Last week two Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies, Michael Rathbun and James Sexton—both the sons of law enforcement fathers—filed suit in federal court naming LA County, Sheriff Lee Baca, the former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Lt. Greg Thompson, and a string of others.
The suit alleges retaliation, constitutional violations, malicious prosecution, conspiracy, harassment, direct threats—and a lot more.
It appears that Sexton and Rathbun tried every other possible route within the department to bring to light the alleged misconduct they said they witnessed, and to put a stop to the ongoing retaliation and agressive threats they reportedly experienced—but with no luck. So with much trepidation, the two brought this doozy of a lawsuit containing a laundry list of disturbing allegations, some of which we’ll cover in much more depth in the days to come.
For now here’s the overview:
To understand the whole of the 39-page lawsuit, which was filed on Tuesday April 23, by attorneys Brad Gage, Terry Goldberg, and Milad Sadr, all of Goldberg and Gage, it helps to remember that Rathbun and Sexton are the two deputies who were in the news some months ago, after a case they were working inside the jails allegedly got deliberately blown by their supervisor, Lt. Greg Thompson.
Sexton and Rathbun worked for the investigative unit inside the county jails known as Operation Safe Jails—or OSJ—an elite unit that develops intelligence sources and confidential informants among the inmates in order to better predict problems among the facilities’ gang populations.
The two, most particularly Sexton, were known for their facility at cultivating confidential informants—or CIs—who then yielded information that, in a great many cases, led to fruitful busts in the jails and, even more often, out in the street. Other units in the LASD, the LAPD, and sometimes the FBI had all, at one time or another, been able to make use of Sexton and Rathbun’s information.
In the course of the investigation that would trigger the string of events leading to this lawsuit, the two had been told by a confidential informant, whom they had found in the past to be extremely reliable, that a deputy in Men’s Central Jail, whose name was Joseph Britton, was allegedly passing information—and possibly more—-to an inmate who was the primary white supremacist shot caller for the county’s jail system. (Each racial group has its own gang hierarchy within each facility, and then an uber hierarchy in the county system as a whole.)
In return for his alleged favors for the white supremacist guy, who whose nickname is “Fritz,” Britton was allegedly getting expensive tattoo work for free by Fritz’s partner, who has a tattoo shop in the West Valley.
Sexton and Rathbun wrote up their detailed report on Britton, expecting their direct supervisor, Lt. Greg Thompson, to pass the information on to either Internal Affairs, or more likely, ICIB, the department’s internal investigative unit dealing with criminal matters, which would look into the allegations further.
Incredibly, Thompson did not pass the investigation up the line. Instead he took the un-redacted report—featuring Rathbun and Sexton’s name as investigators, and worse, the name of the confidential informant—and gave it to Britton, the deputy being investigated, plus others, thus effectively blowing the case to smithereens, and putting their CI potentially at lethal risk, since he was now in a position of being known as a snitch among Aryan Brotherhood types when he got out of jail. Being a snitch, in gang circles of any ethnicity, is traditionally a death sentence.
After Thompson leaked Sexton and Rathbun’s report, he reportedly did the thing that Sexton and Rathbun found the most unforgivable: He allegedly ordered one of his “acolyte” deputies to declassify their CI from a “K-10″ protected status, and then move him into the jail’s “general population,” meaning he was out among the masses, completely unprotected, thus his life would be immediately at risk. The risk was especially potent now that Lt. Thompson had liberally handed around the confidential investigative report that would unambiguously label the informant as a “snitch.” A rat.
Indeed, an attempt on the CI’s life was reportedly made almost immediately after the move into general population, or gen pop. An inmate tried to shank him in the showers. The CI survived, according to Rathbun and Sexton, but only because he was larger and faster than his assailant.
The minute they heard of the CI’s exposure, Sexton and Rathbun pulled every string possible, and managed get their man back into a protected unit where they kept a close eye on him.
Stunned and furious at what they saw as their boss’s deliberate endangerment of their informant, Sexton and Rathbun went to internal affairs themselves and laid out what they knew.
That, according to the lawsuit, is when the threats and the retaliation began.
Months later, when an article about the Britton matter appeared in the LA Times, Rathbun and Sexton were subsequently called to testify in front of a federal grand jury.
After the feds entered the picture, the retaliation, the intimidation and the implicit and explicit threats became far more intense and frightening, according to the lawsuit.
SECOND GENERATION LAWMEN
Both Rathbun and Sexton are well-educated deputies, and second-generation cops, who appeared to come to the department with the idealistic view that the LASD was a place where they could make a positive contribution. Rathbun graduated from UC Santa Barbara, while Sexton began at West Point, finished up at the University of Alabama, and is now getting his master’s at USC.
Mike Rathbun is the son of 35-year LASD veteran, David Rathbun, now a reserve deputy. James Sexton is the son of Ted Sexton, the department’s newly hired Chief of Homeland Security, who left his longtime job as head of the sheriff’s department in Tuscaloosa County, Alabama, to come to work for his friend, Lee Baca.
In fact, when they had reportedly exhausted all other avenues, the lawsuit also alleges that each of the deputies talked multiple times personally with Baca whom they informed of everything that now forms the basis of the 39-page complaint. Sexton and Rathbun maintain they asked Baca for help, for advice as how best to proceed and, as matters deteriorated, they expressed fears for their personal safety.
Yet, it all came to nothing, they said.
Instead, the retaliation and threats against Rathbun and Sexton continued to get worse.
THE ANTHONY BROWN FACTOR: HIDING THE FEDERAL INFORMANT (FROM THE FEDS)
Even before the matter of Lt. Thompson, and the alleged endangering of the confidential informant, the lawsuit states that Rathbun and Sexton were ordered to participate in an “operation” that they quickly realized likely involved them in a crime—namely the hiding of FBI informant, Anthony Brown.
According to the lawsuit, the matter of moving Brown from place to place, clandestinely, inside the jail system, which LASD officials have claimed was done for Brown’s safety, was explicitly for the purpose of keeping him away from his FBI handlers and anyone from the U.S. Attorney’s office. Sexton and Rathbun know this because they were part of the team tasked with an extremely elaborate scheme of allegedly hiding Brown from any FBI agents or assistant US Attorneys, so that he could be debriefed by members of the sheriff’s department, who wanted to know for themselves what Brown had seen and heard that he was going to pass along to the Feds.
The lawsuit alleges that Lt. Thompson led the operation, but that he repeatedly stated to his troops that he did so at the direction of Paul Tanaka. Sexton and Rathbun describe multiple instances where Tanaka’s oversight was verified.
The deputies also report having knowledge of Sheriff Lee Baca being briefed on the operation.
WHITE POWER GANGS & RACIST DEPUTIES
Among its many disheartening allegations, the suit maintains that certain members of OSJ—the elit investigative unit within the LA County Jail system of which Sexton and Rathbun were members—have “an inappropriate relationship” with “various inmate gangs, particularly white supremacist gangs,” and that these department members use the inmate gangsters “as proxies or agents to retaliate against other LASD deputies or inmates” against whom they have a beef or grudge.
Sexton and Rathbun reportedly know this because they’ve witnessed it, and also because, once the Britton case came apart, they began being targeted.
The lawsuit outlines a quid pro quo system in which the Aryan Brotherhood-like types get special privileges that they are “otherwise legally precluded from.” In return, the white power gangsters do dirty work for a clique of racist deputies, a group in which Rathbun and Sexton say Thompson is included. (The suit also notes that Greg Thompson is a Viking from the same era as Paul Tanaka, and is reportedly very close to Tanaka. Thompson is named multiple times for wrongdoing in the famous class action lawsuit, Thomas v. the County of Los Angeles, settled in 1996 for $9 million.)
The lawsuit also alleges incidents in which OSJ deputies working in Men’s Central Jail would beat up inmates when it suited them, in one case, repeatedly harassing and injuring one of Sexton’s other confidential informants.
When Sexton reported the issues with his informant, having first vetted the claims to his own satisfaction, nothing was done. It was just bad judgement at most, he was told. Inmates lie.
THREATS & RETALIATION
The tale of the escalating threats and retaliation against Sexton and Rathbun that the lawsuit alleges is alarming and likely worth its own harrowing narrative. Here, however, is a sampling:
In late February 2012, Sexton was “cornered” in a department office by two OSJ deputies, who were on duty in uniform, who told him that he and Rathbun “better shut up or else,’ about the Britton case.
Also in February, Sexton was confronted around 1 am in the jails parking lot by a uniformed deputy who warned, his manner agressive, that he and Rathbun had better keep their mouths shut about the Britton case.
At the same time, MCJ OSJ deputies referred to Sexton and Rathbun as “snitches” and told them that in moving “Fritz,’ the white power shot caller, the two were “fucking up their program.”
In March 2012, Sexton conducted an audio-taped interview with a suspect in an unrelated case, in the custody facilities. Bizarrely, the audio was subsequently leaked and posted on YouTube. “Sexton’s ID was thus exposed, and his well-being placed in jeopardy.” Sexton asked Lt. Thompson to investigate the matter, but Thompson reportedly declined telling Sexton to ‘forget about it.”
In April 2012, Rathbun, who had been struggling with drinking to cope with increasing job stress, had a bad night in which he drank a lot, and got into a “fender bender,” and was charged with a misdemeanor DUI. The video of the arrest, was anonymously posted on the LASD’s intranet network.
“White power” literature was left on the front porch at Rathbun’s home in a manner that was seen as a threat. At the same time, white power inmates in MCJ began referring to Rathbun and Sexton as “race traitors.”
The lawsuit reports several similar and aggressive warnings of “you better…or else” from OSJ deputies, including Lt. Thompson’s son, Matt Thompson.
In April 2012, right before Sexton was due to be interviewed by Internal affairs about the Britton incident. Lt. Thompson himself called Sexton at home and asked if he was going to talk to IA and ICIB. Sexton said he was. Thompson then reportedly abruptly hung up.
The threats continued, and included awkward meetings with Thompson who demanded to know what Sexton and Rathbun had told LASD personnel in this or that interview.
In May, Thompson called Sexton into his office. “Have you been calling your dad back home about this?” he wanted to know. Yes, sir, said Sexton. “If I were you I’d quit telling your dad war stories about what’s going on in this jail.”
Often now, according to the lawsuit, the threats came with explicit mentions of bodily harm.
After Sexton and Rathbun were subpoenaed to testify in front of a grand jury, and indeed testified, two deputies cornered Sexton, one of them, Lt. Greg Thompson’s son, Matt Thompson, wanting to know what they’d talked about at the grand jury.
In June, after Thompson was removed from the unit, two deputies announced at a unit party that whomever caused “the boss” to be transfered would “answer” for their actions.
Sexton has allegedly been subject to frivolous retaliatory investigations by Internal Affairs, each time coming to nothing.
And then there is the matter of Rathbun’s DUI, which was quietly upped to a felony, which would have likely meant prison time, although, according to the lawsuit, there was no factual basis whatsoever for the escalation of charges. The suit alleges that the charges were raised at the behest of LASD supervisors.
Rathbun’s car was vandalized on LASD property.
Sexton found men in an unmarked car across the street from his house, watching his home, attempting to take pictures. When Sexton approached them, they claimed to be “insurance inspectors,” but reportedly sped away when he asked for ID.
In the summer of 2012, Rathbun was suspended without pay for the DUI, but assured by Baca that he would be able to return with no harm to his career.
In September 2012 Sexton needed to make a work-related visit to the department’s Temple Station, where Thompson had been transferred after an LA Times article precipitated the opening of an IA investigation into his actions regarding the Britton matter. Upon arriving, however, Sexton was intercepted by Temple station’s Sgt. Larry Mead, who reportedly relayed a message from Thompson that Sexton should leave the premises, “to prevent an incident.”
In late 2012, a high-ranking supervisor expressed concern that Sexton and Rathbun’s lives might be in danger.
in late 2012, “Rathbun discovered that LASD personnel, including Detective Perkins,” were the ones responsible for escalating his DUI misdemeanor to a felony. (The charge was eventually dropped again by the DA to a misdemeanor, and the case settled.)
In March of 2013,” reports the lawsuit, “Michael Rathbun was recommended for termination,” although the DUI was his first infraction, and according to a document obtained by WLA, at least 5 other LASD deputies and 4 non-sworn LASD staff members also got DUI’s in the first two quarters of last year, for which they received only 15 to 30-day suspensions.
There’s more to this story, so stay tuned for the next chapter of Betrayal of Trust