LASD

The Troubling Case of the Vanishing LA County Sheriff’s Deputy



WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPUTY JON AUJAY?

In 1998, LA County Sheriff’s K-9 deputy Jonathan Aujay went out for a run in the Antelope Valley and never came back. Higher-ups in the department at the time concluded that Aujay likely killed himself. However, many friends and former department colleagues don’t buy the suicide explanation at all, and believe that Aujay was murdered.

In a deeply researched longread for the November issue of Los Angeles Magazine, on the news stands right now, journalist Claire Martin writes about the case, its aftermath, and about those who are still haunted by it.

I spoke with Claire Martin several times at length while she was working on the story, so know a little bit about what she was uncovering.

The story is not yet on line (although it’s out there in hard copy), so to whet your appetite for the whole thing, LA Mag’s executive editor Matthew Segal interviewed Martin about the story and about what it points beyond itself to say about the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department during the reign of former Sheriff Lee Baca.

Here are a couple of clips:

This story been almost four years in the making and took you to places, mentally and geographically, that you couldn’t have anticipated. How did you learn about Jon Aujay?

In the fall of 2011, I learned about a trial that had just begun in downtown L.A. A former sheriff’s deputy was suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for wrongful termination. I’d heard a few details about the case—that it involved meth cartels in the Antelope Valley, a DEA joint task force dubbed Operation Silent Thunder, and the mysterious disappearance and possible murder of Aujay by a fellow deputy. I was surprised I’d never read anything about the case before, and when I did some quick Web research, nothing much turned up. I decided to drive downtown and listen to a day’s worth of testimony. I ended up returning every day for a couple of weeks, until the closing arguments.

The testimony from the various agents, deputies, and sheriff’s officials proved to be jaw-dropping at times. Aside from the murder allegations, there were details of misconduct among deputies, some of whom were accused of getting too cozy with the meth manufacturers of the area. How bad did things get for the sheriff’s department in the Antelope Valley?

Things were bad enough that the DEA was called in to dismantle the meth rings as rumors circulated that sheriff’s deputies were befriending drug dealers and leaking information to them in advance of busts. The allegations against deputies ranged from fraternizing with cartel members, to warning them of investigations, to operating meth labs with them, to murder.

This is where Aujay’s story comes in. As you you’d heard when you started attending the trial, one theory being pursued by a couple of LASD investigators was that a fellow deputy, someone with alleged ties to the meth world, had killed him. There’s a theory from a former LASD captain—Aujay’s last boss—that he was killed by a deputy, but not the deputy who was being investigated. And there were vague suspicions within the department that whatever the case, Aujay’s stern demeanor could have provoked his murder. Workplace politics can be tricky, but it’s remarkable that more than one officer or former officer thought that his coworkers would be capable of murder—of fratricide.

That’s right. The LASD quickly ruled that Aujay had likely committed suicide, but tipsters and confidential informants told the department they’d heard he may actually have been murdered by the operators of a meth lab, which included a fellow deputy. Separate investigations by a sheriff’s homicide detective and the Operation Silent Thunder drug task force turned up similar intel. So did the FBI. Years later, Aujay’s former boss, Mike Bauer, began to suspect that a different deputy, someone who’s now retired, had murdered Aujay. Bauer had worked under three sheriffs during his career and told me he’d watched the LASD’s checks and balances for handling internal corruption collapse under Baca.

Sheriff Lee Baca.

Right. Other people I spoke with described an environment under Baca in which deputies weren’t held accountable for their unethical or illegal actions.

Read the rest here.

And we will, of course, link to the actual story the minute it’s online. But why wait? It’s a great read, so hit the news stand!

28 Comments

  • Those who had personal relationships with Baca and Tanaka either were not investigated (all the pay for play crowd) or faced minimal punishment for serious violations (Joey Fennell former sheriff’s driver). They manipulated the hiring process. They manipulated the promotional process. Of course they manipulated the civil service process and disciplinary process.

    There was a lot of conjecture when Sgt. Arthur was killed off duty that the Mexican Mafia. Years later it ended up being motivated by relationship issues.

    At the time there were strong indication Aujay was having problems at home. I don’t think much of Baca & Tanaka but I bet Aujay’ case, like the Arthur case, is more about his personal life than his professional life.

  • @ Handicapped: Let’s not minimize the death of Sgt.George Arthur. The bottom line is that another fellow coworker and deputy killed him. I personally knew both of them and I was truly shocked at Arthur’s death and the deputy that killed him. II’m sure the department had some clue at the time of death.

    If Aujay did have issues in his personal life, so be it,(many cops do). Don’t throw your guess & speculation at his life unless you can provide definite information on his dissappearance.He”s not here to defend himself. Once again, I’m sure the department knows more than what they are saying. They always do.

  • We can only hope that there is enough facts to determine the motive for his death (?). However, if you remember the Arthur case, people that should have been arrested and convicted were left alone. Talking about a cover up? To many people involved at all ranks.

  • Innocent individuals were rumored to be involved in George’s death, that is just one of the tragedies regarding his murder. But that seems to be the LASD way. I hope the truth, be it as it may, is discovered with Aujay’s disappearance. Factual closure is needed for all.

  • Having worked with Jon for many years prior to his disappearance, he was different than most. This was a guy that had an extreme drive and high tolerance for pain. He finished the last 50 miles of an ultra marathon on a broken ankle. He may have had some personal issues, but in his mind I do not believe they left him with no other option than to take his own life. He is a talented tactician who has saved lives during extreme hostage situations. I talked to Jon the night prior to his disappearance and it did feel, in a retrospective look back, that he was saying farewell, however, he did not seem pushed into a corner, he seemed to have available options. The leaders of our department during that time seemed rushed to determine his disappearance as death by his own hands. I will say that there is no way he was murdered by some meth dealing deputy as some unreliable low level meth mule tried to claim in an attempt to stay out of prison for a domestic beat down.

  • All is Great….so you talked to Jon, huh? Deb does not remember that. Seriously, you guys who had/have information about his state of mind 17 years ago should have gone to Franco or in 2001 to Joe and got your two cents in. It will come to pass that your silence probably cost a lot of people a lot of grief. Chloe especially. Anybody who has something to say, now would be a good time to spill it. You know who to call.

  • Go Harry Feer! Anyone with information should have given it 17 years ago. No Deputy Sheriff should ever “disappear”. There is a reason for that “0” retention.

  • #Harry, I’ll I can say is been there and done that, fell on deaf ears at the time. I wished at the time and today that someone would listen. As to state of mind, only Jon would truly know, but having know a few folks that have checked out, he did not display that stuck in the corner demeanor that most of us have seen over the years.

  • If I remember correctly, rumor was…..homicide was going to question Aujay about his role in Sgt. Arthur’s murder. It was said, there was two DNA samples retrieved from the van; one was Sr. Kirby’s(can’t remember his first name ) and the other was Aujays. Rumor was that Sr. Kirby was a dirty cop and George Arthur caught him dirty. Kirby was told to turn himself in or George would roll on him. We all know what occurred subsequent to that. No proof, just more rumors….

  • @Sad to Say, My friend, that is one hell of a rumor and allegation you just laid out on Aujay. You implicated him in a murder. You are alleging he may be a person of interest or is, an active and potentially wanted suspect in a 187 with special circumstances. You did this with the whisper of a character assassin. Your allegation (you typed it, you own it) of Aujay’s involvement is the first I’ve heard. You spew that kind of rumor without any factual basis? You end with, “No proof, just rumors?” That’s rich, very rich. I hope someone from Homicide can confirm your shocking allegation, or refute it. “I heard, everyone says, it’s all over the department,” those whispers have harmed many, many a good person with flat out malicious fabrications, malicious embellishments and lies developed by punks, bullies and rumor mongers.

  • EDITOR’S NOTE:

    Yikes. How did I miss that comment of “Sad to say?!” You’ve just spewed some staggeringly irresponsible allegations that cross over into slander. What in the world are you thinking?

    C.

  • Not sure where “SAD TO SAY” got his info, but I believe the George Arthur case involved a love triangle with Kirby. Where were you during the investigation?

    If you are waiting for the Department to provide you all of the information they have, save your breath. It doesn’t work that way.

    I really hope the real story and what happened to Deputy Jonathan Aujay comes out someday. Anyway you look at it, it is a tragedy.

  • #11,
    Yes, it’s sad, VERY sad indeed, that you would post that bullshit.
    “If I remember correctly, rumor was”
    “It was said”
    It would take about three questions to you to blow your “rumor” all to hell and make you look like a fucking fool for even posting that shit. But I won’t bother. You would just reply with the standard cop out that ass clowns like you give when your attempt to spread untruths are exposed.
    “Well, like I said, it was just a rumor. I was just telling you what I heard. Of course I don’t believe it”.
    Tell you what dipshit, how about you keep your fantasy mystery novel to yourself. Your acting like a 14 year old school girl isn’t impressing anybody here. We don’t think you’re smart, and we damn sure don’t think you’re the one with the “inside scoop”. Grow the fuck up.

  • @12, 13, 14, 15 & 16 – My thought regarding @11’s post – he/she wouldn’t post that kind of grossly irresponsible and inflammatory falsehood – MAYBE – unless @11 “Sad” is in some way involved in what happened to Deputy Jon Aujay. Over the years, I have seen many crooks throw up the old “smoke screen” over and over, to take the heat off of themselves.

    In my nearly three decades of service to the LASD, I have never heard anything even close to what @11 claims. Shameful! @11 – The FBI needs to talk with you.

  • Now I ask myself everyday, why would E have killed Jon’s dog if he thought there was even a remote chance that Jon was coming back? Everyday. Keep going Mike, please don’t give up.

  • “Done”…good obs. Just getting started.

    Earlier this year I told a friend of Jon who knew Basco (Bosco) that he had been destroyed without Department knowledge or approval, and this guy cried like a baby. He recently died, so he will never know how this turns out. Some of you know who he was, and he helped me A LOT.

    “Done” is correct, and all who knew Jon Aujay appreciate how he might behave toward the killer of his K9 partner. That person aggressed Aujay and knew Aujay was not coming back.

    It has been some time since Claire Martin’s brave effort came out, and the Department has chosen to remain mute.

    There was once a policy under Sheriff Sherman Block that we always did the right thing, regardless of the fallout.

    I recall in the early 2000 timeframe when Leroy was accused of some misjudgement or other by the Feds, he was dismissive and condescending, saying “Make A Case”. Sounds like a good idea.

    Had Jon Aujay’s death been attributed to a meth lab or other criminal actions, he would be a hero, and his wife and daughter would most likely not be destitute. Instead, he is a just missing and it appears from court records and recoverable documents of the Department that all possible efforts have been made to support the initial “suicide” profile.

    When I recently tried to discuss this matter with the 2001 Homicide profiler, who apparently agreed with the resulting report from the investigation reopening 32 months after the event, he refused. He informed me that the entire case file was locked up in Homicide and not even their own personnel could see it without their Captain’s permission. That is a little important, because the individual Captains of Homicide since Frank Merriman might have been inadvertently concealing questionable information placed into this file as early as 1998. More on this at a later, PUBLIC time, with proof.

    To clarify, you all did read in Claire Martin of the first responding unit (265A?) on June 11, 1998, finding the Aujay pickup at Punchbowl and upon checking the interior claiming to have seen Aujay’s missing stainless .38 on the console inexplicably in plain view? I personally paid to have that individual take a polygraph with a retired veteran LASD polygraph operator and trainer, regarding that gun observation, and HE PASSED. The Captain of Scientific Services is aware of that test, and has reportedly ordered the charts to NOT BE REVIEWED. No worries, they are safe elsewhere.

    The gun therefore was presumably stolen from the vehicle during the first night, or removed and given to someone for safekeeping, who forgot they had it, and we can all evaluate whether that action contaminated a potential crime scene, or not. (Since I have Power of Attorney for Jon Aujay’s Estate and his Widow and Daughter, to represent them in this matter, that gun “belongs to me”).

    Absent “foul play”, the truck was returned to Deb Aujay within a week or so, unprocessed for evidence.

    The “wanted posters” for Jon list the gun as “possibly being with the missing person”. Indeed.

    There are other issues which suggest there is a problem here.

    My interviews have revealed that most, if not all, pre-suicidal gifting behaviors did not occur, and I have tape recordings to back that up.

    I appreciate that this website exists, to provide sunlight where is is needed, from time to time. It is not my intention to abuse the comment process, except that Celeste does allow, and it is not my intention to point the finger at any individual who was involved in this mess. But, it is all fun and games until a cop disappears.

    Peace.

  • t we see eye to eye, connect please. No need to upset these guys, it is painful to everyone to hear this kind of stuff and you will be heard fully, offline. Thank you t.

  • EDITOR’S NOTE:

    “T,” I’ve emailed you twice—one of those times with HarryFeer’s email address. Did you not receive the messages?

    Please email me directly if there’s a problem. My email is in the “Contact” drop-down above.

    C.

    PS: I removed your longer comments as a safety precaution.

  • I am a retired LASD Deputy. I knew Jon, but not as well as some of you have claimed. My observations of Jon were as follows: He was a stellar human being. Strong of body and mind. If he had family problems, as rumored, He would have solved them. I don’t believe that he took his own life. I think that he knew something about the drug issue in the Antelope Valley, and he wouldn’t play ball with a few dirty cops: I use the term “COP” loosely when referring to those assholes. Rumors have to be investigated, not believed. I couldn’t see Jon being involved in another cop’s murder. I would quietly look at one LASD individual, who I believe may have been involved in Jon’s disappearance and murder. I don’t believe in rumors, but gut feelings have solved a lot of my cases. God bless Jon Aujay.

  • So where is Jon Aujay? Why can’t some of the best law enforcement investigators in the USA solve this mystery? We owe it to Deputy Aujay and his loved ones and friends to solve this two decade old case, one way or the other. Suicide, homicide, accidental death, whatever, this cold case demands a final resolution. The LASD should not rest until the air is finally cleared on this highly suspicious disappearance of one of their own, and let the chips fall where they may. Jon Aujay needs to come home.

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