On Tuesday July 1, 2014, former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s sergeant Maricela Long, and five other members of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, were convicted of obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice for their involvement in a series of actions that took place during August and September of 2011, when the six and others hid federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, threatened a federal agent, tampered with witnesses, and in other ways worked to disrupt a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails system.
The series of obstructive acts came, unofficially, to be be called “Operation Pandora’s Box.”
In late September of 2014, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced the six to terms in federal prison ranging from 21 Months to 41 months.
Maricela Long, who was also convicted of making false statements to federal officials, was sentenced to 24 months in federal prison.
(At this time, she is still serving her sentence.)
In February of this year, Long filed a civil lawsuit against former LA County sheriff Lee Baca and Los Angeles County, arguing in essence that Baca made her engage in the illegal acts that ended her career, and sent her to prison.
“Ms. Long, a deputy newly assigned to the investigations unit Baca ordered to investigate the FBI,” her lawyers wrote in her complaint, “carried out actions she was directed to perform within a rigid chain-of-command environment under which she was expected to follow the orders given to her by her superiors.”
In the lawsuit, Long sought damages for her loss of liberty, loss of employment, and loss of the ability to pursue a law enforcement career. (Long was employed by the LASD for over 23 years, until her employment was terminated by civil service in 2017, post conviction.)
Since the February filing by Long, Baca’s lawyers have moved to dismiss the lawsuit, and Long has fought back.
At a hearing last month, Long’s attorney, Chaka Okadigbo, argued to U.S District Judge Michael Fitzgerald that Baca set in motion “the chain of events that ultimately led” to Long’s violation of federal law.
At the Friday, May 18 hearing, the judge likened Long and Okadigbo’s argument to the infamous just following orders Nuremberg defense.
Then, at a second hearing on May 22, Fitzgerald lowered the legal boom and dismissed Long’s case altogether “with prejudice” and without leave to amend.
“She could have chosen to obey the law,” Fitzgerald wrote in his ruling. The court has not located, he continued, any relevant case “where a plaintiff herself committed a criminal act, was convicted and suffered the consequences of a conviction, and then turned around and sued some governmental actor (be it an employer or otherwise) for setting the stage for her to commit her criminal acts.”
The plaintiff, he concluded, “cannot be both the victim and the perpetrator of the intervening criminal activity.”
And just in case anyone missed the point, Fitzgerald added that if Long were to succeed with this lawsuit, “it would necessarily imply the invalidity of her prior, Ninth-Circuit-affirmed, criminal conviction on obstruction of justice, false statement, and conspiracy charges.”
And that was that.
(You can read Judge Fitzgerald’s ruling for yourself here.)
Former Sheriff Lee Baca, as most will remember, was also convicted for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and was sentenced by Judge Percy Anderson on May 12, 2017, to three years in federal prison.
As of this writing, Mr. Baca is out on bail pending an appeal to the 9th circuit.