NOTE: FOR WED. PM UPDATE scroll to bottom of post.
Former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka has given an interview with the LA Times’ Robert Faturechi in which the powerful—and recently ousted—Tanaka accuses his former boss, Sheriff Lee Baca, of an amazing and disquieting list of faults and misdeeds:
Here are some of the highlights, in no particular order:
1. Tanaka describes the sheriff’s administrative style as disturbingly erratic and impulse driven—by turns, disengaged and focused only on his pet projects, then aggressively micro-managing, demanding that the department hire his friends, family, supporters and new acquaintances, still other times issuing whimsical and problematic orders, then forgetting days later that he’d issued them at all:
Tanaka said Baca frequently gave subordinates contradictory or foolish orders that they had to ignore because they violated department policy or common sense. A few months ago, for example, he said Baca was in a meeting with command staff, talking about the department’s budget shortfall, when he asked a subordinate to study the cost savings that would come from eliminating the agency’s community policing unit.
A week later, at another meeting, that captain began discussing his findings about cutting the unit, when Tanaka says Baca interrupted.
“He stops and he says ‘What did you say? What are you talking about?…I would never do anything like that,’ ” Tanaka recounted Baca as saying.
Tanaka said he had to call the sheriff later and remind him that the captain was “following your orders and you… embarrassed him.”
Tanaka said the sheriff was silent on the other end of the phone, before meekly saying “Oh.”
2. Near the end of the interview, Tanaka said that the sheriff ordered him to hide FBI informant Anthony Brown from the Feds until Brown could be debriefed by the LASD. In other words, Baca deliberately obstructed justice. In making this accusation, Tanaka tried to walk a tightrope by saying that, despite the sheriff’s orders, everybody only kinda, sorta broke the law, but not really, to avoid implicating himself. To wit:
A federal criminal grand jury has been investigating whether sheriff’s officials were hiding the inmate and the phone from the FBI, or whether they were protecting the inmate from retaliation by jail deputies he was “snitching” on, as a sheriff’s spokesman has said.
Tanaka said Baca ordered subordinates to keep the inmate from the FBI until the department finished with him. He said the sheriff explicitly denied a request from a federal official to return the phone.
“I want the inmate interviewed. I don’t want him leaving our custody. I want the phone, all of the information removed from it and I don’t want the phone to go anywhere,” Baca said, according to Tanaka.
Asked if the sheriff was obstructing the FBI investigation, Tanaka said that he and other subordinates “had to really weigh” Baca’s orders to avoid “cross[ing] the line of doing anything wrong.”
In this same vein, Tanaka said that Baca was in such a fit of pique over the FBI’s investigation of the county’s jails that he pulled the department’s participation in any joint crime-fighting task forces with the feds. “…an order Tanaka said he refused to carry out.”
3. Tanaka confirmed that he’s “considering a run” for sheriff against Baca in 2014.
In this context, “considering” means, one presumes, that he is planning to run, barring any force majeure, like, say, a federal indictment. (It has long been rumored that Tanaka has quietly put the pieces in place to, when the time comes, string together a patchwork coalition of voting blocks that he believes could allow him to win, even though he is not a well-known name.)
Otherwise, why so publicly and irrevocably blow-up his relationship with his former boss by inflicting the kind of switchblade swipes to Lee Baca’s person that the former undersheriff has just delivered via the Times? (Sorry for the mixed metaphor, but this interview is driving me to it.)
On the other hand, he may be cutting the sheriff in the hope that the sharks—read: feds—will circle around the bleeding guy and indict him, not the man holding the knife.
Or both of the above.
4. Asked about his reason for speaking out, Tanaka told Faturechi that he felt like he was unjustly scapegoated by the sheriff and by Baca supporters, in particular he mentioned the withering criticism he received by those department members who gave testimony before the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence. When the commission issued its report, it reserved its harshest assessments for the undersheriff.
Tanaka said his reputation was unfairly tarnished by sheriff’s officials who were upset that he was holding lazy supervisors accountable.
“They’re not used to that,” said Tanaka, who will remain on the county payroll as undersheriff until August. “In this organization, they’re used to the higher you go, the less responsibility.”
Miriam Krinsky, the executive director for the CCJV had this to say in response to Tanaka’s characterization of the commission’s findings:
The Commission conducted a comprehensive and thorough investigation. Our report reflects conclusions that stemmed from consistent and credible information. Our findings were not based on any single source or witness, but rather were the result of numerous reports, documents, memoranda and witnesses. It was based on the totality of that evidence that the Commission found that the Undersheriff had engaged in conduct — including troubling statements — that was inconsistent with the department’s Core Values and that undermined the ability of supervisors and others to address and remediate deputy misconduct and aggressive behavior that continued unabated for far too many years. And it was based on the totality of that evidence that the Commission recommended that the Undersheriff have no further responsibility for Custody operations or the disciplinary system.
POST SCRIPT: We were unable to reach Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore last night, although he’s usually very responsive. In the spokesman’s comments to the Times, however, he said, “the sheriff finds it very sad that his former undersheriff has raised these false charges motivated apparently by his personal disappointment and ambition. None of these allegations were made while he served as undersheriff. He raises them only now as he contemplates a run for sheriff.”
UPDATE – WEDNESDAY PM: Steve Whitmore did call back early this morning and we connected in the afternoon. He reiterated that the sheriff is “saddened” by former undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s actions. “But apparently Mr. Tanaka’s memory is clouded by his ambition. He’s welcome to his selective memory,” Whitmore added, “but it’s being driven by ambition.”
As to whether Sheriff Baca had any response to the fact that Paul Tanaka had pretty clearly accused him of obstruction of justice in his depiction of Baca’s having ordered the hiding and the debriefing of FBI informant Anthony Brown, Whitmore dismissed the notion altogether. “Sheriff Lee Baca has cooperated fully with this investigation from the beginning,” he said. “And he will continue to do so. The department’s doors are fully open to the FBI and the US Attorney’s office.”