At 1 pm Monday, United States Attorney Andre Birotte announced the filing of 5 criminal cases that include indictments for a total of 18 current or one-time deputy sheriffs of various ranks that were unsealed today as part of the FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations and corruption involving members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, that Birotte described as “ongoing and wide-ranging.”
Four grand jury indictments and one criminal complaint allege crimes that include “unjustified beatings of jail inmates and visitors at downtown Los Angeles jail facilities, unjustified detentions and a conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation into misconduct at the Men’s Central Jail.”
Federal authorities announced the charges after 16 of the defendants were taken into custody earlier today. Those defendants are expected to be arraigned on the charges this afternoon in United States District Court in Los Angeles.
“The five cases allege a wide scope of illegal conduct,” said US Attorney Birotte. “This investigation started by focusing on misconduct in county jails, and we uncovered examples of civil rights violations that included excessive force and unlawful arrests.
“Our investigation also found that these incidents did not take place in a vacuum,” said Birotte. “In fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized.
“The pattern of activity alleged in the obstruction of justice case shows how some members of the Sheriff’s Department considered themselves to be above the law. Instead of cooperating with the federal investigation to ensure that corrupt law enforcement officers would be brought to justice, the defendants in this case are accused of taking affirmative steps designed to ensure that light would not shine on illegal conduct that violated basic constitutional rights.”
Many of those listed in the five groups of indictments were already been arrested when the feds announced the indictments Monday morning, however other arrests were still taking place by the time of the 1 pm press conference.
INDICTMENTS AROUND “OPERATION PANDORA’S BOX”- THE HIDING OF FEDERAL INFORMANT ANTHONY BROWN
Among the five criminal cases announced Monday, is the case known as United States v. Thomson, et al, which has to do with the department’s hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown. (We wrote extensively about the circumstances underlying the case here.)
Seven people were indicted with regard to the operation in which two LASD teams allegedly hid and/or aggressively debriefed federal informant Anthony Brown who, while an inmate in the jails, was recruited by the FBI to report on possible wrongdoing by deputies, as a part fo the feds’ then widening investigation into brutality and corruption on the county’s jails.
Among those indicted Monday on the Brown matter are Gregory Thompson, Steven Leavins, Gerard Smith, Mikey Manzo, James Sexton, Scott Craig and Maricela Long.
Thompson, now retired ahead of being fired by the LASD, was the lieutenant whose team of more than a dozen deputies did the physical (and cyber) hiding of informant Brown. Smith, Manzo, and Sexton worked under Thompson.
Leavins was the leader of the team that reportedly did the secret debriefing of Brown.
Craig and Long are the two sergeants in the Internal Criminal investigations Bureau (ICIB) of the LASD, who were allegedly sent out to threaten and intimidate Brown’s FBI handler, showing up at her private home late at night, telling her they planned to arrest her in the hope of getting information out of her.
Many LASD watchers were surprised to hear that James Sexton was on the indictment list since, along with his LASD work partner, Mike Rathbun, he was—and still is—a whistleblower, both in the Anthony Brown federal case and in another case involving a jails deputy who was allegedly doing favors for an inmate who was reportedly a shot caller in the jail for white supremacist groups. (Details on that case are here.)
WHAT ABOUT THE BIG FISH?
Clearly Thompson, Leavins, the two ICIB sergeants, and the deputies working under Thompson, did not take it upon themselves to hide Anthony Brown. They were ordered to do so.
According to multiple sources, the person to whom Thompson and Leavins reported on the operation was former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka. However there are several reports that Sheriff Lee Baca was briefed on the operation all along the way.
It is unclear who ordered Sergeants Craig and Long to go to the FBI agent’s home to allegedly try to get information from her using threats and intimidation, but according to our sources, at least one of the sergeants reported about the trip to Sheriff Lee Baca.
So will people higher up the food chain be indicted?
We would be stunned if that were not the case. As to how high those indictments might go….that’s the zillion dollar question.
THE SHERIFF RESPONDS TO THE INDICTMENTS
At a press conference held at 3:30 on Monday afternoon, Sheriff Baca first made a brief statement, then responded to reporters’ questions about the just handed down indictments.
“While the indictments were not unexpected,” he said, “it is a sad day for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.” The sheriff also assured the crowd that the LASD was fully cooperating with the ongoing investigation.
Reporters asked Baca if federal informant Anthony Brown was deliberately kept away from the FBI and whether he, Baca, was aware that two of his sergeants went to a federal agent’s house.
Baca essentially did not answer either question, but said that he could not comment on the feds’ facts. “It’s not my desire or to probe their investigation before it’s completed,” he said specifically when asked about the sergeants and the wee hours visit.
When the sheriff was asked whether either of the lieutenants-–Thompson or Leavins—reported to him, he denied that they did. “There are no direct reports to me outside the chain of command,” answered Baca.
“There are no institutional problems with regard to correcting itself,” Baca said. “Fourteen or fifteen people under indictment is not an institutional number.”
NOTE: I’LL BE ON WHICH WAY LA? WITH WARREN OLNEY TONIGHT AT 7 PM, ON KCRW, 89.9 FM