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Feds Plan to Retry LA Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton (But Will There Ever Be Indictments Up the Ladder?)

July 7th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon

On Thursday of last week, two days after a federal jury found six members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department guilty of obstruction of justice,
attorney Thomas O’Brien learned that federal prosecutors are planning to retry O’Brien’s client, Deputy James Sexton.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, was tried in May of this year on the same allegations of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for which the six were just convicted. But in the case of the 28-year-old deputy, the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6-6, producing a mistrial.

In many ways Sexton’s case is similar to that of Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, the two deputies who were just convicted (along with two sergeants and two lieutenants).

Like Manzo and Smith, Sexton works for Operation Safe Jails (OSJ), the elite unit tasked with, among other things, developing informants among the various prison gang populations inside the county’s jail system.

And, like Manzo and Smith, Sexton was an active part of the team that hid federal informant and inmate, Anthony Brown, from his FBI handlers, albiet, at a far more junior level.


Despite the similarities, Sexton’s case also is significantly different from the case arrayed against Manzo and Smith in several ways. For instance, unlike the recently convicted deputies, Sexton originated no relevant emails, he never interrogated federal informant Anthony Brown, he was not present at high-level meetings, like the meeting on August 20, 2011, called by Sheriff Lee Baca, with former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and other command staff in attendance, where Smith and Manzo were also present, and crucial discussions occurred. Unlike Smith or Manzo, his name is never listed in pertinent emails as being someone in a position of authority.

Perhaps most importantly, unlike Smith and Manzo, Sexton cooperated with the FBI for more than a year, reportedly submitting willingly to 37 different interviews with the feds, many of the interviews with FBI special agent Leah Marx.

The deputy talked with Marx and company so much, in fact, that, according to agent Marx’s testimony, in order to make communication with the feds easier and safer for Sexton, she and her team gave him a cell phone that he could use solely for his calls to them. (The FBI reportedly grew concerned after it learned of what it believed were genuine threats against Sexton and his OSJ partner, Mike Rathbun, by department members, due to the two deputies’ whistleblower actions on another unrelated LASD case.)

In addition to providing information and documents to the feds, Sexton also testified twice in front of a grand jury, and did so without any apparent effort at self-protection.

In short, Sexton fully admitted his part in the operation that came to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box—obligingly describing the hiding of Brown in colorful detail. Sexton also characterized the hiding of Brown as being part of an “adversarial” attitude in which “the adversary was the U.S. government”—aka the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office.

“It was ‘bring out the smoke and mirrors’” he said.

The center of the prosecution’s case at the last trial was this grand jury testimony along with similar statements Sexton made to special agent Marx.

After the last trial resulted in a hung jury, juror Marvin Padilla said that it was Sexton’s grand jury testimony that got him and some of his fellow jurors to vote for acquittal.

“I just did not find it credible,” said Padilla. “I think these are conclusions he reached in hindsight a year later,” not when the actions were actually occurring. “Nearly all of Sexton’s narrative at the grand jury seemed like 20-20 hindsight.”


After the verdict came in last Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte held a short press conference on the court’s steps in which he talked about a “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

“While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity,” said Birotte, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”

Monday at around 3 pm, James Sexton and his attorneys will meet with government’s prosecution team before Judge Percy Anderson to discuss whether or not the government will indeed refile charges on the deputy in the hope of convincing a jury that, Sexton, like the other six, acted as if he was “above the law.”

If so, a new trial could take place as quickly as this September.


Meanwhile, Miriam Aroni Krinsky, a former Assistant United States Attorney and the executive director for the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, explained why the government has likely decided to have another go at Sexton, and what to expect at a second trial.

“It is not surprising that the government would elect to retry Deputy Sexton given the decisive conviction of the other six defendants on all counts,” said Krinsky.

“The government may well believe that equities support a retrial and that a new jury should have the opportunity to determine whether Mr. Sexton should also be held accountable for his alleged participation in this conspiracy.”

Krinsky noted, however, that any retrial of Sexton will be “challenging” in the light of what she described as the deputy’s “limited role in the conspiracy and his immediate and prolonged cooperation with the government.” It was these factors, she said, “that undoubtedly resulted in jury nullification that accounted for the first jury’s inability to reach a verdict.”

The next time around, Krinsky said, “we can expect the government to present more robust evidence at any retrial (just as they did at the trial of the other six defendants) regarding the backdrop of excessive force in the jails and the systemic failures at LASD” that “…didn’t simply justify, but in fact compelled, the FBI to engage in an undercover operation that involved the unorthodox smuggling of a cellphone to an inmate.”

Of course, the mention of “systemic failures” and “a toxic culture” at the LASD cannot help but raise the question that must loom as a backdrop to any discussion of refiling on Sexton, namely whether or not the government intends to move up (instead of merely down) the ladder of command to file on those who actually gave the orders, and set the cultural tone that has, thus far, resulted in seven federal indictments for obstruction of justice, and six felony convictions.

More as we know it.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, Paul Tanaka, Sheriff Lee Baca, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 27 Comments »

27 Responses

  1. Handicapper Says:

    This is wrong. Baca needs to be held accountable. Perhaps Ted Sexton has some information to exchange to save his son!

  2. Eyeswideopen Says:

    James Sexton should not go on trial again, all this because he refused to wear a wire against his father.

  3. Cognistator Says:

    #2: Again, a link about the FBI wire:

  4. Wild Turkey Says:

    James’s retrial is baffling. His initial trial was baffling.

    James cold called the FBI after operation Pandora’s Box and after the now infamous disclosure of a confidential memo authored by Sexton and Mike Rathbun to Lt. Greg Thompson detailing deputies slanging dope in MCJ. Thompson papered MCJ with the memo, including giving it to the deputies in question, and Rathbun and Sexton were threatened with murder and ostracized. Celeste has covered that incident quite well.

    James was an informant and cooperative witness for the FBI from the get go. He came to them and initiated contact, and he was with them every step of the way, until they asked him to wear a wire on his father which he understandably balked at. Then, they turned on him.

    Andre Briotte, Liz Rhodes and Brandon Fox should be ashamed of themselves. They should hang their heads at the realizations that they are cowards, pure and simple. The fact is that they lack the tenacity to do something that might be hard, like prosecute Baca and Tanaka, but they lack the character to restrain themselves from doing what is easy, which is to fuck over someone who came to them, who sought them out and offered help. They are literally trying to destroy someone’s life because it’s too difficult to work up the food chain, so they’re going to burn a guy who was the only one (along with Mike Rathbun) who came forward after Pandora’s Box and said “this was wrong.”

    Disgusting examples of dogshit level humanity. No honor, no integrity and no courage. I don’t know how they can look in the mirror without vomiting.

  5. Lonestar Justice Says:

    Hey Eyeswideopen Says,
    Ever wonder what the elder Sexton had knowledge of that the Feds wanted ? Let us reserve Judgment until the facts are out. There has to be a very legitimate reason that they asked the son to wear a wire.

  6. KMA-628 Says:

    The decision to retry Sexton may be legally logical, but it’s morally shameful. As others have pointed out, Sexton is the only of the defendants to do the right thing, to come forward, to be cooperative. I don’t care how guilty he was of being part of Pandora’s Box; I would not convict him, nor do I think a new jury will, either.

    As deputy sheriffs, there are tons of people who have committed crimes, who are guilty, but who we choose not to arrest because they were respectful, honest, did the right thing. If we arrested every guilty person we met, every easy case we could make, we’d never get around to the cases that matter. There is a certain code of honor on the street. It’s sad to see that code apparently does not extend to our federal partners.

    As patrol deputies, we know there is no honor in screwing someone over just because we can. Sad that the lawyers don’t seem to see it that way.

  7. Read it and Weep Says:

    I have to agree with Lonestar, something does not pass the smell test here. A 6-6 split, with all of the reasons reported, i.e. cooperation, does not create a good foundation to retry his case. But, I will hold judgement until we know more. Logic tells me there is a reason we don’t know, yet, as to why they are doing this.

    I hope the media continues to pressure the Feds on going up the food chain on this. I truly don’t think for a moment anyone of rank is going to get a pass. I think anyone and everyone who was involved in this stupid operation, and particularly ALL those of rank who sat in with ANY of the meetings and did not make an effort to stop this operation should be indicted. If a Commander and Chief sat in on a meeting, was briefed that this foolish operation was underway in their Division and failed to stop it, I think they are in harms way. Even if they just sat there like the head bobbing coward most of them are, and did nothing to stop it, I think they can be considered part of the Conspiracy to Obstruct Justice. Lets see how this plays out.

  8. The Past Says:

    Wild Turkey, Wow the level of your discomfort is shared by many however I think it’s misdirected. I have been more than a little skeptical of the US Attorney for not having roped Baca & Tanaka on the front of this prosecution, if for no other reason it seems unfair & political. Andre Briotte, Liz Rhodes, & Brandon Fox need not apologize to anyone, they’re doing a hard, distasteful & DIFFICULT job. Your anger should be directed to Sheriff Baca, U/S Paul Tanaka for adding the last straw that broke the back of LASD. I acknowledge your anguish for the young, bright and ambitious Sexton. A heartbreak 100%.
    As I have said before, the broken back of LASD is the accumulation of years of marginal ethics brought by people who engineered his election. Those individuals, some of which are prominent endorsers of Chief McDonnell, were in Baca’s election for their own interests.
    The old adage if there’s smoke there’s fire, applies to those who want to find very bit of possible unfairness, you’re blinded by the smoke & ignoring the forest fire. Who here wouldn’t like to administer truth serum to Paul Myron, Bill Stonich, Larry Waldie, Paul Tanaka, & the Sheriff of the World Leroy D. Baca?

  9. Read it and Weep Says:

    Just read the KABC website indicating Sexton will be retried in September. Their story spoke of Sexton’s cooperation with the FBI and Grand Jury.

    My question is, why did the FBI want him (Jr.) to wear a wire to record his father AND Baca? What was that that all about? Something unholy about Dad and Baca, or was it Baca they were after?

  10. Wild Turkey Says:

    # 8 The Past two things:

    First, thank you for addressing my points and adding yours in a thoughtful and respectful fashion. You stand as a good example to the trolls on here that waste time and thread space bashing each other for where they worked, how much time they have on etc., instead of civilly engaging in discourse..

    Second I by and large agree with you. The lions share of the blame for what’s happening in the LASD today falls to Baca and Tanaka, and those past sycophants who have since retired who allowed Baca to drive the school bus off a cliff.

    However my visceral disgust with the US Attorney’s office is, in my opinion, deserved. THEY HAVE THE POWER to choose how to move forward in addressing corruption within the LASD, and I don’t see James Sexton’s prosecution as being a wise or effective choice. To go back around and make a second pass at James and STILL leave Baca and Tanaka UNTOUCHED (not to mention others who may have had guilty knowledge and criminal culpability at the Assistant Sheriff, Chief and Captain level) is a gross misconduct that does not earn my forgiveness. Now, we may just have to agree to disagree on that point. You said they are doing a hard, distasteful and difficult job. I agree. But for them to still not have indicted Baca or Tanaka? They’re doing a piss poor job.

  11. Reality Check Says:

    Intriguing as it may seem regarding Tanaka and Baca……Can’t you figure out that Baca was obviously given of stepping down in lieu of being filed upon. It is no different than any sworn personnel opting to retire or get fired. Come on students, let’s use those gray cells.

    It has also been learned that Tanaka is also working with the Fed’s. No different than the Sgt. (Snitch) in “Operation Big Spender” who started singing on his subordinates who went to prison, while he and his family disappeared into the “witness protection” with new names and ssn’s. I only call him a Snitch because he was tthe hard core leader who was known to tell those working under him to “March or Die” …….it should have been “If Caught, Don’t Cry”.

  12. Prophet Mo' Teff Says:

    Let’s take a freeze-frame shot of the carousel at this moment in time. Let’s ask a question based on where things stand right now, without considering the impact of any future developments, announcements or revelations.

    Who is really getting punked?
    The FBI Civil Rights section.

    Who is doing the punking?
    The FBI.

    Who did Deputy Sexton make contact with to become an informant on the jails and who wanted to conduct a Federal investigation to uncover and root out the inmate abuse in L.A. County Jails?
    The FBI Civil Rights section.

    Who could care less about the situation in L.A. County Jails? Who values the long-term working relationship with LASD Baca which brings them intel and includes past cooperation to suppress civil rights, violate the liberties and destroy the integrity of specific emergent social movements? Who helped Agent Marx devise an undercover investigation of the L.A. County Jail which had almost no chance of yielding any new or useful evidence of deputy abuse in the jails?
    The FBI.

    Who helped Agent Marx and her Civil Rights investigators to get a cell phone to her inmate informant via bribing a corrupt jail deputy(which was unlikely to help Anthony Brown gather any new useful evidence for the Civil Rights case)?
    The FBI.

    Who called Sheriff Baca and told him about the cell phone on the same day that jail deputies discovered the smuggled phone in the possession of Anthony Brown?
    Los Angeles FBI Special Agent in Charge Steve Martinez.

    Who was going to help wire-up Deputy Sexton for a meeting with his father and Sheriff Baca as part of Agent Marx investigation?
    The FBI.

    Following Deputy Sexton’s refusal to participate in the clandestine recording of his father and Sheriff Baca, who supposedly had another informant willing to cooperate with the scheme but then cancelled it with no explanation?
    The FBI.

    When the LASD Deputy and Sgt. were sent to confront FBI Civil Rights Investigator Leah Marx – how did they find out where she lived?
    Did they tail her when she left her office or look her up in the White Pages or were they provided her home address with their marching orders?
    Who was the original source of Agent Marx home address?

  13. Been There Says:

    Cognistator read your link. States Elder Sexton was not a subject of investigation. Was Sheriff in Alabama at the time. Article sums up the whole matter. “Indicting James Sexton based on the total facts and circumstances of this case is something that Barney would do while Andy’s out of town,” Jemison

  14. Truth Serum Says:

    Prophet Mo’ Teff: You definitely have valid points.

    As for “Reality Check”… I do believe that it is more to Baca stepping down and Tanaka not being indicted as of yet has some meaning, however no one knows yet.

    I also believe that for Tanaka and Baca, Pandoras Box is a smoke screen for something much bigger with backdoor deals being made.

  15. Wild Turkey Says:

    # 11, reality check, you’re right, the Sheriff was given a step down deal, and I know that. It’s not that I don’t get it. I just also happen to think it’s wrong.

    And second, if the FBI indicted Sexton after he had been cooperating with them after a year, they can do it to Tanaka too. So there’s no excuse not to indict him.

  16. DolphinDude Says:

    #8 – Wild Turkey is right on. The feds have the responsibility to decide where and how to apply money and resources. They are spineless and cowardly for not admitting they were wrong the first time. Really – who would wear a wire on their father? Great investigative strategy. And let’s violate all whistle blower rights while we’re at it.
    So they are doubling down on a bad hand. The jury made it clear, and instead of assigning attorneys, paralegals and investigators to go after Tanaka and other bosses, they will focus the next two months on the low level (and already cleared Deputy) one more time. Great use of taxpayer dollars! Hey, here’s an idea — let’s make this guy a federal judge because he’s doing such a great job on this case.

  17. Truth Serum Says:

    @15…..I agree with you and reality check (11), it is no doubt in my mind that Tanaka has something more to offer the Feds. I’m hearing that millions & millions have been misappropriated by the forfeiture & seizure asset fund, which should have been doled out to the Sheriff’s Department. After all…..Tanaka is/was the CPA and the bean counter who was in charge of seeing where the moolah goes within the department.

  18. Cognistator Says:

    #16: “Who would wear a wire on their father?”

    ABC7 News is reporting that “Sexton stopped cooperating after he was asked to wear a wire on his father….”

    That’s a direct quote from the story. The whole story

  19. Oh Well Says:

    Celeste, I feel bad for Deputy Sexton but could you please look in to how some of the sworn treat the Professional Staff. Some of your loyal readers consider it a problem worthy of investigation.

  20. Cowboy Says:

    @.19) It is no mystery as to how some sworn personal treat the Professional Staff. When the residents of Los Angeles County see how some deputies treat fellow deputies. ..

    1)3000 Boys fighting in Monterey Park,(Deputies assaulting Deputy)

    2)Deputy vs.Deputy in Prado Park

  21. Starlight Scope Says:

    @Cowboy. …Don’t forget the fighting female deputies fiasco in Norwalk’s R.D. where shots were fired.

  22. Oh Well Says:

    Good points for sure. It seems that there are some deputies who don’t know how to treat people, even their fellow deputies. It’s too bad the only time something can be done about it is if they break the law or violate policy. I wish it wasn’t like that.

  23. Time to Clean House Says:

    If you burn enough bridges, you’ll be the one left standing alone looking like a clown. Doesn’t matter if you’re  sworn or professional. Here’s an article that ran in the Wall Street Journal today.Title: Ever Though, “How did he get promoted?” Here’s how.

  24. Oh Well Says:

    #23 Clean House,
    The “Every office has one” line was particularly interesting to me. If they’re everywhere, in every office, I guess that indicates that we need to man up and learn to live with it, because you can’t escape it. “Every office has one”.

  25. LATBG Says:

    Someone once said that public and private sectors are alike in all unimportant aspects. There is a huge difference between publicly traded companies who make widgets for profit versus public organizations whose primary mission is law enforcement. Shareholders don’t give a shit about how toxic the corporate environment is as long as those quarterly profit shares keep coming.

    The public, on the other hand, does give a shit about corrupt law enforcement agencies with toxic corporate cultures, something about ethics being central to their function. The article is spot on, describing the excesses of many LASD executives to a tee, along with all the wannabees mistakenly trying to follow in their footsteps.

    Hint to all those ladder climbers out there: your success and the department’s success is not the same thing. Ain’t that right Todd?

  26. Bandwagon Says:

    Oh Well #19. Try to let it go partner. It will start affecting your health; high blood pressure, lack of sleep, etc. Try breathing exercises or yoga.

  27. Oh Well Says:

    Roger re: #26. Nice shot. Humorous with a little bit of sarcasm thrown in while suggesting that somebody is making a mountain out of a mole hill. I love it. That’s my style too.
    I usually use phrases like “Maybe a trip to Target for some big girl panties will help”.
    Some people get really bent when I do it, usually because they realize there’s a high degree of truth hidden in my message even if it is delivered through humor laced with sarcasm.
    That’s the style I prefer. I see you do too.
    Be careful doing that in the office though. Some people can’t wait to be offended and will consider you nothing but a jack-hole when you do it. I’ve found that it’s most often because they realize what I’m saying really does apply to them. So they get butt hurt.

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