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SHOOT THE MESSENGER: Sheriff’s Department Investigates Ret. Cmr. Olmsted’s Accounts of Jail Violence and Higher Ups Lack of Response

February 6th, 2012 by Celeste Fremon

In an interesting turn of events, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department
has launched an investigation into whether or not retired custody commander, Robert Olmsted, was blocked from from correcting problems at Men’s Central Jail that he said he repeatedly reported to command staff.

Olmsted worries that the new probe is merely an attempt to blame him for higher ups’ failure to correct what is now a widely reported pattern of abuse of inmates by deputies.

Looking at past statements coming from the LASD-–both officially and through back channels—there is much to support Olmsted’s concerns.

This is from a report published Monday in the LA Times:

According to the Sheriff’s Department, the investigation was launched to determine if anyone had stopped Cmdr. Robert Olmsted from correcting the problems he had seen with excessive force and jailer cliques. But Olmsted is accusing sheriff’s officials of rigging the probe to scapegoat him and insulate high-ranking officials from culpability, saying he has seen them protect people in the past.

As Matt Fleischer reported for WitnessLA last year, Olmsted explained how he warned top ranking department —including Sheriff Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka—about growing problems in Men’s Central Jail but the command staff to whom he spoke declined to do anything about the problems, or in the case of Paul Tanaka, in some instances, actively got in the way of reform.

In response to reports on the matter by WitnessLA and the LA Times, in past weeks, Sheriff Baca has repeatedly insisted that it was in fact Olmsted who was at fault for not fixing the problems himself. Here, for instance, is some of what the sheriff said in mid-January in an interview with a Finnish American publication.

[Robert Olmsted] told me he tried to warn his supervisors, but when I spoke to his supervisors, they said he didn’t try to warn them. So, the guy strikes me as being a little odd. If he knew about these things, why didn’t he tell me while he was working there instead months later when he is retired and left the department…..”

Baca went on to claim that all Olmsted did was to say, “let’s just fix the problem in terms of painting over graffiti….”

The sheriff’s characterization flies in the face of reports of multiple department sources familiar with events at Men’s Central Jail during the period in question—and is contrary to Olmsted’s own accounts.

According to the LA Times, Olmsted initially tried to cooperate with the new investigation and “…consented to one interview with Cmdr. Joseph Hartshorne, who is heading up the probe.” However, Olmsted has reportedly since declined to cooperate further, fearing that the department’s intentions are disingenuous and that this probe is not designed to get to the bottom of matters at all, but instead will attempt to whitewash the sheriff and undersheriff’s actions and blame Olmsted.

The LA Times reporters listened to a recording of the interview between Olmsted and Hartshorne, in which Olmsted talked to Hartshorne about many of the issues regarding Captain Dan Cruz that Matt Fleischer has reported in WLA’s Dangerous Jails series. (Cruz was put on administrative leave last fall while his actions at Men’s Central Jail are investigated.)

For example there is this:

Olmsted told Hartshorne that well before the department put Cruz on leave, sheriff’s brass protected Cruz from a lackluster performance review Olmsted tried to give him, altering it to be a good one. He said the alterations were ordered by Burns.

(For more details of the Cruz performance review incident see Dangerous Jails Part 2, and scroll to the section: NO ACCOUNTABILITY.)

The Times also reported this:

During the interview, Olmsted and Hartshorne also discussed a perception of favoritism created because Baca and Tanaka — who is mayor of Gardena — accept campaign contributions from department employees. Baca and Tanaka have collected thousands of dollars in donations over the years from deputies.

In an interview with The Times last week, Olmsted suggested that Cruz’s contributions to Tanaka were part of the reason Cruz wasn’t transferred from his jail post sooner.

Ah, yes, the campaign contributions.

More specifically, as Matt reported here, according to documents we’ve acquired with Public Records Act requests, just about the time that Olmsted was reporting Cruz’s actions to higher ups, Dan Cruz made two very timely donations to Paul Tanaka’s political campaign—on December 18, 2008, and on January 6, 2009.

In addition, Matt reported that when Cruz was finally moved out of his troubled custody assignment, rather than being sanctioned, to Olmsted’s shock, plans were made for Cruz to be promoted—by Paul Tanaka.

As luck would have it, the now infamous Christmas fight occurred, involving the 3000 boys and others, with Cruz the senior officer on site. The planned promotion, which had yet to take place, reportedly evaporated. (Here’s a clip from that story to remind you.)

Could these donations have been a contributing factor to why Cruz was never reprimanded by Tanaka for his performance inside CJ? Sources claim that they were. As evidence, they point to the way Cruz’s exit from the jail was handled.

In the fall of 2010, Olmsted’s insistence that CJ was out of control under Dan Cruz finally forced Tanaka to investigate what was happening. Up until that time Tanaka had been relying almost exclusively on Cruz’s word that all was well at the facility. Tanaka sent his close ally and longtime campaign donor, Duane Harris, into the jail to lead an investigation. Harris came back 10 days later with a report that found Cruz culpable for the escalating violence in the jail—which, in turn, forced Tanaka’s hand in transferring the captain from his post.

Bob Olmsted says he met with Tanaka to plan Dan Cruz’s exit strategy from CJ. Olmsted says he was surprised to find that the plan was not to punish Cruz for his inaction and incompetence, but to transfer and then reward him. Cruz would be made a commander.

“Tanaka told me Cruz was ‘the only viable candidate’ he was willing to promote to commander,” says Olmsted. “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.”

[See Dangerous Jails Part 3 for more.]

Interestingly, according to the Times, Olmsted reports that Hartshorne—the man heading the probe of Olmsted’s claims— made a $100 political contribution to Tanaka in 2009.

The Times goes on to report that Sheriff’s officials reject the suggestion that small donations affect personnel decisions.

On Tuesday, WitnessLA will post all 2009 donations to the undersheriff’s Gardena elections campaign.

In the meantime, here’s a link to the previously posted 2008 donations to the Friends of Paul Tanaka.

Dangerous Jails, Part 5, coming next month, will have lots more.

Posted in LA County Board of Supervisors, LA County Jail, LASD, Los Angeles Times, Sheriff Lee Baca, THE LA JUSTICE REPORT | 8 Comments »

8 Responses

  1. Morning Buzz: Monday 2.6.11 * | LA News Talk Radio Says:

    [...] Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department commander Robert Olmsted, who publicly accused department brass last year of ignoring his warnings about jail abuse, is now at the center of an internal investigation that he says is a “witch hunt.” LAT, Witness LA [...]

  2. You gotta be kidding me Says:

    Matt and Witness LA, YOU guys are the only true journalists who are objectively investigating and reporting the facts. Tanaka IS and HAS been the cancer within the LASD for many years now. Baca has been globe trotting all around the world, fancying himself as the one who is going to bring peace to the middle east. All the while, Paul Tanaka has been a one man wrecking crew to the Sheriff’s Department. Your hard hitting report on Tanaka “The Prince – Cigar Club” was the first time in this man’s protected departmental history where he has been exposed for what he is.

    Bob Olmsted “tried” to do everything possible to fix this problem. Under any other circumstances, Commander Olmsted would have gone to Chief Burns and stated, “This is my problem (Cruz) and this is my solution (discipline and if no improvement, demotion to lieutenant). And under any other circumstances the Chief would/should have simply said, “Do it.” But that is in the real world. As Matt reported, Tanaka has neutered everyone in the organization with his insatiable and compulsive desire to micro manage everything to the point Lieutenants, Captains, Chiefs and even Assistant Sheriffs can’t do ANYTHING unless Paul Tanaka says it is okay. How about the famous statements by Captain Cruz and a “probationer” female lieutenant, “I don’t report to you (their bosses) I report directly to Mr. Tanaka.

    Hang in their Olmsted, you have done the right thing. Witness LA is reporting the facts, the Times and other so called “main stream media” refuse to do any hard investigative reporting on Paul Tanaka and Lee Baca. But trust me, the truth is going to come out and when it does, it will probably be in the form of Federal indictments.

  3. Tom Says:

    Hartschone to investigate this is a complete joke. Tanaka is so vulnerble and Joe is his man. Sheriff: ask Chief Beck for a couple of Captains or the FBI to do the inquiry. Please wake up Sheriff Rumplestiltskin

  4. Loyal Employee Says:

    I read the LA Time article last night and was not impressed by the LA Times. I’m glad WitnessLA is reporting what is going on with the LASO. I wish Whitmore or Baca or Tanaka or someone would explain to me WHY would Bob Olmsted come out AFTER his retirement and expose himself if he was the one at fault…please…someone explain this to me??? Even though I don’t know Bob personally, it sounds to me like he is an honorable man who cares for this department. I can’t wait to see Baca and Tanaka get indicted. It would be great to see them in a jail cell next to Corona.

  5. InterestedParty Says:

    Ditto on the Olmsted comments. Bob’s never been a glory seeker or a player or a positioner – he’s a straight shooting, hard working guy. I once thought the same of Joe Hartshorne, but not so sure anymore. What sort of conniving scheme are Tanaka or Baca incubating – to what end – by utilizing a COMMANDER to do grunt, trench investigation work? I mean, I know Joe is more than capable, but that they wouldn’t use an investigator, that they would pull a MANAGER away from his duties to MANAGE, smacks of more stinky-stinky, Machiavellian moves. Cunning, duplicity you ask? They’re circling the wagons and firing on Bob!

  6. Matt Says:

    Olmstead will be the scapegoat along with many others that are retiring in March.

  7. SoManyIdeas Says:

    It is interesting that people that seem to know the individuals involved have so much commentary. Using someone of rank qualified to conduct an investigation of brass eliminates a lot of meddling, he is empowered to ask anyone anything. Hartshorne is such an individual, anyone knowing his background knows he is a qualified investigator, honest, principaled. He was on the task force that eventually convicted a number of sworn personal who had broken the law so he does not shy away from difficult tasks. I have heard the same comments about Olmstead and there is nothing I have seen or heard that suggests otherwise. But why did he make the allegations and then back away from providing additional information. He apparently was afforded the opportunity to lead a group to fix the problems and he backed away from that, if he was so concerned that was the ideal opportunity with the perfect forum. I have heard so much about how poorly Cruz had done, but who supported his appointment to that position? who signed off on his probationary approval? Does Chief Burns do the evaluations or would it have been Olmsted? As far as asking the FBI into the investigation, their undercover sting resulted in the identification and removal of a corrupt deputy sheriff. Wait, they did pay the bribe, they knowingly allowed a corrupt deputy sheriff to continue to work in the jail environment unknown to his superiors. In the end the contraband phone was recovered, the deputy identified and fired, and all this was done by good deputies doing their job. The FBI should be thanked for providing the bribe money, the phone. With unlimited access to phones it is really difficult to understand why the FBI needed a phone in there anyway. , and it will now. PS I do not drink Tanaka tea, and sincerely doubt that he is for sale for a $100. He is the only one that can answer that question. Witness LA while I may not necessarily agree with all your commentary, I do feel the questions you raise are legitimate and should be answered

  8. Retired lt Says:

    Bob Olmstead is an honorable man. Look into Undersheriff Tanaka’s allowing his selected deputies rating Supervisors on the Department, allowing them to influence the careers of the supervisors. If you are a proactive supervisor, you are punished and if you unfortunately have to do investigations on his respected deputies, you are unfortunately believed to be a poor supervisor. Supervisory courage is frowned upon in his administration. If supervisory courage was the norm, rather than the exception, the Dept would not be in the limelight now. Promoting supervisors who are extremely loyal to Mr. Tanaka should not be allow if they are not qualified.

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