Courts Criminal Justice FBI LA County Jail LASD Pandora's Box Paul Tanaka U.S. Attorney

Pandora’s Box: the Sexton Obstruction of Justice Trial Continues, Tanaka Drops F-Bombs, Baca Unlikely to Testify

Thursday is Day Three of the obstruction of justice trial of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton,
who is charged with engaging in a conspiracy to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers and other federal law enforcement agents.

Day one consisted of jury selection and opening statements by the prosecution and the defense. Then, on Wednesday, Day 2, the prosecution called its first four witnesses.

Sexton, if you’ll remember, is the youngest and the lowest ranking of seven who were indicted pertaining to the Brown matter. (His trial has been “severed” from the trial of the other six. That trial with multiple defendants will begin after Sexton’s case is completed.)

His defense team, led by former U.S. Attorney Tom O’Brien, intends to show that, while he participated in the Brown matter, Sexton—at the time 26-years old and 3 years out of the sheriff’s academy—was following the orders from multiple layers of supervisors, most of whom have not been indicted.


The prosecution, for its part, intends to show how Sexton and other department members conspired to keep Brown away from the reach of any federal agents.

In this regard, among the interesting points that arose in Day two, came in the testimony by two witnesses that, after investigators at the LASD figured out that Anthony Brown was a federal informant, the department suddenly changed its policy about how members of “outside law enforcement” could meet with or interview inmates.

Prior to the discovery that Brown was part of a covert FBI investigation into abuse and corruption in the jails, FBI agents and others had only to sign in, show a picture ID, explained Sgt. Robert Bayes, who was, at the time of the Brown incident, working as an investigator in the jails. Afterward, any visit required a lengthy series of permissions and approvals

And, according to an internal LASD email admitted as evidence on Wednesday, when it came to Brown himself, any visit by federal agents had to be approved directly by then undersheriff Paul Tanaka. Yet in a second email about the permission chain distributed more widely to department supervisors, Tanaka’s name was removed at his direction (according to another email), thereby masking the direct nature of his involvement in the hiding of Brown.

According to yet another LASD email distributed to the jury, permission to produce Brown for a writ of habeas corpus to appear in front of a federal grand jury must include the opinion of county counsel. However, the email specified—without apparent irony—that the county lawyer selected to be part of the permission process should be a particular man who conveniently happened to be on vacation for a month.

(There was also a lively moment in Bayes’ testimony when he described standing outside Tanaka’s office while his supervisor, Lt. Greg Thompson, briefed Tanaka about some part of Brown’s federal involvement. At one point in the meeting, according to Bayes, Tanaka expelled himself from his office with a loud and long series of f-bombs.)


The sheriff’s department official explanation for the hiding of Anthony Brown has always been that, once he was outed as an FBI informant, he needed to be hidden for his own good, so that no vengeful deputies would do him harm now that he’d been outed as a snitch.

Yet, in other emails entered into evidence and recordings played in court on Wednesday, various other high level department members, including then ICIB Captain, Tom Carey, and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, appeared to be involved in the direction of elaborate actions that were primarily designed to keep Anthony Brown away from any federal agents so that LASD team members could find out what he’d told the feds about wrongdoing in the jails.

Any possible danger from deputies was not mentioned, except on a couple of instances by Brown himself in a recording made when he was being questioned and expressed his reluctance to spill what he knew of deputy misconduct to the two deputies who were interviewing him.


Interestingly, very little of the evidence presented on Wednesday pertained at all to the defendant, James Sexton. And when his name did come up in the testimony of the prosecution’s last witness, FBI Special Agent Leah Marx, it was when Marx described some of what Sexton had told her and her colleagues about the Brown operation in the more than 30 meetings Sexton reportedly agreed to in order to provide information to the FBI and members of the U.S Attorney’s Office.

Among the things that Sexton told the FBI about the matter of hiding Anthony Brown, Marx testified, was that he had never heard of another instance when an inmate had been hidden from a law enforcement agency.

On Thursday the prosecution team—led by Assistant U.S Attorneys Brandon Fox and Lizabeth Rhodes—will continue with its witnesses.

When it is the defense’s turn, Sexton’s attorneys are expected to call Paul Tanaka, among others.

Although former sheriff Lee Baca is also on the defense witness list, we have learned that he is unlikely to be called.

FOR ADDITIONAL COVERAGE OF THE SEXTON TRIAL…. See ABC 7’s excellent rundowns on the first two days (here and here) and the smart report by KPCC’s Rina Palta. Plus the LA Times’ Victoria Kim has an interesting story on the trial’s first day.


  • They United States Attorney has the emails, the deputies testimony the same evidence they used to indict the deputies. Why then no indictment on those who led the operation?
    Oh I forgot your judgeship, they are handled different.
    And people wonder why locals don’t work well with the Feds?
    They are only interested in their own personal agenda. I wonder who that sounds like?
    Just an opinion.
    Celeste you did well exposing the inner corruption of the LASD, seems to be some interesting questions on why those in charge are not held to the same standard.

  • Left: Obviously LASD is not the only law enforcement agency lacking integrity. Politics running amok!

  • Tanaka dropping F-bombs? Shocking! I listen to his bogus radio ads and I want to puke. As this unfolds, some serious revelations are going to be exposed. I find it quite interesting that the Defense does NOT plan on calling Baca. That tells me, they (The Defense) feel they can prove Tanaka, not Baca, gave the orders to engage in this foolish, ego based plan to hide this thug from the Feds. If my theory is correct, I will be willing to bet that hidden away in that Federal Courthouse are some serious rebuttal witnesses just in case Tanaka decides to take the Fifth, or if he decides to get a foggy memory. Either way, this can potentially be his undoing. There very well might be some brilliant madness to what the Feds have/have not been doing regarding Tanaka and Company behind Pandora’s Box. That name, by the way, may be most fitting when all by the time all of these trials are completed. Sexton might walk, but the others are in some serious poison ivy, that includes those who have yet to be charged. There was a reason by the court bifurcated Sexton from the rest. His case might be the weakest, BUT produce the most evidence against the other 7 AND Tanaka himself. This is quite the buzz around the station. Read it and Weep.

  • As the many comments reflect, there is great puzzlement & subsequent expression of anger with the seeming omission of executives in the Pandora’s Box case. Lee Baca has stated that he is not the subject of investigation & has stated that the FBI has a hostile view of Paul Tanaka. I think as with many of Baca’s beliefs there’s more than a passing chance he’s wrong, fifty fifty on this one.

    I’m starting to think of this case in the context of the Rodney King matter, front end injustice & inaction with a following full court press by the Justice Department. In the Rodney King case had the LAPD & the District Attorney taken decisive action, might have 1992 not turned out the way it did? So you ask what’s the connection & I say front end injustice & inaction with the risk of incineration of public trust of the major law enforcement in Southern California. In the Rodney King case U.S. Justice brought in the first team. I think of the Pandora’s Box case as a moral & practical equivalent.

    What I ask is that everyone that has publicly endorsed Chief McDonnell & Bob Olmsted write a letter to U.S. Attorney Briotte & Attorney General Holder demanding the first team. We need to hold them accountable because I like many feel very dubious of present circumstance. Any action short of a full court press by the U.S Justice first team adds to the notion of a third world justice system & with it erosion of respect for law.

  • O.K.

    So,exactly, who is anthony Brown?

    Go here, deep within the archives of the L.A. Times,

    And you’ll find that

    1. He is a Federal prisoner serving 443 years to life for armed robbery. Scuttlebutt is that if his testimony pleases the FEDS he’ll be eligible for parole after 223 years.

    2. Somewhere in his court proceedings a judge is quoted as saying about Brown “I don’t believe a word you have to say.”

    For this inmate James Sexton is being excoriated.

  • This trial seems like a sham. Won’t the two 800-pound gorillas in the room be evident?

  • At some point the AUSA should realize how weak her case is and save some bullets for next week. However, her boss wants his cushy federal judge job and will likely keep pushing forward.

    The checks and balances are not working and the mainstream press (LA Times) should focus here on the prosecutor’s (bad) decision making and discretion. And any pressure she may be getting from Main Justice (Criminal Division) and the Acting AAG.

  • Let me get this straight, the FBI committed a misdemeanor which enabled a convicted felon to commit several felonies. The FBI purposely didn’t report it in order to protect an investigation that netted zero arrests for malfeasance in the jail (aside from what they created). The all knowing federal crime fighters nabbed zero of the deputies the informant alleged were up to no good. When they realized the cat was out of the bag and they had nothing to show for it, they indicted the deputies that did as ordered from 9 ranks above them to investigate the FBI’s crimes? In a press conference AB took credit for indictments which were ancillary to the investigation.

    Someone please tell me Ashton Kutcher is going to jump out with a camera crew at 312 N. Spring soon.

  • The Feds are embarrassing themselves. Sexton’s name is barely being mentioned by prosecution witnesses. So why is this kid being prosecuted in the first place? Because the FBI and US Attorney didn’t have the investigative talent or stugots to prosecute politically slippery targets like Baca and Tanaka. I hope Sexton gets acquitted and has a big party to celebrate. I know I’d like to attend that.

    The guy came forward to the FBI. He called them. And this is what he gets? What a joke.

  • Sexton will be acquitted in this farce of a trial held in a kangaroo court. The only good thing coming out of this trial will be seeing Mr “33 years” being grilled on the stand by Sexton’s attorney. Pauly has had some performance issues when the HARD questions come (i.e. jail commission testimony, KFI interview with John & Ken, KABC TV interview)

  • It will be genius if everything they show in this trial (sham) is used to prosecute Tanaka and or Baca! It’s like doing a deposition in open court!

  • Brighter Days are ahead for LASD, when this cleansing cycle finishes. Shocking to realize that LASD turned out to be it’s own worst enemy.

  • It doesn’t surprise many among the rank and file that LASD has become it’s own worse enemy. Everyone in the custody environment wanted to be class jock, even if it means playing “mean girls”. I’m sure many well meaning Deputies who fought hard to do the right thing despite criticism from their peers…. those weren’t even considered for specialized positions because they weren’t trying to be “one of the boys” or “in the car” hoped for this day to come. They were mature and professional in their bids but overlooked.

    This is what happens when you think you got it made because of who your daddy is. Im sure Sexton didnt talk to anybody he passed on the hall unless they greeted him first. Has anyone asked how he got into such a position in such a short time? If I did the math correctly,,, before he was even off probation. Why aren’t more senior members given such task? Oh wait, they were already demoralize by what the downward spiral they saw the department taking.

    All associations are not good associations and looking down on your peers just because you got the cool booking front spot doesn’t make you immune from being indicted. With assignments to specialized teams comes a greater responsibility to be humble and do and say the right thing even if it means you won’t be liked for it. Although I too believe the prosecutor is taking the long way around to getting to Tanaka, hopefully this is a lesson learned for those deputies who thought being “in the car” also meant they would be protected by the guys making the big bucks. Act in good faith and be ready to defend your actions because at the end of the day, no one will fall on the sword for you.

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