THE JURY SPEAKS
After nearly five days of deliberation—which included twice having to start over when first one panel member had to be replaced, then a second—the federal jury delivered its verdict: Each of the six sworn members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department on trial for obstruction of a federal investigation were found guilty on all counts.
Those convicted include deputies Gerard Smith, 42, and Mickey Manzo, 34, sergeants Scott Craig, 50, and Maricela Long, 46, Lieutenant Stephan Leavins, 52, and Gregory Thompson, 54, a now-retired lieutenant.
All six defendants could face a maximum of fifteen years in federal prison. Scott Craig and Maricela Long could have an extra five years tacked on for the charges of making false statements to federal agents.
After the verdict was announced, the defendants reacted with expressions that ranged from stunned to stoic. Many of the family members who had attended every session of this fascinating but emotionally grueling month-long trial, struggled with tears.
“WE DIDN’T WANT TO HARM ANYBODY….BUT WE HAD A JOB TO DO”
According to the trial’s Juror No. 1, a truck driver named Ron (who declined to give his last name), he and his fellow panel members did their own wrestling with the human side of the verdicts.
“The biggest thing was how it was going to affect all these people’s lives,” he said. “Each of us went through that. We didn’t want to harm anybody.”
Yet, once they removed emotions from their task, Ron said, he and the rest had little difficulty with the facts of the case. “We had a job to do. And the evidence we had was pretty definite. They went over the line.”
Ron said that the jurors understood the contention of the defense that the various defendants were simply carrying out the orders of others. “But once your orders become you breaking the law,” he said, “that’s a problem. They went over the line when they began to hide “AB” as we got to call him, [federal informant] Anthony Brown, they began to do things outside the law.”
CRIMINAL CONDUCT AND A TOXIC CULTURE
At 4 pm on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte emerged with the prosecution team beside him, and made a statement on the steps of the courthouse in which he talked about “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.
“These defendants were supposed to keep the jails safe and to investigate criminal acts by deputies,” said Birotte. Instead they “took measures to obstruct a federal investigation and tamper with witnesses…. While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting as if they were above the law.”
In May, the trial of a seventh defendant, Deputy James Sexton, who was also accused of obstruction of justice in the hiding of FBI informant Anthony Brown, had ended in a mistrial with the jury hopelessly deadlocked, 6 to 6. In the case of Sexton, however, jurors voting to acquit pointed to the fact that the deputy had cooperated with the FBI for more than a year.
GREATER THAN THE SUM OF ITS PARTS
One of the reasons this trial has been important is that, in both both content and outcome, it points beyond itself to a host of additional issues.
As a consequence, in the days before the verdict, some of the trial watchers familiar with the workings of the U.S. Attorney’s office talked about the larger implications of possible verdicts. For instance, as one trial watcher explained, Tuesday’s string of guilty verdicts strongly suggests that a local agency should not attempt to derail the investigation of a federal agency into wrongdoing by the locals simply because the locals don’t like the way in which the feds are poking into their affairs. A string of innocent verdicts could have set a very different kind of precedent.
Another thing this trial has done is to paint yet one more vivid picture of–as U.S. Attorney Birotte put it—the “criminal conduct and a toxic culture” that was, and still is, corroding the innards of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, despite the majority of decent cops who fill its ranks.
Candidate for sheriff, Jim McDonnell, issued a statement Tuesday that pointed to this issue. “This is a devastatingly sad day for our entire County,” said McDonnell. “The LASD has lost the respect of too many in our community as well as the confidence of the dedicated men and women within the Department itself….”
The big question is, of course, now that they have this matched set of six convictions, will the federal prosecutors move up the LASD ladder and attempt to indict those who—according to testimony by multiple witnesses heard throughout this trial—actually gave the orders that resulted in six department members losing their careers and potentially facing serious prison terms?
Specifically, will the feds try to indict former sheriff Lee Baca and former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is now running for sheriff?
Plus there are others like ICIB Captain William “Tom” Carey who are hard to ignore.
It is likely that, as the trials for some of the others of the total 21 department members indicted for brutality in the jails or other forms of corruption unfold in the coming year, the pressure on federal prosecutors to bring cases against those recently at the department’s top will continue to grow stronger.
Manzo, Smith, Craig, Long, Leavins and Thompson remain free on bail, and are scheduled to be sentenced on September 8 by United States District Judge Percy Anderson.
AND FOR OTHER ACCOUNTS OF TUESDAY’S VERDICTS BE SURE TO CHECK STORIES BY:
Lisa Bartley and Miriam Hernandez for ABC7