A Long Held Vendetta
On Wednesday, attorney Ron Kaye filed a civil lawsuit in behalf of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies Robert Lindsey Jr. and Charles Rodriguez, alleging that members of the department’s Internal Criminal Investigative Bureau (ICIB) pushed for criminal charges to be wrongly filed against the deputies by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office because of a long held desire for vengeance by the once powerful undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
According to the lawsuit, the investigation against Lindsey and Rodriguez, which began on August 18, 2011, and subsequent pressure placed on the DA’s office to file the case, was directed by then ICIB Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, and in part carried out by then ICIB Sergeants Maricela Long and Scott Craig, with then captain Tom Carey heading up the bureau. At that time, Carey reported directly to Paul Tanaka, who the complaint alleges was nurturing a personal vendetta against Robert Lindsey, a now-retired commander of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, who is also Deputy Lindsey’s father.
By weird coincidence, August 18, 2011, was also the day that a series of actions began at the highest levels of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, which would ultimately lead to federal indictments and convictions for Carey, Leavins, Craig, Long, and Tanaka—plus former sheriff Lee Baca, and five others, for corruption of justice or related charges.
In total, 21 members of the sheriff’s department have been convicted of federal charges of corruption and/or brutality. Tanaka was convicted in 2016 of charges of corruption of justice, and conspiracy to corrupt justice. The former undersheriff is serving five years in a federal prison in Colorado.
Reluctance to File Charges
According to the lawsuit, the case was given to the district attorney’s office by ICIB with a recommendation that deputies Lindsey and Rodriguez be charged with filing a false police report in the course of a drug-related arrest. Yet, before the case got to a preliminary hearing, it was dismissed.
The lawsuit also alleges that the deputy district attorney on the case, Kevin Stennis, who is now a Superior Court Judge, admitted much later to Lindsey’s defense attorney, Kasey Sirody that, due to “lack of evidence,” he hadn’t wanted to refile charges against the deputies after the first dismissal. But then, Mr. Stennis’ reportedly explained, “someone from the Sheriff’s Department came and had a meeting with my boss and I was told I would re-file the case.”
Stennis reportedly did as he was told and re-filed. But at the first preliminary hearing, the prosecution’s primary witness failed to show up and, for a second time, the case was dismissed. Deputy DA Stennis filed the case a third time.
The third time around, Stennis allegedly made an unofficial side deal with the sister of his witness, an undocumented man named Uriel Salgado who reportedly had multiple aliases and multiple prior drug convictions. He is also the person whom Lindsey and Rodriguez had arrested after they found a “bindle” of cocaine in his car.
In series of emails between Stennis and the sister (that WitnessLA has obtained from other sources), Stennis appears to promise he will assist Salgado in applying for a special kind of visa, known as a U-Visa, in exchange for his testimony. A U-Visa is set aside for immigrants who are victims of certain crimes, which carry with them mental or physical abuse. The immigrant victims much also be helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of criminal activity.
Salgado did not fit. So it appears that, during the email period, Stennis filed an extra charge against the deputies for obstruction of justice, which the communication with the sister suggests he added specifically to help Salgado meet the criteria of the U-Visa.
The emails themselves were legal, said attorney Ron Kaye. But what Stennis did that was not legal, said Kaye, “was to hide from the defense exculpatory evidence, which was this tremendous bias on the part of the witness who was undocumented, and who was being given a U-Visa for showing up. It was a huge Brady violation.”
(By “Brady violation” Kaye is referring to the landmark 1963 Supreme Court case Brady v. Maryland, which established that the prosecution must turn over all evidence that might exonerate the defendant to the defense. To do otherwise, the court ruled, is to violate the due process clause of the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.)
Kaye also described how, at the second preliminary hearing, the defense asked the witness if he had received any representation from the prosecution “that he might receive immigration relief.” According to Kaye, Salgado said “unequivocally under oath, ‘No. Never.’ It is “illegal.” said Kaye, “for the an officer of the court, especially a deputy district attorney, to sit in the courtroom and knowingly allow perjurious testimony to take place.”
The Back Story
The charges against Lindsey and Rodriguez stem from a June 2011 drug-related arrest outside the Durango Bar in Huntington Park. Earlier in the evening, the partners had reported gotten a tip from a confidential informant that a man named “Abraham” was dealing cocaine in the Durango’s parking lot out of a white Lexus. When the twosome arrived at the bar’s lot, they spotted a white Lexus SUV with two men standing outside the vehicle with the driver’s door open. One of the two men matched the description the deputies had of the possible dealer named Abraham. Lindsey reportedly exited the patrol car and called out to the man who immediately identified himself as Abraham Rueda, which was reportedly one of Uriel Salgado’s aliases.
According to Lindsey’s report, while shining a light in the car windows, he spotted a plastic “bindle” of what appeared to be cocaine protruding from an air-conditioning vent. After he and Rodriquez searched “Rueda” and his companion, then placed them inside the patrol car, Lindsey and Rodriguez proceeded to search the Lexus and removed the protruding bag containing one quarter gram coke, but subsequently found no additional drugs.
Believing there might be more drugs still hidden, the deputies called and requested a drug-sniffing dog from their boss, a supervising sergeant named Brandon Dean, who said no K-9s were available and that the deputies should just drive the Lexus to the Lynwood station where it could be further searched in a contained environment. Rodriquez and Lindsey reportedly did precisely that, with Lindsey driving the Lexus, Rodriguez the patrol car, which contained Rueda and his pal.
After the search, Lindsey wrote up the report, which he admitted later was briefer than usual, due to the fact he’d reportedly worked overtime every day the previous week, and was unusually fatigued.
Yet Sergeant Dean would testify that the report was appropriate, and and matched what he personally knew of the night’s events.
ICIB investigators alleged that some elements of the deputies reports did not match what they saw on a cell phone copy of a fragment of surveillance video that Salgado had acquired.
Specifically the prosecution alleged that Lindsey was not standing where he said he was standing when he first spoke to Salgado and first glimpsed the cocaine and scrap of packaging in the air-conditioning vent. Prosecutors also claimed that Rodriguez lied and said that he and Lindsey drove the Lexus and the two suspects to an undisclosed second location—not the station—to search the Lexus for drugs. And finally, the deputy DA said that Salgado and his friend were handcuffed when they were transported to be booked, although the deputies reported that they were not.
Neither Salgado nor the District Attorney’s Office disputed that the small bindle of powder cocaine seized by Plaintiffs Lindsey and Rodriguez was recovered in Salgado’s vehicle as stated in Lindsey’s arrest report.
The Farther Back Story
According to the lawsuit, in 2002, then-Captain Robert Lindsey, the father of Deputy Lindsey, reportedly challenged then Chief Paul Tanaka’s authority on multiple occasions, culminating in Lindsey Sr.’s refusal to “fraudulently change answers of applicants on the LASD promotional Lieutenant’s Exam.” Essentially, according to the lawsuit and other accounts, Robert Lindsey refused to cooperate with Tanaka’s efforts to place his selected LASD deputies in the position of lieutenant “where they did not merit this advancement based on their test scores.” As a result of this refusal, Tanaka reportedly screamed at Robert Lindsey, telling him, “using expletives and threatening language,” that his career “was over” in the Sheriff’s Department.
This account is in keeping with accounts WLA has received from several retired LASD sources familiar with the events pertaining to the alleged lieutenant’s exam incident of 2002.
Deputy Lindsey also reports in the lawsuit that, after his graduation from the department’s training academy in 2005, he was repeatedly approached by Paul Tanaka, whom he had never met until then. According to Lindsey, Tanaka would move in close to the deputy to ask, “How’s your father doing? Say ‘hello’ for me,” in tones Lindsey found deliberately provocative and threatening.
Then in May of 2012, after the ICIB investigation of the two deputies became public within the LASD, Lindsey and Rodriguez were reportedly on “desk duty” at the Century Station when then station captain, Joe Gooden, ordered the two into his office, where Gooden reportedly told them that then undersheriff Tanaka had ordered him to send the deputies “the fuck home.”
The Trial and the Jurors
When the case finally went to trial, the jury took less than three hours to acquit the two deputies of all charges, on June 11, 2015.
Once the verdict had been announced, instead of rushing to get to their cars to avoid the press, as is usually the case, the jurors waited in the hallway outside Judge Renee Korn’s courtroom in the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center. Some of those who were present described how the jurors wanted to meet and talk with the two deputies, to tell them how convinced the panel had become of their innocence. Seven of the jurors stayed still longer to take selfies and a group photo with Lindsey, Rodriguez and their families. (See photo above.)
During those minutes after the trial, when the jurors spoke to the deputies and their lawyers, jurors also reportedly said that a partial surveillance video from the Durango Bar parking lot, which the prosecution portrayed as central to its case, instead supported the accounts of Lindsey and Rodriguez, according to jurors, who said that they’d reviewed the video with extraordinary care, frame-by-frame.
“In all my years of practice, I’ve never had a jury do any of that,” said James Blatt, Rodriguez’ criminal attorney, when he described the jurors’ strong desire to wait to meet the defendants.
(We wrote earlier about the trial and some of the events that came afterward.)
Examining the Aftermath
Interestingly, while Lindsey and Rodriguez are suing Paul Tanaka and Kevin Stennis personally, they are not suing Los Angeles County or the sheriff’s department. “This is because my clients value their employment at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department,” said Ron Kaye when asked about the issue. It also seems the deputies had to sign an agreement that they would not sue the department in order to be reinstated after their acquittal, and the internal affairs investigation that followed.
Upon their reinstatement, although the deputies had been without salary for two and one half years years, they received only one year of back pay, Kaye said.
“The backpay should be 100%,” a retired LA sheriff’s department supervisor with extensive experience working internal affairs told WitnessLA. “However,” he said, “I have seen ALADS attorneys [attorneys for the deputies’ union] negotiate with the department for significantly less backpay to sweeten a reinstatement offer.”
It was frightening, the source added, “to think that Tanaka or anyone, could thwart the legal and ethical obligation of a DA to reject or dismiss a criminal case. But nothing surprises me with the corruption of Tanaka, and his army of blind followers.”
Ron Kaye too felt that Tanaka’s actions were no longer a surprise. “It’s within the scope of what we know that he would have this…revel of animosity.”
Yet, he sensed, Kay, said, “the most important parts of this lawsuit have to do with making the district attorney accountable. What this lawsuit says is the district attorney’s office is a political body, as much as it is an office that has been delegated the responsibility of upholding the law. But here we believe we have the legal basis to hold a DA responsible.”
WitnessLA reached out to the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office, which had no comment about the lawsuit. We also reached out to thee Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but they have yet to comment.