After a flood of negative media, a string of high ticket lawsuits, and an aggressively widening FBI investigation, there has been a measurable drop in use of force inside the county’s jails in the past two years.
Yet, while the force incidents are thankfully fewer, when brutality is reported, it still seems to be rare that deputies are ever found to be at fault, even when inmates are badly injured.
It is left to juries to hold those who brutalize inmates accountable as, all too often, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department does not.
The story below by WitnessLA reporter Matt Fleischer begins as one more example of a failure by the department to critically examine a questionably-timed account of the beating of an inmate by a group of deputies.
Yet this time the story has an interesting and unexpected ending.
Truth & Consequence: the Inmate, the Beating & the Deputies Who Lied
by Matthew Fleischer
On the afternoon of April 8, 2011, Gregory Burkhamer, then an inmate in the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department’s Twin Towers Correction Facility, claims he was beaten by a group of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputies. According to a declaration given by Burkhamer to the ACLU, the inmate says he was waiting in a hallway to be taken back to his cell after a visit to the jail’s medical clinic, when he began whistling to pass the time. Annoyed by the noise, LASD deputy Douglas Michaelson allegedly told Burkhamer to “shut the fuck up.”
When Burkhamer mouthed off in return, Michaelson allegedly grabbed the inmate by the throat, dragged him to a holding tank, and beat him with the help of five to six other deputies. When the beating stopped, in addition to bruises, Burkhamer had a gash in his forehead that he said required five stiches at Los Angeles County USC Medical Center.
Burkhamer’s is a story told all too often in recent years as tales of deputy abuse of inmates in the LA County jails made national news, then became the subject of an FBI investigation that the US Attorney has suggested will result in indictments, along with the more recent Department of Justice civil rights probe, plus the scathing findings presented by the Citizens Committee on Jail Violence.
Yet despite evidence that there has been a pattern of abuse of inmates by certain deputies inside the county jails, as with most other recent abuse cases of note, even those that have resulted in high dollar settlements, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department had a very prescribed view regarding who was at fault in the conflict between Burkhamer and Michaelson.
According to Michaelson’s official report of the incident, Burkhamer had grown impatient waiting to return to his cell, so squared off in a “fighting stance” against deputies. While being subdued, Burkhamer then allegedly made “terrorist” threats against the deputy.
“Michaelson, I’m going to remember that name because when I get out of jail, I’m going to find you and shoot you in the fucking head!”
Though the incident occurred on April 8, 2011, and despite the seriousness of the purported threat, there was no charge at that time, nor was Burkhamer disciplined, according to his declaration.
On June 29, Burkhamer met with Esther Lim of ACLU to talk about the incident. Their conversation, he says, was within earshot of a sergeant who was present for his beating. One week later, he claims,, he was notified an “add” charge brought by the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office for “resisting an executive officer” and “making criminal threats” against an officer. According to court documents in the case, Burkhamer’s alleged threats against Michaelson created in the deputy a “reasonable and sustained fear for his safety and the safety of his immediate family,” and caused Michaelson to believe that he faced the “immediate prospect of execution,” based on his interaction with Burkhamer.
Burkhamer, meanwhile, maintained his innocence, and insisted that it was the deputies, chiefly Michaelson, who had beaten him—–their actions unprovoked, save for Burkhamer’s brief bout of mouthing off after Michaelson swore at him.
Months later, the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office used the new charges as a bargaining tool and offered a deal to drop the charges in the terrorist threat case in exchange for a plea on Burkhamer’s original case that brought him to jail in the first place. Burkhamer’s alternate public defender, Jeffrey Cohen, says he believed at the time that Michaelson and the other deputies had lied about the beating, and urged his client to go to trial. The suspicious timeline of the charges, which were brought only after Burkhamer spoke with the ACLU, only furthered Cohens conviction.
“At the same time, I counseled Mr. Burkhamer that I couldn’t guarantee we’d be able to win,” he says.
If Burkhamer rejected the deal and was found guilty of the additional charges, Cohen warned his client, it could add years to his sentence.
“All you have is Mr. Burkhamer’s word against several deputies,” says Cohen “If you go to trial, in that situation, you have to ask the jury to believe Mr. Burkhamer’s word against Michaelson, and the five other deputies who signed off on that story. That scenario does not typically work out well for the defendant.”
On December 9, 2011, Burkhamer agreed to accept a plea of four years in state prison, minus 261 days for time served in jail, and a reduced sentence of 40 days for good behavior.
Attorney Cohen assumed the case was a wrap. Then, something unusual occurred.
On April 9, 2013, almost two years to the day after the disputed incident, Cohen received a letter from Assistant Head Deputy Margo Baxter of the Van Nuys branch of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. The letter read in part:
“We have been informed by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that LASD deputy sheriff Douglas Michaelson has admitted to authoring a false report and authoring perjured testimony during the preliminary hearing [in the Burkhamer case]…This information is being provided to you so you may take whatever action you deem necessary.”
Cohen had handled several cases where his clients had claimed deputies had testified falsely against them. But this was the first time he had ever received a formal letter confirming that his client’s claims were in fact the truth. Michaelson, as Burkhamer had suggested all along, had lied.
(The letter, which you can read in it’s entirety here, didn’t specify precisely what Michaelson lied about.)
“For years, Sheriff Baca, Department officials, [department spokesperson] Steve Whitmore and other have tried to cover up the jail abuse scandal by saying that inmates lie,” says ACLU of Southern California legal director Peter Eliasberg. “Unfortunately, we are now seeing numerous cases that indicate deputies also lie. And they sometimes lie under oath.”
Asked about the matter, LASD spokesperson Steve Whitmore says Michaelson is no longer with the department after resigning on October 24, 2012.
“He was under investigation by Internal Affairs, and when presented with the facts of the case against him, he resigned.”
Whitmore was unable to discuss the specifics of the IA case, but did note, curiously, that Michaelson’s resignation had “nothing to do with force and it had nothing to do with perjury.”
What exactly Michaelson was under investigation for, and whether or not criminal charges will be brought against him, remains to be seen. James Garrison of the LA District Attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division (JSID), which is responsible for prosecuting cases against local law enforcement, tells WitnessLA that there is no record of a pending case against Michaelson in the system.
That doesn’t mean, however, that charges will not be filed. Garrison was not authorized to speak about the matter, but sources with knowledge of the situation indicate the investigation into Michaelson may be part of a larger case against a department deputy named Jermaine “Action” Jackson.
A five-year LASD veteran, Jackson was arrested in December of last year and charged with assault by means likely to produce great bodily injury, assault by a public officer and filing a false report against another Twin Towers inmate named Derek Griscavage
According to his ACLU declaration, Griscavage says he was beaten severely by Jackson while handcuffed on Christmas day 2010, after the two got into a brief verbal spat during a routine cell search. After the beating, Griscavage was put on “lockdown” for assaulting a deputy, allegedly because Jackson received a scratch on his hand during the altercation.
Jackson also stands accused of assaulting another inmate, Cesar Campana, at the Compton courthouse lockup in 2009.
This same Jackson was one of the deputies who signed off on Michaelson’s report, and was a participant in the beating that left Burkhamer injured. Burkhamer further alleged that Jackson threatened him several times in the wake of the incident.
So that makes at least two deputies who, it now appears, falsely reported about the circumstances in which Burkhamer was beaten.
Cohen says that after he received the DA’s letter, he contacted Burkhamer in prison about the possibility of filing a writ of habeas corpus—a petition to a judge for sentencing relief. Since the threat of two additional felony charges hung over Burkhamer when he reached his plea deal, there is a chance he could receive a lesser sentence were he to petition the court for relief. The Alternate Public Defender’s office largely does not handle habeas petitions, so all Cohen could do is make Burkhamer aware of his legal options. Cohen says he is unaware what action, if any, Burkhamer took, but that with roughly only one-year left on his sentence, habeas wasn’t really a practical option.
“It’s really too late now,” he says. “Mr. Burkhamer already pled to something that didn’t go down.
“It’s horrifying really. This is the first time I’ve received a letter like this. But how many more cases are there where Michaelson or Jackson lied, or backed up a buddy of his who lied?”
Based on his experience, Cohen says he thinks cases like Burkhamer’s happen a lot.
Why do people lose their integrity? Tanaka was always very troubling. Tanaka was picked early on to be the sheriff after Baca left office. What folks don’t know was that Baca planned to be the governor of our state! I know hard to believe. But, Tanaka just had to do the bear minimum and he was in. Tanaka does have administrative skills but risked and lost everything, why?
Waldie was quite another matter. Not bright nor was his administrative skills close to competent. Waldie never professed to be honest nor fair and would brag about his lack of character all the time. Waldie had to do what Baca told him or Waldie would be out of a job. Recall the free car Waldie got from the crooked A/S from Orange County, free tickets to sporting events and never paid for a meal. I used to wonder if Roman Emperor Caligula was related to Waldie. But, why would Baca pick either of these guys?
Perhaps an answer lies in the topic question as to why people lose their integrity. I don’t believe that either guy hired on to lie, cheat or commit crimes. So, what happened? We all make mistakes but normally good people fess up and take their punishment and move on. But, not these two, why again?
Baca picked these guys because Baca knew he could manipulate them. As long as Baca could feed their ambition by feeding at the trough of corruption all was well or so Baca thought. Baca didn’t realize that he had over fed the two (especially Waldie) but there was nothing left to feed on. No more fecal matter was left. But, Tanaka and Waldie wanted more!
Yes, things have changed but the cost has been very high. To say that no one told Baca or the BOS is just a plain lie! So, why again didn’t these people adhere to their oath?
And when at last we have come to the end of our toilsome journey may the record of our life and actions be as pure and spotless as the star we wear on our chest!
Matthew: It probably seems to you that deputies working the jail are all brutal thugs. The truth is the deputies work in an environment where they are
almost always out numbered and subject to assaults from the inmate population. Most certainly, we will win the war, but initially may lose the battle, and quite possibly our lives. I do not condone lying on a police reports or the use of excessive force. The only weapon deputies have in the jail environment is the threat of force, real or perceived. When an imate “mouths off” that is a threat to safety of officers and must be dealt with immediately or risk losing control. I suggest you visit the jail during courtline when hundreds of inmates walk the halls of the jail with little or no control. Just my attempt to put things in perspective.
Not to poo poo perspective, or flirt with a personal attack, but a pile of crap is a pile of crap. When it doesn’t pass the smell test, it is what it is. Perjury is a crime.
WOW! Sounds like you do a lot of reading between the lines. Maybe a
more articulate response is required or is that the best you have?
These ACLU members and Liberal authors have never faced a real threat in their lives. They sit there writing about law enforcement brutality behind their desk and judge us for our actions. They sleep comfortably at night while a deputy walks the rows or patrols the streets.
This article points out the inmate made allegations, it was found false, and in fact, he was guilty of add charges. Then the author suggests the deputies are guilty, however it can’t be proven because its several deputies statements vs the inmates.
So in this Libs mind, deputies are guilty regardless of the facts, as long as the inmate alleges something we are guilty and lying. Maybe Mr. Matthew Fleischer should invite Mr. Burkhamer over for Christmas dinner and give him place to sleep.
@London. Sir, you make some very interesting statements that are linked to the psychology of corruption and power, power and corruption. Why do people lose their integrity? Perhaps a more appropriate question for this thread, Why do people become corrupt? In our case, virtually all of the scandals and investigations involving the Tanaka crowd surround the pure and unadulterated “arrogance of corruption.” A little different then your run of the mill lack of integrity, although there is a parallel. One may say these folks were nobodies who became somebodies, not by merit, but rather by appointment. Now that does not take away from anyone who receives a lucky break, right place at the right time type of promotion or appointment. The grater question is what does one “do” with their power and authority. Did Waldie use his position for the greater cause, the betterment of LASD and the citizens of LA County? Or, did he use his position for his own personal gain, to feed his own ego, to “settle the score” of years gone by because he can. “Now look who is the boss,” could be the motivation where one decides to “rule” rather than lead. People who abuse their power, their authority do so for only a few reasons. Contempt of everyone below them, the ability to make others to do their bidding at a snap of a finger, because they hold the power of promotion and assignments and the like. There is a HUGE psychopathic influence to all of this because in their mind, it really is “all about them.” Or so they think. History will soon judge what Larry did or did not do with his authority.
As for Tanaka, that is a much different animal. He has more demons than you can imagine. I have sat across him so many times in meetings just watching him, analyzing his speech, mannerisms and autonomic reactions to statements made by others. Watching him was always like being in a laboratory setting and examining a petri dish as the cells multiply and divide. Paul was always an easy read. His absolute disdain for most, an insatiable need to control and fits of rage are all quite telling. He is what he is and it all stems from his childhood and all the lunch money taken away from him over the yeas. He squandered a most unbelievable opportunity to do so much good for so many. But out of contempt and disdain for most, we are where we are and by the time the Feds are done, so many people will be hurt at their own doing, but at his direction to satisfy his needs. And now he is running for Sheriff because what he had and what he did, it wasn’t enough. Can you imagine? All you folks who are going to take the hit ask yourself, “Where’s Paul now?” After all, you did every thing for him.
I was trying to point out the environment the deputies are required to work. I did not comment on the guilt or innocence of the deputies involved.
I only wanted Mr. Fleischer to be aware that “mouthing off” is a form of disobedience within a jail environment and can not be tolerated or it will lead to further and possibly violent confrontations.
Fellas: I’m not looking for a fight but I have a question. Are we doing the right thing because we understand we should do the right thing or are we doing the right thing because we got caught?
A reply to all concerned: J. London, I have to agree with your assessment of the Sheriff and his top two partners. It seems that I remember Tanaka, as a deputy, was a guy who always thought he was the toughest guy and God’s gift to the LASD. Some may remember his shooting escapade…not the kind of person that should be supervising much less an executive.
As for deputies covering for one another, …. not new at all and a part of the silent line. However, falsifying a incident or crime report is a crime and needs to be prosecuted regardless of who does it. As a person who worked custody for three years as a deputy, like most, and later as a Sergeant, I have seen the bad and the good deputies, and have also worried about the safety of all of us. I don’t think the Sheriff would allow a civilian ACLU bozo to be in the unsecured area of the jail while large lines are moving, but I like the idea. Put a uniform on him and tell him to move a court line or stand in the chow hall on guard with only one other deputy while 150 or so inmates guilty of everything from petty theft to murder dump their chow on the floor in defiance of jail rules. Be sure to tell him how to sound the emergency alarm as he runs for safety!
As for “you are killing me”…..you obviously have some growing up to do. You are not worthy of a comment!
@ #5 Just another poster … well said … I’m kind of getting sick of this site making A-hole criminals out to be poor helpless victims and good cops out to be the criminals. This blog used to be entertaining when it was all about poking at the brass’ shenanigans, but now that it’s turning on the good guys (line deputies) I’m losing interest.
Concur: I too am tired of the criminal element of our society. But, we should not be like them. I am sure you agree. Making fun of Baca and the gang is amusing but also frightening as these guys run the organization. We are all deputies except for Baca, who of course must be voted out! Regardless of rank all deputies will make some kind of bonehead mistakes in a long career. It just seems that since Baca and his ilk took over things have steadily gotten much worse. I have told the guys that we all need to watch out more for each other before something gets out of hand. How far should we go? That’s another day for another topic.
I Concur and Just another poster, not well said. Line deputies are not the good guys because they are line deputies. They are the good guys when they honor the rule of law. Same goes for the brass. There can be good brass, however judging by the disaster the department is currently in, the overwhelming majority are officially the bad guys. They either did the dirty deeds at the behest of Baca, Tanaka, and company, or enabled it by looking studiously the other way. Kind of sort of when a dog owners has his dog on a leash taking a dump.
The pursuit of truth tends to have a liberal bias. Conservative philosophy includes not questioning authority, which by definition doesn’t make one a good journalist. I would rather leave politics out of the equation and just focus on facts. Would it be considered a liberal move in your eyes to reopen the Tanaka 998 from 1988? I say let’s find out what really happened, there is no statue of limitations on 187…
We don’t break the law to enforce the law.
Sheriff Sherman Block
Really I concur ? The fact Michelson resigned due to information I.A. had confronted him on other matters not related to Griscavage says something about how good he was. Jackson, well he was something else. People have been criminally charged and lost their jobs covering for his shenanigans. If you’re going to be a bonehead deputy and are caught or not strong enough to stand up to a boneheaded deputy, good riddance.
I have never heard the specifics on Tanaka’s shooting. To be honest, I was not even aware he was involved in one. I would certainly like to hear the story though….sounds like it would be very entertaining!
I stand by my original statement–a pile of crap is a pile of crap. Kill the messenger, but Houston we still have a problem. Mr. Fleischer demonstrated a deputy lied and seriously undermined the credibility of another. He was just as precise and skilled here as he was when he laid out our ‘dear leader’ (Tanaka). No amount of ‘perspective’ is going to make a difference. People lie, deputies are people, we lie. I, too, worked custody. I did 3 tours of duty: as a deputy, a sergeant, and a lieutenant. Every time I was promoted, I went back to square one, not a cushy spot because of friends in high places or campaign contributions. And I didn’t get the answers to the test. I studied, and fate smiled on me. I ‘worked’ the line. Deputies lie, but they also tell the truth. I have done my share of inquiries, WCSCR’s, and Unit Level Investigations: founded, unfounded, exonerated….I’ve relieved folks of duty, taken their guns and badges, reprimanded, counseled, and commended the same as well. I have been astounded by their dedication, touched by their pain, and moved by their emotion. I have gone to their homes with bad news. I have taken them home when they couldn’t drive themselves. They have cried in my office, saved me a burrito, and bummed my last cigarette. I have some degree of familiarity with the capabilities of deputies and other supervisors. i have loved them dearly. Frankly, the ‘silent line’ sucks. I, too, have seen good and bad ‘personnel’ (peers and superiors included). It hasn’t all been wine and roses or some b.s. that Jack Nicholson did so much better about standing watch so that others may sleep. It’s been real. I don’t know if I’d do it all over again, but I’d sure as hell try to be just as honest. I sleep damn well. A pile of crap is a pile of crap.
@Bandwagon Google Paul Tanaka shooting or the vic’s name Hong Pyo Lee…
Band: Check out LAT archives. Did a good article about Tanaka’s shooting
Well written and I agree with everything you said. That does not change the FACT that the custody deputies work in an extremely dangerous environment. End of story. At no time did my “perspective” attempt to give validity to deputies who lie or use excessive force. I think Lt. you still read to much between the lines. Stop adding your own spin and allow the comments to stand on their own..
Thanks Interesting and J. Will do.
On the subject of terminations, poor decision making, criminal behavior, and lying, there is document floating around the fourth floor that goes beyond the “Gennaco Report”. It discusses the discipline for the first half of FY 2013. Yes, there are the “line guys” getting their wrists slap (under 5 days), but that is part of being a hard charger. I actually did not even look at days off, and headed straight to terminations. This is what I found:
35 Deputies, 4 Sergeants, and 1 Lieutenant fired in the first 180 days
22 of the case listed above included lying or tampering with investigations
4 had inappropriate sexual or criminal street gang relationships with inmates
2 for prostitution
1 for a hardcore drug “ecstasy”
BTW- No one was terminated for excessive use of force. They were terminated for failing to report and lying in the report.
The lieutenant’s disposition read, “was discharged for failing to properly handle a criminal and/or administrative investigation of a Department employee; improperly evaluating and/or forwarding confidential information to the appropriate investigative units (ICIB/IA) involving fraternization with an inmate; compromising and undermining an investigation; revealing confidential information to the involved employee; improperly allowing the involved employee to read the allegations; releasing confidential information to the subject of the investigation; and providing false statements during the administrative investigation.”
Whitmore lied about the incident above to the LAT, executives sheltered this person to the end, and now we are “doing the right thing” because we got caught….
Are blatant criminal acts “good dudes”? Soliciting a prostitute, Code 5ing your ex-wife, kidnapping your kids, doing drugs at work, banging inmates, intimidating witnesses, etc., etc., etc…. good dudes?!?
We all took the same oath. Be accountable to it, your partners, and your community.
Jack, you are making the assumption the LT was actually terminated… The discipline was discharge but I think you will find he retired in lieu of.
Nancy, I will play your game. You are correct the department gave him a heads up and he got his papers in on time. The guy is smart so he will do well when the next set of issues comes his way. While we are on the subject of semantics, you plan on visiting or writing him too?? Maybe we should send him those cigars he likes so much…
Jack: Your info is ‘spot on’ as my Ausse friends would say! Sadly, were are doing things right because we got caught. When the heat dies off will we go right back to the environment we had before? This mentality of doing the right thing, only because we got caught will be our end unless we get behind a candidate to right this ship!
I often think about the thousands of people we did not hire for such minor issues and Baca issuing orders to hire rejects is way off course. Neither Stonich or Waldie would take on this type of corruption on their own. I don’t know if any of this is fixable;it may not be!
It was my job to read many of the settlements over the years. So many people had their careers and lives altered because they didn’t bow to Baca and the gang. I don’t know if this can be fixed either!
It sounds to me like most of the people commenting here need to take a time out and go sit by the Koi Pond and contemplate their attitude and behavior.
Did you check out the 3 LASO who got arrested by FBI today? Many more to come.
Dude…..take your meds!
If you were Sheriff Baca and needed to promote someone to fill an open position and the choice was between a pristine deputy and a defective deputy – then its an easy choice, defective deputy moves up the ladder in the BACA Leadership System.
Why does anyone think Baca should choose the better candidate? The better candidate stands on his own reputation, his identity is secured by his personal integrity, his own personal code of conduct equals or exceeds one that’s found on a plaque on the wall or is printed on the inside of a pamphlet. His ultimate loyalty is to his principles, not to uniforms and titles.
The Baca Leadership System is threatened by the pristine deputy. The leadership qualities of the pristine deputy fit well in a pure merit based system, not in a favors for favorites based system.
The best Chiefs of Police and Head Sheriffs always put the betterment of the organization over advancing their personal legacy. 12-15 years is maximum heading a law enforcement agency for the real best of the best. They cultivate quality leaders capable of taking the top command. If they aren’t ready to retire, they carefully limit their own tenure, they hand over the reigns and move on to another challenge.
If the goal is to hold power indefinitely, then don’t promote anyone who can eventually stand on their own record to challenge for command.
Promote the defective because his loyalty is owed to his benefactor. Anyone who can join another agency at equal rank and pay poses a threat to Baca Leadership. Raise highest the man without merit, his loyalty is desperate and fierce.
Used to talk with inmates as they processed into the San Quentin State Prison reception center. Nearly all of them, black, white, mexican, “Blood” “Crips” or whatever all said the same thing (it was the same stories over a period years), that was that beating happened all the time in the LA jails by the sheriffs. And that it did little good to complain and thank God they got out of there into State Prison. That many inmates of all races and gangs over the years do not lie. Of couse the last thing any managers in CDCR care about is inmates getting beat in a LA jail.