The Downfall of Paul Tanaka

U.S. Supreme Court Says No to Paul Tanaka, the LASD’s Former 2nd in Command, Now in Fed Prison

Paul Tanka/WLA
Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

At the end of October, Paul Tanaka, the once feared and powerful former second in command of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, filed an appeal with the United States Supreme Court in the hope of getting the court to reverse his April 5, 2016, conviction for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

On Monday, December 4, however, SCOTUS turned him down.

As a result of the conviction, the former undersheriff was given a scorching lecture from U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson about his wrongdoings, before being sentenced to five years in a low-security federal prison camp in Englewood, Colorado, where he has been since January of this year.

Tanaka and his attorneys already appealed his conviction to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, but after a hearing before a three-judge panel in early August 2017, the appeal was denied later that same month.

When Tanaka’s appellate attorney, Charles M. Sevilla, filed the just-rejected petition with the nation’s highest court, he made one primary argument for the hoped-for reversal of his client’s conviction. The argument pertained to a portion of the multi-page instructions U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson gave the jury in Tanaka’s trial immediately before the jurors began their deliberation. Sevilla called this fragment of the lengthy instructions the “dual intent” instruction.

The jury instruction in question had to do with with one element of the court’s definition of the charge of obstruction of justice. It reads as follows:

The government need not prove that the defendant’s sole or even primary purpose was to obstruct justice so long as it proves beyond a reasonable doubt that one of the defendant’s purposes was to obstruct justice. The defendant’s purpose of obstructing justice must be more than merely incidental.

Attorney Sevilla argued in the 25-page petition to the high court that this dual instruction portion of the jury instructions opened his client up to wrongful conviction because, “this jury could have found that” Mr. Tanaka’s “dominant and driving purpose was innocent, but still convicted if he had an added insubstantial obstructive purpose.”

Sevilla went on to argue that the prosecution’s case was incredibly weak, but with the so-called dual instruction, the government was able to get a conviction, basically only through “character assassination.”

The “character assassination” that Sevilla hoped to persuade the high court was unfairly used concerned the government’s line of questioning about Tanaka’s membership in the notorious deputy group The Vikings, which his attorney described as wrongfully damaging to his client.

Appellate attorney Sevilla wrote:

“…the trial court twice instructed that this non-existent ‘gang’ evidence could be used against petitioner on the issue of credibility and the element of his intent. In this manner, the error in the use of the “gang” evidence worked its way into the minimalist intent instruction to make the latter instruction the pathway to a wrongful conviction.”

Tanaka’s attorney similarly wrote that, as part of the government’s case, Mr. Tanaka was wrongfully “blamed for a history of inmate abuses at the Men’s Central Jail despite the fact that he wasn’t in charge of the jail during the time several lawsuits were filed…” (Of course the government argued that, as a sort of shadow sheriff, Tanaka did, in practical fact, have power over the county jail system during the period in question, even though not technically in charge of the custody division.)

Although it was arguably a Hail Mary, Sevilla still made an interesting and cogently-written argument that was different from the argument the attorney made to the 9th Circuit. With the earlier argument, which we wrote about here. Sevilla pretty much focused solely on the Lynwood Vikings, and why the introduction of the topic was wrongfully and disastrously harmful to his client.

The 9th Circuit, of course, didn’t agree and turned Tanaka down.

And now so have the Supremes.


  • Wow! The Vikings are a “non-existent” gang? And to this day the Vikings are still alive and well. Sadly, the sheriff hasn’t a clue on what to do with these gangsters in uniform. I don’t know why defense attorneys don’t ask deputies of they have a gang tattoo on their leg. Tends to credibility.

    Once again all this abuse didn’t just suddenly arrive when Tanaka because the U/S. Stonich and Waldie were worse!

  • Well Paul, it’s all over but the crying and I’m sure you’ve done a lot of that since Monday. And then there are those pesky legal bills. Well, you only have four more to go. You have plenty of time to think of your sins and those who you hurt, the list is long. Karma is real. Merry Christmas.

  • Does anyone know whether or not ALADS/PPOA footed the bills for Paul T’s legal bills? With all the burrowed in sycophants, it would not be all to surprising if they helped out their old friend and career benefactor.

  • PPOA initially covered the legal bill for Tanaka. Not sure if they footed the bill for his appeal. They also covered all of the Sgt ‘and above in the Pandora’s Box Caper. ALADS covered all of the deputies, except for James Sexton. POPA eventually merged with the Fraternal Order of Police Legal Plan due to costs.

  • Speaking of unions and legal defenses, Dick Shinee left ALADS laughing all the way to the bank. He left his staff of underlings still attached to ALADS which is not a good look nor is it good business. Surely their party will come to an end when SCOTUS makes a ruling on unions next year. It’ll be an automatic pay raise for deputies.

  • And to think how many unindicted co-conspirators are walking freely through the Hall of Justice, sporting bars and stars on their new Class A shirts with brass buckles.

  • LATBG You are so right. I was recently at HOJ, and I simply could not believe the people I saw walking around with bars and stars and sitting in current promotional positions. You would have thought Tanaka was now the Sheriff. It is such a joke. I will say tho, they all looked really good in their shiny new brass, so much so that I was intimidated to be there.

  • By the looks of the lack of response to this story, I’d say no one really cares about Paul Tanaka. You are in everyone’s rear view mirror and that image is quickly reducing rather quickly. Seems their use for you is all but gone so who was using who? Funny how that works out. Outstanding, award winning investigative reporting by Witness LA brought it all crashing down.

  • It’s coming. POTUS is already siding with the laborers who are against forced dues for political gain. The largest Sheriff’s Union in America “ALADS” that divides the Department’s deputies is unacceptable and not respected by the majority of knowledgeable & veteran deputies.

  • Hopefully the voters of Los Angeles will do their homework and not buy what the political establishment is going to try and ram down their throats.

  • LATBG: Very true indeed, however the citizens must be informed. Door knockers, truth tellers and social media will provide bullet points to many of the uninformed. Pretty much a grass root campaign with plenty of water. Unfortunately the police unions usually acquiesce as part of the status quo.

  • Tanaka is old news. We have a new scandalous politician running the department. Jim McDonnell and his side kick Diana Teran.

  • Info Only: You are incorrect. PPOA did not pay for Tanaka’s legal fees at any time. PT was not a PPOA member and therefore not entitled to representation by PPOA. Although some may find it offensive, he would have received representation had he been a member. We do not decide who will and will not receive representation based on our personal feelings about any particular member. If we did so, we would be no better than those we criticize for favoritism. I hope this clears the air that at no time did PPOA provide any legal representation or fund any legal representation for Mr. T.

  • Info Only: Also, PPOA did not merge with the FOP. PPOA members voted to pay an additional $5 per month for the FOP legal defense plan to provide coverage for on-duty criminal defense and on-duty related civil defense should they be sued for actions taken as peace officers. Prior to the FOP LDF addition, PPOA considered each case independently and oftentimes paid a portion or all of the legal costs for such defense. You are correct that we were concerned about the cost of the increase civil and criminal attacks against our members and whether we could continue the way were doing things or if it would be better to simply buy an LDF plan (kinda like an insurance policy). Considering the times, this was well worth it and passed overwhelmingly by the membership. Honestly, I don’t know how any peace officer today can work the field without coverage for civil litigation and criminal defense. Sad times.

  • Thanks for the clarification but let’s be real, the cost of representation for the Pandora’s Box Caper tweaked your coffers and God forbid if it happens again. So the increase was not just for civil and criminal matters against members but also for when members pull criminal shit against the FBI.

  • The increase was entirely and solely for FUTURE civil and criminal defense. The $5 is less then what we actually pay for the protection for future coverage.

  • But you are correct. We spent considerable money on defending our members caught up in the FBI obstruction case. I am proud of the fact we did not let our personal feelings interfere with our decisions.l to help our members. We simply wanted to help our members regardless of affiliation with PT or anyone else. Not one board member brought up affiliation with Paul in our discussions on whether to provide financial assistance to our members.

  • The convicted PPOA members were not “caught up” in the FBI obstruction case, they were the suspects in the obstruction case. The bottom line is that it is now over. It’s good to know however that your board provided legal representation not based upon personal feelings unlike your counterpart ALADS.

  • Well Tanaka, I’ll address you now as inmate Tanaka. Even though you are at Camp Snoopy, there is a spark that more overdue justice will be served in your former departments mess. Enjoy your stay.

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