn’t explain Paul Tanaka’s role in promoting, protecting and attempting to reward Cruz for his incompetence—nor why his hand-appointed supervisors, Cruz and Davoren, seemed to think they were doing his wishes by failing to investigate deputy wrongdoing.
Bornman’s testimony seemed to point to one thing and one thing only: the systemic abuse of inmates in the jails by certain deputies, behavior that was actively sanctioned by Cruz and tacitly sanctioned by Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
EDITOR’S NOTE: On Monday, Dan Cruz told the LA Times that many of the allegations against him “can be easily proven to be untrue,” that his critics wanted “to be in the limelight,” and that he might be willing to testify before the Jails Comission.
MORE ON THE JAILS COMMISSION COMING SOON