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Tanaka Gets 5 Years

June 27th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


At the end of a scorched earth preface,
US District Court Judge Percy Anderson gave former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka a sentence of 60* months in a federal prison, plus 2 years probation.

The defense is, of course, appealing.

Full story to come. So, stay tuned!



**EDITOR’S NOTE: This mini-story was originally written and posted from my cell phone, while walking—a strategy that I do not recommend. Thus when I dictated to my phone that the judge gave Paul Tanaka “60″ months, the program heard “16,” months, a typo that—without my reading glasses—I failed to catch. (sigh.) A large thank you to those of you who gently brought that ginormous blooper to my attention.

Posted in LASD | 6 Comments »

Sentencing Day Arrives for Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka

June 26th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the Los Angeles County,
will be sentenced on Monday morning at 8:30 a.m. by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson.

The arguments have been made and remade by the prosecution and the defense regarding what kind of sentence Judge Anderson ought to hand down to the man who was, for years, considered the real power behind the throne of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

Tanaka’s legal team, Dean Steward and Jerome Haig, asked (not surprisingly) that their client be given probation—arguing that, far from being the “ringleader” that the prosecution had portrayed him to be, Mr. Tanaka was completely peripheral to the crimes of which he was convicted.

(The former second in command of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to allegations that Tanaka personally directed and oversaw deliberate efforts to upend the FBI’s investigation into a culture of brutality and corruption inside the LA County jails, which began in 2010.)

Tanaka and his lawyers further argued that it was Sheriff Lee Baca who ran the show. Any crimes that were committed, they wrote, were “planned, directed and carried out by Leroy Baca, the former Sheriff for the County of Los Angeles.”

All the while, according to the defense, Tanaka was “…a fearless executive in the Department who fought to weed out problem deputies, not encourage them. The only culture he fostered was excellence and he made daily efforts to accomplish it.”

In response to this rosy portrait of defendant Tanaka, the prosecution— namely Assistant United States Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui—reiterated in scathing detail the reasons why they have recommended a sentence of 60 months—or five years—in a federal lock-up:

Defendant Paul Tanaka’s defiance is on full display in his sentencing brief,” the prosecutors wrote. “Rather than accept the judgment of the jury based on the mountain of evidence against him, defendant attempts to shift the blame, minimize his role, and redefine himself. He takes no responsibility for his actions and shows no remorse….

“Despite his claims in his sentencing memorandum, “defendant is the same person who: (a) led the conspiracy that sought to obstruct an investigation into deputies physically abusing inmates; (b) protected rogue deputies who trampled on the rights of those they encountered inside the jail and on the streets; and (c) encouraged deputies everywhere to operate in the ‘gray area’ of the law.”

in the end, of course, it really only matters what Judge Anderson thinks.

Whatever the outcome, Monday promises to be a strange and historic day in the life of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, and of the County of Los Angeles.

So….stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Attorneys for Paul Tanaka Fight for Probation Only, Saying Former LA Sheriff Baca Was the Real “Ringleader”

June 20th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



WHO’S THE BOSS?

“The truth is that the crimes charged in this case were planned, directed and carried out by Leroy Baca, the former Sheriff for the County of Los Angeles. None of this would have happened if Baca had simply cooperated with the FBI at the beginning.”

Last week we wrote about federal prosecutors’ argument that former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka should be sentenced to 60 months—or 5 years—in federal prison when he comes before U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson on Monday.

Tanaka, as most readers know, was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, on April 6, having to do with what the feds contend was Tanaka’s involvement in attempting to derail a federal investigation into abuse of jail inmates by sheriff’s deputies and other departmental wrongdoing. Judge Anderson is due to sentence Tanaka on June 27.

This week we have the defense’s argument about sentencing, in which Tanaka’s attorneys, Dean Steward Jerome Haig, argue that their client should have no prison time, but only probation, that if anybody deserves a stretch in a federal lock-up, it is the former-undersheriff’s boss, former sheriff Lee Baca.

When the presented their sentencing memo two weeks ago, the prosecutors contended that the former undersheriff, more than the sheriff, was “in charge of” the obstructive operation, was “involved in all aspects of the obstruction,” and he “set the tone of the operation early and repeatedly with his ‘F**k the FBI’ statements.

“While defendant claimed at his and three previous trials that he had only limited involvement in the conspiracy,” they wrote, “the evidence showed instead that he was the ringleader from the beginning.
”

In their sentencing brief, the defense argues energetically otherwise. If there was any “ringleader,” they wrote, it was the four-time elected sheriff of Los Angeles County, Lee Baca.

“Baca himself told federal officials that he, Leroy Baca, called the shots on the Brown/cell phone incident.” The “boots on the ground” in the matter of hiding federal informant Anthony Brown, writes the defense, were the six department members already convicted of obstruction, “who were simply following Baca’s orders.” These facts, they write, “could not be any clearer.”


BACA’S “ISSUES”

One of the most interesting moments in the defense’s sentencing brief comes when defense attorneys Steward and Haig compare the government’s suggested 5-year sentence for their client with the 0-6 month sentence to which the feds have agreed in their plea deal with Lee Baca.

“In their sentencing memo,” the defense writes irritably, “the government feigns concern about disparity in sentencing. And yet they offered and agreed to a deal, that if accepted by this Court, gives Leroy Baca the gift of no more than 6 months in jail, while they gleefully request 5 years for Mr. Tanaka.” (The ital. is ours.)

And then there is this: “The government may respond that Baca is different, as he has issues that were submitted to this Court under seal, and revealed to the defense. However, these alleged facts fly in the face of Leroy Baca’s speech and acceptance of honors from a local religious group last month.”

As for Baca’s “issues,” reference to which are under seal, but were “revealed to the defense,” we again presume that Steward and Haig are talking about the report that the former sheriff is suffering from Alzheimer’s and that his lawyers have argued that this purported diagnosis should figure into his sentencing. (WLA broke that story here.)

The defense then cites a lively interview Baca gave to the Jewish Journal after he was honored on May 29 by the local LA group, Congregation Bais Naftoli, for “his years of friendship to the Jewish community.”

The defense seems to infer that if Judge Anderson buys Baca’s contention that he can do no prison time because he is too incapacitated by Alzheimer’s, then they’ve got some nice swamp property they’d like him to buy, or possibly a bridge….


SUBPOENAS AND THREATS

To bolster their contention, that Tanaka’s involvement was peripheral, that at most he was simply a conduit for the sheriff’s directives, the defense cites, among other things, a Sept. 26, 2011, letter from the former sheriff to then-U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte. The letter was written after all the actions that caused the obstruction charges were already over, yet it is indeed a remarkable document.

In his correspondence, Baca expresses his state of pique over subpoenas for records the department has received from the FBI as part of the feds’ continuing investigation into brutality and corruption in the jails. Baca objects to the subpoenas, and tells U.S. Attorney Birotte that the FBI is, in fact, unqualified to investigate brutality in the jails, that the LASD alone has the experience and the know-how to do such an investigation.

“Due to the FBI’s aforementioned incompetence in investigating alleged civil rights violations concerning force taken by deputy sheriffs,” Baca writes, he wants the US Attorney and his office to “ameliorate”—AKA dial back—support from the federal investigation into wrongdoing in his jails, and instead “support the Sheriff’’s Department’s investigation to it’s conclusion.”

And, just to make sure Birotte gets the picture that he better get with the program and dump the FBI’s probe into department wrongdoing, in favor of the LASD’s far superior work, Baca threatens to pull the sheriff’s department out of all the “many ongoing joint missions” in which the department participates with the FBI “due to the breach of trust that will take time and corrective action to heal.”

If you’d like to read the entire letter, you can find it right here.


ENTER: THE JUDGE

So what will Judge Anderson make of all this?

There is no way of knowing, of course. But perhaps the U.S. District Court Judge will decide that he does not need chose send either Baca or Tanaka to prison, that he can select Door No. 3, and give healthy prison sentences to both of the once allies, now enemies.

We will learn the answers to these sentencing questions on June 27, for Tanaka, and July 11, for Baca.

Oh, yes, and on July 5, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will hear arguments in the appeal of the cases of former sheriff’s deputy James Sexton, and the six former department members convicted of obstruction of justice, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, Stephan Leavins, and Gregory Thompson.

So stay tuned!

Posted in LASD | 18 Comments »

Bribery-Taking LA County Deputy Gets a Surprise Sentence, Causing Some to Ask What it Means for High Profile Sentences Still to Come

June 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


A SURPRISING TURN OF EVENTS HAS COURT WATCHERS GUESSING

On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Gilbert Michel to six months in a federal prison, plus two years probation.

The sentence was a surprise to most of those observing.

The federal prosecutors had consistently pushed for prison time for other former LA Sheriff’s department members who had been convicted in the last few years. But in the case of Michel, who had cooperated with the feds from nearly the beginning (once he was caught), the government asked Judge Anderson for a sentence of four months of home detainment, which would allow him to continue to work to support his family.

And, for a moment it looked as the sentencing might go as expected. The government, represented by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Lizabeth Rhodes and Brandon Fox, explained its position, citing Michel’s high level of cooperation, how he had taken responsibility for his offenses, and his concrete efforts to reboot his life.

“There needs to be a balance between personal responsibility and cooperation with the investigation,” said Liz Rhodes.

When it was his turn, Gilbert Michel read with apparent sincerity from a prepared statement, choking up several times as he did so.

“Five years ago, I made a decision that was very wrong,” he read. “In my arrogance, I took a bribe. I not only thought I could get a way with it, I thought I would not be held accountable for it.

“These decisions that I have made have not only affected myself, but my family, and the citizens of Los Angeles County.

“I want to apologize to my family, mainly my children, for not setting the example I should have set for you. I hope you’ve learned from my wrong decisions….

“To the citizens of Los Angeles County I am truly sorry for my misconduct. I took an oath to honorably perform my duties as a Los Angeles County deputy sheriff, and I failed you….

“I humbly accept whatever punishment I am given.”

As he read his statement, Michel looked sober and sorrowful, yet self-pity seemed notably absent

(click to enlarge)


CRIME AND CONSEQUENCE

To remind you, Gilbert Michel was the deputy who, in July and early August of 2011, accepted cash bribes from an undercover FBI agent whom he believed was the friend of a jail inmate named Anthony Brown. In return for the money, Michel agreed to bring a contraband cell phone into Men’s Central Jail, and to give the phone to inmate Brown for his use.

For still more money, Michel further contracted to recharge the phone and return it to Brown, never sensing that Brown was a federal informant, and he, Michel, had just landed smack in the middle of an undercover sting designed by the feds to catch corrupt deputies—like himself—-who were willing to break the law in return for cash. The sting was part of a larger undercover FBI investigation into deputy brutality and abuse toward inmates.

In a deal struck with federal prosecutors six months later in January of 2012, Michel pleaded to one count of bribery, and agreed to fully cooperate with the government’s investigation into corruption and brutality inside the department’s troubled jail system.

“Cooperation” involved disclosing what he knew about deputy wrongdoing inside the jail, including his own misdeeds. It also meant testifying under oath at two federal trials involving former department members, one of them, the trial of Paul Tanaka, the other the trial of the six former department members convicted of obstruction of justice in what has become unofficially known as Operation Pandora’s Box.


BEATINGS & LIES

Although Michel was not charged with abuse and brutality against inmates, he admitted to abuse in multiple interviews with the FBI, and also under oath in his lengthy testimony at both the Tanaka trial, and the earlier joint trial of six former department members.

In the trial of the six, Michel’s testimony was dramatic and harrowing. He testified that, shortly after his graduation from the department’s training academy, he worked the 2000 and the 3000 floors Men’s Central Jail where as part of his initiatory training he learned the “right way” to cover up unjustified beatings and abuse of inmates. In testimony that spread over two days, Michel’s described details of the individual beatings of inmates he’d been present for, or administered himself.

His testimony portrayed, not merely his own mistreatment of prisoners, but pointed beyond itself to a subculture of deputies inside the jails who engaged in routine brutality against inmates. The brutality was accompanied, according to Michel, in many instances, by the falsification of criminal charges against those same inmates, when such charges were needed to cover deputy violence. Michel’s testimony further suggested that such behavior went on virtually unchecked by jail supervisors and LASD higher-ups.

Even if inmates wrote up complaints, said Michel, they were often intercepted by deputies who had access to the complaint box.


THE JUDGE RULES

On Monday morning, after everyone else had finished speaking, and it was time for the Anderson to hand down a sentence, Anderson’s expression was grave. He spoke of
“the seriousness of this offense,” the bribery itself, and “the fact that the offense involved repeated” behavior. And, then, although Michel wasn’t charged with anything more than the single count of bribery, Anderson brought up the physical abuse visited on inmates, that Michel had testified about twice in his courtroom, (Anderson presided over all four of the obstruction of justice trials.)

The defendant was a law enforcement officer, said Anderson. “He broke his solemn vow to uphold the law…victimized those he was sworn to protect… abused the public trust….Not only did he bring shame on the sheriff’s department, but on law enforcement in general.”

Then after a long pause Anderson got to the point. “The court finds that the defendant’s conduct does require a period of incarceration.”

Physical abuse of inmates, Anderson said, was “rampant and unchecked” and “went all the way to the top of the department.”

Department members “behaved no better than the inmates they were assigned to guard.”

Thus, due to the “need for deterrence,” and for “a sentence that reflects the seriousness of the offenses….six months of incarceration is appropriate.”

Anderson gave Michel a little over a month to get his affairs in order, telling him he must self-surrender by noon on July 26.


A GHOST OF SENTENCING FUTURE?

When those on the court benches filed out into the hallway after the hearing was over, one of the main topics of conversation other than the surpise sentence itself, is what it might mean for future sentencing. Did Anderson’s significant deviation from the prosecution’s request presage a similarly non-lenient view of, say, the upcoming sentencing of former sheriff Lee Baca on July 11, and also that of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka at the end of this month.

“If I were Lee Baca, I’d be concerned,” said one attorney who observed the Michel sentencing hearing.

“This judge wants to know that you get it,” agreed former Assistant U.S. Attorney Miriam Aroni Krinsky. “From what we’ve seen today, I don’t think he’s going to go easy on former sheriff Baca.”

A few minutes later still, Michel stood in the sun outside the federal court building on Main Street and told reporters that he does get it.

“I made a mistake. I did wrong. This whole thing has been a life changing experience for me,” Michel said. “I’m ready to take what the judge gave to me, and move on with my life. It’s a fair sentence. It was totally fair and justified.”

As for the “rampant and unchecked” abuse of inmates by deputies that Anderson and others have mentioned?

“There is an arrogance about the department where I worked….,” Michel said, his wife close beside him. “It was everywhere. We thought that we ran the jail. That it was our jail, that we controlled the jail. Nobody else did. It was arrogant.” We worked there. But” the jail “doesn’t belong to the deputies. It belongs to the people of Los Angeles. But that’s not how we saw things.”

Posted in LASD | 11 Comments »

Prosecutors Call for 5 Years in Prison for Former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka

June 13th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



THE RINGLEADER FROM THE BEGINNING

“Defendant Paul Tanaka is responsible not only for obstructing justice, but also for fostering the culture that led to the significant problems in the Los Angeles County jails….While defendant claimed at his and three previous trials that he had only limited involvement in the conspiracy, the evidence showed instead that he was the ringleader from the beginning.
”

So begins the 23-page sentencing memorandum filed last week, in which government prosecutors ask U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson to sentence Paul Tanaka, the former second in command at the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, to 60 months—or 5 years—in federal prison.

Tanaka, as most readers know, was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, on April 6. He is due to sentenced by Judge Anderson on Monday, June 27.

The government’s sentencing memorandum makes for interesting reading. In it U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes, and Eddie Juaregui not only reiterate the crimes for which Tanaka was convicted, they also paint a picture of a rogue supervisor who fostered a toxic culture that allowed for a pattern of civil rights abuses and corruption in the LA County jail system, and beyond. This pattern of abuse, say the prosecutors, led to the multi-year FBI investigation that Tanaka was convicted of obstructing.

And Tanaka wasn’t just any participant, the prosecutors write. He was “in charge of” the obstructive operation, was “involved in all aspects of the obstruction,” and he “set the tone of the operation early and repeatedly with his ‘F**k the FBI’ statements.”


THE CONTEXT AND THE CRIME

This attitude of Tanaka’s was not a new one, according to the prosecutors. It was, they contend, his signiture style as a supervisor that created the context for the crimes of which he and other department members have been convicted:

“During his time as an executive,” they write, “[the} defendant threatened to discipline supervisors who frequently referred deputies to Internal Affairs, transferred Captains who tried to reduce deputy abuse and break up cliques, instructed deputies to work in the ‘gray area’ of law enforcement, and expressed his desire to gut Internal Affairs. Defendant’s actions caused deputies to believe that they could act with impunity, which, unfortunately, they did much too frequently.”

Moreover, according to the prosecution, Tanaka “chose as his co-conspirators those who were ordinarily supposed to investigate the same type of crimes that they began covering up.”

The specifics of crimes of which Tanaka has been convicted are as follows: from mid-August 2011 through September 26, 2011, in a series of actions that came to be known, unofficially, Operation Pandora’s Box, Mr. Tanaka and department members under his direction, devised a scheme to hide a jail inmate turned-confidential informant from his FBI handlers through a complicated strategy of multiple name changes that made the federal informant, Anthony Brown, appear to vanish from the LA County jail system by making his name and distinguishing details vanish from the jail database.

The government also described how department members under Tanaka’s command attempted to intimidate potential witnesses, who had information about deputy wrongdoing, into refusing to cooperate with the FBI. Then the same group falsely threatened an FBI agent with arrest in an unsuccessful attempt to intimidate her into giving them information about the ongoing federal investigation.

For all these actions, say the prosecutors, Paul Tanaka was “the ringleader.”


COMPARATIVE SENTENCING

In the memo, the government notes that the other seven former department members who were convicted of obstruction of justice for participation in the same actions that Tanaka has been convicted of directing and influencing, have been given sentences ranging from 18 months for then-deputy James Sexton, to 37 and 41 months, respectively, for former lieutenants Greg Thompson and Stephen Leavins, at the top end, with former deputies Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, plus former sergeants Maricela Long and Scott Craig, receiving sentences in between.

The government makes the logical case that since Tanaka was the guy in charge, the shot caller, he must get the longest sentence.

The prosecutors also address the Baca factor, which the defense will undoubtedly point to vigorously when they argue for a lower sentence.

Former sheriff Lee Baca, as most of you are aware, made a plea deal with the feds in early February of this year, in which he admitted to lying to federal agents about his part in this whole mess. In return, the feds have agreed to a sentence of between 0 to 6 months in federal prison.

(Anderson will be sentencing Baca on July 11, at which time the judge is theoretically supposed to hand down a sentence between those guidelines. Yet legally, Anderson could sentence Baca to as much as five years, or anything in between. However if Anderson goes at all outside the 0 to 6 parameter, then the plea deal becomes null and void—unless Baca and his attorneys decide to accept a higher sentence rather than lose the plea deal, and move to an indictment.)

In the Tanaka sentencing memo, the prosecutors don’t exactly argue that Baca is less guilty than Tanaka, but that the “quantity and the quality” of the evidence they have against Lee Baca is less than the mounds they have against Tanaka. In other words, you charge what you can dead bang prove.

Then, in a curious sentence near the end of the memo, in which the prosecutors call the judge’s attention to “the issues raised in Baca’s PSR. Those issues place him in a very different position than the others involved in this case,” they write.

“PSR” stands for Pre Sentencing Report, the report written up by probation officials with a sentencing recommendation, that the judge may follow or disregard. We don’t know what “issues” to which the government is referring in their reference to the “PSR,” but our best guess is that the former sheriff is claiming health issues that he and his attorney maintain should preclude him from going to prison.

We’ll see what Judge Anderson makes of all this on June 27—And then again, on July 11, when he sentences former sheriff Baca.

In the meantime, former Deputy Gilbert Michel will be sentenced Monday morning.


You can find the government’s Tanaka sentencing memo here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 35 Comments »

THE LASD SAGA CONTINUES: Another LA Sheriff’s Deputy Soon to be Sentenced….Retired Sheriff Lee Baca Unconcerned with “Jail”….LASD & DA Investigated Baca & Pal, Bishop Turner

June 6th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy Gilbert Michel will be sentenced next week.

Michel, if you remember, was caught in an FBI sting inside Men’s Central Jail in 2011.

At the time, the FBI was investigating multiple reports of what sounded like credible accounts of inmates being brutalized by deputies, or observing others being brutalized, to the point that “there appeared to be a pattern,” as Assistant U.S. Attorney Liz Rhodes explained during one of the government’s criminal cases against former sheriff’s department members.

But such allegations are tough to prove. “Inmates could be discredited,” Rhodes pointed out. “And the jails were controlled by the very people the FBI wanted to investigate.”

So the feds launched a number of quiet strategies, one of which was an undercover sting involving inmate/informant Anthony Brown, who said that he knew deputies who would bring in contraband in return for money.

And so it was that deputy Gilbert Michel was paid by a supposed Brown confederate, but in fact an undercover FBI agent, to bring a cell phone to Brown inside Men’s Central Jail, in return for a cash bribe. For additional money, Michele continued to charge Brown’s new cellphone.

A week or so later, the cell phone was discovered by a deputy in a routine search, Brown was found to be a federal informant, all hell broke loose, and the feds pounced on Michele who eventually made a plea deal with the government in return for his cooperation.

Now it remains for him to be sentenced.

The question is, will he get more or less time than the 0 to 6 months that has been offered to former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca in return for his plea deal.

The prosecution has asked for four months of home confinement citing a great many factors including his cooperation, his important and affecting testimony “against more senior deputies, sergeants,
lieutenants, and ultimately the Under-sheriff of his former department. The government believes that his testimony was important to securing those convictions.”

Baca, just to remind you, is due to be sentenced on July 11. Paul Tanaka is due to be sentenced on June 27.


FORMER LA COUNTY SHERIFF BACA SAYS “NOT AFRAID OF JAIL,” STANDS ON RECORD “PROUDLY”

And on the topic of Baca’s sentencing…..

“I’m not afraid of jail. I’m not afraid of anything.”

(By the way, we think Baca meant “prison,” not “jail,” a distinction one would think he’d have mastered by now. But, no matter.)

That’s what former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca told the Jewish Journal’s Ryan Torok in an interview published last week, which took place after the former sheriff was honored at a celebratory breakfast by Congregation Bais Naftoli for “his years of friendship to the Jewish community.”

Some of the notable quotes from Baca’s post-breakfast interview with Torok are as follows:

“I’m one that believes if you know how to suffer properly, you don’t suffer at all. I’m an individual who does not suffer because of mistakes. I’m someone who learns from mistakes. … I’ll stand on my record proudly, anywhere, whether it’s in the free world or in jail.”

“I’m not asking for forgiveness for the mistakes that I’ve made. I’ll let God decide to forgive me. I can serve time, I don’t care what the circumstances are, I’m not afraid of that, because I know who I am, I know why I do what I do and I know the people who work for me know that I love them…And I love my critics, as well.”

Torok also writes that, regarding the multiple former department members who have been convicted on charges related to abusing jail inmates or jail visitors, Baca said “that jailing deputies will not solve the problem of inmate abuse.”

Alrighty then. Good to know.



THE LASD AND DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S OFFICE WERE INVESTIGATING BACA AND BISHOP TURNER—AND FOUND NOTHING TO SEE

Last week there was one more Lee Baca-related story that you should not miss.

This intriguing story, by ABC7′s investigative producer Lisa Bartley, revealed that both the LA County Sheriff’s Department and the LA District attorney’s office were investigating Baca and his former paid buddy, Bishop Edward Turner..

Turner, to remind you, was one of the former sheriff’s four “civilian field deputies,” and had a county-paid salary of $114,584 a year, a county-paid car, and a deputy sheriff assigned to him as his part-time aide, and other perks. In return for the taxpayer-supplied salary and goodies, Turner was tasked with a list of slightly fuzzy responsibilities, prominently including “constituent outreach” (which sounds a lot like year-round campaigning, but no matter), and facilitating some drug prevention programs.

In 2013, Bartley and ABC7 reported on various extravagantly questionable activities engaged in—or allegedly engaged in—by Turner while he was on the LASD payroll.

The ABC7 investigations evidently triggered investigations by the sheriff’s department, and subsequently the DA’s office, into possible criminal wrongdoing by Baca and Bishop Turner. Then, a few weeks ago, writes Bartley, the DA’s office concluded there was nothing shady going on after all—a conclusion that seems to bring up as many questions as it attempts to put to bed.

The District Attorney’s office “Charge Evaluation Worksheet,” released last month and obtained by producer Bartley, makes for fascinating reading. (You can find it here.)

But to better appreciate the DA’s report, it will help to have a refresher on ABC7′s 2013 investigations, which looked at the activities of Baca’s field deputies in general, and turned up a bunch of curious facts about Turner in particular:

1. For example, ABC7 reporters learned that Turner was the landlord for property across the street from his South LA Church, the Power of Love Christian Fellowship, and it turned out that one of Turner’s tenants on the property was a marijuana dispensary, at a time when Baca had been vocally against medical marijuana dispensaries.

When asked about the dispensary—which is illegal in that it is not one of the 134 dispensaries then sanctioned by LA’s Measure D—-Turner claimed he didn’t really know anything about the operation, or its illegality. However, when ABC7 talked to the dispensary’s owner, the man said he walked the rent check across the street to Turner’s church every month.

2. In addition to his church, Turner was running a nonprofit organization called H.O.P.E. for Life. ABC7 tried to look into the organization’s financials, which, due to its tax exempt status, should have been publically accessible. They found that H.O.P.E. for Life had its nonprofit status revoked in 2009 for its failure to file the proper yearly disclosures with the IRS.

This information was problematic for the LASD because Baca had repeatedly raised money for H.O.P.E for Life with the department’s yearly “Multi-faith Prayer Breakfast,” an event that many upper-level department supervisors were reportedly strongly urged to attend. Yet, ABC’s report found that was not at all clear where the money for the LASD-sponsored event(s) eventually wound up—all of which suggested fraud.

3. Then, weirdest of all, Bartly and ABC7 obtained a highly suggestive sheriff’s department incident report, circa 2005 involving a mysterious package addressed to Turner’s church containing large amounts of cash.

Here’s what reporter Marc Brown reported in 2013:

We also had questions about a 2005 sheriff’s department “incident report.” A package that was addressed to Turner’s Power of Love church was intercepted by a sheriff’s department narcotics team. The package contained $84,020 in cash.

Detectives wrote in their report that based on their expertise, that the cash was the “direct proceeds from the sale of controlled substances, or illegal narcotics.”

“I was totally appalled and upset about that situation,” said Turner.

According to the report, Turner called a detective and said he wasn’t expecting a parcel and didn’t know anyone in New York who would send him a box of money.

In 2013, WitnessLA spoke to then-Baca spokesperson, Steve Whitmore, who told us that the sheriff was “taken aback” by news of the marijuana dispensary.

Whitmore also said that Baca moved quickly to cancel all future donations to Turner’s non-nonprofit.

About the box of cash, Whitmore said that the matter had been “fully investigated” by the department, and that, despite the fact that the package was addressed to Turner’s church, “they couldn’t connect the package to Bishop Turner.”

“But we’re still going to look into all that again in our investigation.”

And while, indeed, there were two investigations into Turner and the drug money-–one in 2005, and one after the ABC7 reports—the handling of said investigations have raised some concerns.

Most troublingly, a number of present and former LASD officials—including former undersheriff Paul Tanaka—have suggested, or outright stated, that Lee Baca spiked the 2005 investigation into Bishop Turner and the mystery drug money.

Yet when the department—and subsequently the DA’s office—decided to look into whether or not the the former sheriff had actually shut down a criminal investigation into his pal Bishop Turner’s activities, according to Bartley, at least two of the most crucial LASD players in that alleged drama declined to talk to ICIB, the LASD’s internal criminal investigative arm, or anyone else, about the 2005 Turner investigation, and why it was closed.

Yet, instead of pushing further with those important potential witnesses, the DA’s report repeatedly floated a rumor that then candidate for sheriff, Robert Olmsted, started the rumor about the spiked 2005 investigation to discredit Baca whom he was challenging politically.

However since, thus far, there are multiple instances in which Mr. Tanaka and/or Mr. Baca have been accused of triggering retaliatory IA investigations against people with whom they disagree, and shutting down or minimizing investigations into the actions of people whom they favored, and exactly zero instances that we know of where Olmsted has been accused of retaliatory witch hunts, or the like, we found this tack on the part of the DA’s report to be….perplexing.

Anyway, read Bartley’s report, and then read the DA’s report, and let us know what you think.



Lee Baca photo by Saxon Brice

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 16 Comments »

Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca Reportedly Suffering From Alzheimer’s, Could Affect Sentencing

May 31st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


IS FORMER SHERIFF LEE BACA SUFFERING FROM ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE?

According to sources who have met recently with former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, the former sheriff said he has been diagnosed with Alzheimer disease, along with Parkinson’s,** and believes his condition may persuade U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson not to give him any prison time when Anderson sentences Baca in July.

Baca’s sentencing hearing, which was originally scheduled for May, has been delayed twice at the request of the prosecution, and is now scheduled for July 11 at 8:30 a.m. in Judge Anderson’s courtroom.

If you’ll remember, in February of this year, Baca signed a plea deal with federal prosecutors in which he formally pleaded guilty to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when they questioned him in the course of a wide-ranging investigation into “corruption and civil rights violations” in the department he’d led for fifteen years.

Specifically, Baca admitted to Judge Anderson that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning three years earlier on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation into brutality by deputies in the county’s large jail system.

In fact, Baca has now admitted, he gave instructions that the officers “should do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Her being Agent Marx.

Baca’s attorneys sought the plea agreement with the feds in lieu their client facing a federal indictment for his alleged part in obstructing the government’s probe into LASD wrongdoing.

But although the former sheriff pleaded guilty in February, the plea will not be finalized until Baca’s July sentencing. The terms of the plea deal specify that Baca’s sentence will fall between 0 to 6 months in a federal prison.

Yet, as Judge Anderson informed Baca and his attorney, Michael Zweiback, during the February plea hearing, the court “is not bound by advisory guidelines,” but is able to impose a sentence that “could be greater or lessor than the guideline range,” up to a maximum of five years in prison, plus three years of post-prison oversight, and a cash fine of up to $250,000.

But if Anderson was to go above the 0 to 6 guidelines, then the plea deal would become null and void—unless Baca and his attorney elected to take the higher sentence rather than go to trial.

Still, there has been much speculation about the possibility that Anderson could to go above the guidelines in order to give Baca a sentence that can be measured in years, not months.

But now there is the new—but not officially confirmed—-talk about Baca’s possible condition.

Baca’s sentencing date has been postponed twice, and both times the postponement was requested by the prosecution.

In the most recent written request for a delay, prosecutors referred to “issues raised” in the “Pre-Sentence Investigation Report” that has been submitted by probation.

Here’s how that works: After Baca submitted his plea, representatives from federal probation met with Baca and company, then submitted a report recommending a sentence within the federal guidelines—specifically that 0 to 6 months we mentioned earlier–-for the crime to which he has pleaded. Then once in receipt of the probation report, the prosecution must make its own recommendation that could be higher or lower than whatever probation suggested, but that—–according to the terms of the plea deal—–must remain within the 0-6 month parameter.

It seems, however, that there are some unnamed “issues” raised by the probation report that the government feels it needs more time to address:

The government has identified, retained and consulted with an expert witness regarding the issues raised in paragraph 65. This expert witness then asked for additional material from defendant in order to fully assess the issue.

Defendant provided most of this material to the government late last week, which the government forwarded on to its expert witness today. Defendant, however, is awaiting additional results sought by the government’s expert witness. Defendant expects to receive these results in the next week. Once the government receives the additional material, it will need time to consult with its expert witness on the issue and determine the extent to which it affects the government’s [sentencing] recommendation, if at all.

The probation report, including the mysterious “paragraph 65” and the issues to which it refers are under seal.

So do the “issues” causing the delay relate to Baca’s reported medical condition?

We asked Assistant U.S. Attoney Brandon Fox about the matter and he declined to comment.


TANAKA SENTENCING

The sentencing date for former undersheriff Paul Tanaka has also been delayed, and Tanaka will now be sentenced on June 27 at 8:30 a.m. For Tanaka too it will be Judge Anderson will be doing the sentencing. Tanaka faces a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

To remind you, the former undersheriff was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to allegations that he directed and oversaw deliberate efforts to disrupt an FBI investigation into a culture of brutality and corruption inside the LA County jails, which began in 2010.

Seven other former department members have been convicted of charges of obstruction of justice for actions stemming from orders issued by Mr. Tanaka and Mr. Baca.

Judge Anderson, who will be sentencing both Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka, presided over the trials of the seven and handed down their sentences, which ranged from 18 months to 41 months

So, in view of the sentences Anderson has already ordered for department underlings, will he be willing to sentence the former top guy, Lee Baca, to no prison time at all? Or will he venture outside the guidelines to give Baca a more substantial prison sentence, despite the former sheriff’s reported medical issues.

Unless there are more delays, we will learn the answer to that question on July 11.

And in between the sentencing of Tanaka and Baca, the cases of the convicted seven will be heard by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals on July 5.


**CORRECTION: Although sources tell us former sheriff Baca has Parkinson’s, for a variety of reasons, we have become less sure about the reliability of this second reported diagnosis, hence the cut. We will keep you up to date as we learn more.

Posted in Uncategorized | 32 Comments »

Fed Jury Takes Less Than 90 Min to Convict Two Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies in Latest Jail Brutality Trial

May 16th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


After three days of dramatic testimony
in the trial of two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies accused of brutalizing a mentally ill jail inmate, the seven woman, five man jury deliberated for just over an hour.

The jury was given the case for deliberation at 2:40 p.m. on Monday, after nearly four hours of lengthy and contentious closing arguments.

Then, once they left the courtroom, the jurors had to settle down in the jury room, elect a jury foreperson, and hit the restrooms. After that, arriving at a unanimous decision reportedly took surprisingly little time.

Still, the lawyers from both sides of the case were startled when they got word just before 4 p.m. that the federal jury had a verdict on the charges against deputies Bryan Brunsting, 31 and Jason Branum, 35, who were accused of beating, kicking and pepper spraying an allegedly unresisting schizophrenic inmate named Philip Jones, and then falsifying reports about the incident by portraying Jones as the out-of control aggressor who should be criminally prosecuted.

The jury panel found Brunsting and Branum guilty on all three counts, which were, conspiracy to violate jail inmate Philip Jones’s civil rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, and falsification of records.


TWO LESSONS

The jurors arrived at their verdict after closing arguments—with the prosecution going first: Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told jurors that the heart of the case was “about the defendants teaching two lessons.”

The first lesson was for mentally ill inmate Philip Jones, said Fox, who would be taught the lesson that “disrespect will be met with physical violence.” Jones had talked back, brief, to a female custody assistant.

And when we’re done, “we’ll have you charged” for a felony “you didn’t commit.”

The second lesson, according to Fox, was for the benefit of “honor recruit,” Joshua Sather, “the future of this sheriff’s department.” For Sather, said Fox, “it was Training Day.” The message was, he said, “we’re going to teach you how it’s done at Twin Towers.”

As part of the lesson, said Fox, Brunsting and Branum decided to test the new deputy “to see if he could be trusted” not to be a snitch. And so it was that Sather became part of the group teaching inmate Jones his lesson.

“For one day Joshua Sather passed their test with flying colors.” said Fox. But then a few days later, the promising deputy became troubled and “decided to walk away from his promising career. He decided to come forward.”

Similarly, custody assistant Porscha Singh “told the truth about what she saw” and heard.

What the defendants didn’t expect, said Fox, “was that these two people—Porscha Singh and Joshua Sather—would cross the thin blue line” to tell the truth.


JUDGE & JURY

“As long as you’re in the United States you have the right not to have excessive force used on you,” continued Fox. “You have the right not to be prosecuted with false evidence.” But for mentally ill inmate Philip Jones, said Fox, “‘he went down that hallway with deputies who were both judge and jury.”

Force was not justified, said Fox. “There was no law enforcement reason to beat Mr. Jones. He was not kicking or hitting. He could not escape. There was no place for him to go.”

The defendants wrote in their reports that Jones took a swing at deputy Sather. “Instead he was on the floor, curled up and crying and screaming” after being kicked in the groin, beaten, and sprayed in the face with pepper spray.

Fox pointed to the “nearly identical reports written by Brunsting and Sather at Brunsting’s direction,” which say “that inmate Jones clenched his fists and said, ‘Fuck you and fuck that bitch in the booth!’” And then, according to the reports, said Fox, Jones “took a swing at Joshua Sather,” but Sather stepped back and dodged the punch.

“But that never happened.”

Sather never wavered on the main facts, said Fox. For instance, “he told his uncle, internal affairs, the FBI, and the grand jury about the groin kick.”

But the defense wants the jury to think that Sather would gain by calling his uncle to “make up a story where he commits multiple felonies.”

As for Singh, said Fox, “Porscha Singh knew that lying to the FBI is a crime.” So when called to the grand jury, she was about to shut down and take the fifth. Instead, “she decided to come forward and tell the truth.”

In her testimony last week, Fox pointed out, Singh admitted that she’d lied to the LASD’s internal affairs. “Now the sheriff’s department knows about it.” But she told the truth anyway.

“The defendants are not above the law. They are part of the problem,” said prosecutor Fox. “They were ready to train new deputies in how to beat and how to lie.”


LIARS, LIARS EVERYWHERE

When it was the defense’s turn, their main thesis was that the prosecution’s primary witnesses, Sather and Singh, were clumsy liars

Of Sather, Brunsting’s attorney, Richard Hirsch, said, “His testimony was dramatic,” but “would anyone buy a house from that man? Or buy a car from him—let alone a used car?”

As for Singh, “her motivation” was to give the feds “a story that would be beneficial to me.”

“But liars ought to have good memories,” said Hirsch using a phrase that he would repeat often.

Branum’s attorney, Donald Re, continued the theme.

Sather, he said, would tell you that “two experienced deputies would commit a felony” around someone “they’d known for a day and a half.”

If he [Sather] “came to your door selling magazines, you’d probably call the police.”

In fact, Donald Re said, Sather likely made the whole story up as “an excuse to give his uncle” when, after his first encounter in the “real world” of law enforcement, “he couldn’t deal.”

Before he finished Re pulled out all the stops. He brought up the many wrongful convictions we’ve seen in the news in recent years. There’s no DNA, he said, but “what if we find out (later) that there’s a video of the whole thing?” Then, “imagine hat this is a trial of a family member of yours. How would you feel about that?”

Since prosecution has the burden of proof, prosecutors are allowed a rebuttal closing after the defense has finished.

“You can see why people don’t want to come forward,” prosecutor Fox said to the jury, almost as an aside, as he got up for the government’s final round. “They’re treated as outcasts….”


THE VERDICT

In the end it didn’t matter. The jury didn’t buy what the defense was selling.

Instead, the jurors said later, the panel believed custody assistant Porscha Singh and former deputy Joshua Sather.

Thus they came back with a verdict after a little over an hour of discussion.

US District Judge George W. Wu will sentence the two defendants on August 22. Each faces a statutory maximum penalty of 40 years in federal prison.

As a result of today’s guilty verdicts, 21 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges.

Former sheriff Lee Baca is now due to be sentenced on June 27.

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka will be sentenced a week earlier on June 20, both by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson..

Posted in LASD | 25 Comments »

LA County Child Abuse and Neglect Report…Sheriff McDonnell on AirTalk…and Rehabilitation, Reentry, and “Human Frailty”

May 11th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

REPORT GIVES RECOMMENDATIONS ON HOW TO BETTER CATCH AND PREVENT CHILD ABUSE AND NEGLECT

On Tuesday, the Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect (ICAN) presented a colossal, 310-page report on child abuse and neglect in LA County to LASD Sheriff Jim McDonnell and LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey.

The council, brought into being by the LA County Board of Supervisors in the ’70s, gathers data from—and direct recommendations to—county agencies that have a role in child safety and welfare.

Among the more noteworthy recommendations, was a call for the Department of Children and Family Services, Probation, LASD, LAPD and other agencies to share case information with hospital staff to help identify and prevent (or treat) child abuse. The report points out that the 63 LA County-area hospitals, which see 400 injured toddlers and newborns every day, may not have adequate abuse and neglect screening in place, highlighting the need for structured inter-agency information sharing.

There were 181,926 referrals to DCFS of child abuse or neglect during 2014, up 3% over the previous year, and the highest referral rate in nearly two decades. The report suggests that the increase in referrals may have played some part in the county’s decrease in the number of kids killed by parents or caregivers, which dropped from 19 in 2013 to 15 in 2014. “It appears that more referrals result in safer children,” the report reads.

The report points out that LA County, which oversees the nation’s largest child welfare system, is uniquely positioned to serve as a model for other cities, counties, and states.

Read the rest of the recommendations and dive into the report: here.


“HUMAN FRAILTY” AND THE LIMITATIONS OF REHABILITATION STRATEGIES FOR REDUCING RECIDIVISM

The Boston Reentry Study, which followed 135 male and female state prisoners as they returned to their Boston neighborhoods between 2012 and 2013, found their subjects experienced a high degree of childhood trauma (including violence at home), and were often previously victims of the same violent crimes for which they were later incarcerated.

In an op-ed for the New Yorker, Harvard sociologist Bruce Western, one of the Boston Reentry researchers, found what he termed an underlying vulnerability, or “human frailty,” among some former offenders. Western says that drug addiction and mental illness, often co-occurring with physical maladies, stack the odds against former offenders trying to successfully reenter society. This points to a need for healing interventions much earlier than rehabilitation and other treatment programs can provide, if we really want to reduce prison populations and recidivism rates, Western says. Here are some clips (but go over and read the whole thing, as it’s an interesting take on a complex issue):

It’s no surprise that physical and mental problems go together. Addicts often struggle with issues like chronic pain or manifestations of post-traumatic stress; physical ailments can feed depression and other emotional problems. Those who study poverty and inequality often point to the poor schooling and bad work histories of disadvantaged people. But disadvantage can run much deeper than educational failure and unemployment. In many cases, it has a physical reality that limits a person’s capacity to think clearly, without pain, and to bring energy to daily affairs. Sometimes, a feedback loop takes hold. People with physical- and mental-health problems spend disproportionate time in community health clinics and other institutions for the vulnerable and poor; such places can both help and hurt them. During Aman’s time at Bridgewater, for example, he received treatment for his schizophrenia but was also assaulted by another inmate.

Over the course of the Boston Reentry Study, my team and I wrestled with the problem of how to describe the vulnerability of people like Aman. Ultimately, we settled on “human frailty,” borrowing a term from demographers who study patterns of death across the population. More ambiguous alternatives, like “vulnerability,” could describe the condition of a healthy person who finds him or herself in an unhealthy situation. “Human frailty,” by contrast, inheres within an individual’s mind and body. It persists even when your environment changes.

Among the people we interviewed, mental and physical frailty were startlingly common. In many cases, those frailties derailed their efforts to become better parents, children, neighbors, and citizens.

[SNIP]

The lesson we can learn from frail prisoners like Aman and Carla is that life is a one-way street. Rehabilitative programs are often too little, too late; we need to intercede early. In talking about their lives, our respondents often recalled schools that were unable to respond to serious behavioral or learning problems except through suspension or expulsion. They described how their slides into heroin or crack addiction led straight into the criminal-justice system, rather than into an addiction program. They described using marijuana or heroin to ameliorate chronic mental or physical pain that had gone untreated for years. Our social safety net focusses most of its limited resources on poor mothers, their children, and the elderly; unattached adults often slip through it. It’s only after untreated addiction and mental illness lead to arrests and incarceration that they get help. By investing more in drug treatment, health care, and housing programs, we could offer a basic level of material and bodily security for people with broken minds and bodies who must try and adjust to life after prison.

A realistic public policy, moreover, needs to recognize that stable housing, employment, and a functional family life may be out of reach for the most fundamentally disadvantaged. In these cases, human dignity can at least be respected by enabling the effort to struggle for it. This means, sometimes, providing a place to stay, a transitional job, and support for families even when the outcome is uncertain. In these cases, the struggle itself is intrinsically meaningful. It is meaningful for clients who might envision a better future. It is also meaningful for society as a whole to do something more than abandon the least capable among us. This is difficult ground for our criminal-justice system. From the perspective of human frailty, a program that barely reduces recidivism may still succeed in the formidable challenge of treating with decency people convicted of violence who have struggled all their lives with mental illness, addiction, and disability.


LA COUNTY SHERIFF DISCUSSES TOM ANGEL, PROP 47, AND MORE ON AIRTALK

On KPCC’s AirTalk, Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell talked with host Larry Mantle about the Tom Angel scandal, why deputies shot into moving cars so many times in 2015(link), what effect former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka’s recent conviction has on the department, and Prop. 47′s savings.

Here are some clips:

…LAPD claims it shot into two vehicles during the years 2010-2014. In both incidents, officers said that the suspects were armed. With the Sheriff’s Department, there were nine times between 2010 and 2014 where deputies fired into the vehicles. In only one case was the person armed with a gun. What’s your response? Do you think those statistics are troubling?

It’s something I want to take a much closer look at. I’m thankful to KPCC for doing the study and giving us some data to look at. I looked at 2015, and we had eight incidents involving shooting at vehicles. Four of those eight incidents have been reviewed administratively by our executive force review committee. Two of those four cases reviewed by the committee contained policy violations, so we’ll deal with those within the system. Four cases in 2015 are still in the review process. There were two shooting-at-vehicle incidents so far in 2016, and they’re both still under review. I believe the unions are in the review process right now with a new and improved policy to make it clearer to folks what our expectations are with regard to shooting at moving vehicles. Across the board, I think there’s universal agreement that it’s not particularly effective, there is potential danger to bystanders and others, and if you can get out of the way of the moving vehicle that’s really goal number one.

So, typically in an investigation, if there is firing on a moving car, the key is going to be whether the deputy felt like he or she was under imminent threat of injury by the vehicle. Will that be the determinant here?

Ultimately, that would be for any use of force. For shooting at a moving vehicle, if the vehicle is the weapon and the individual is not posing an additional threat with a gun or some other type of weapon, our direction on that is do not shoot at the vehicle and move out of the way. We don’t say that universally. There are situations that could arise where it could be an appropriate use of force, where using force in that manner would stop their ability to hurt others. That’s very risky and it’s not a good practice overall, but there are some situations where you come down to the end of the line and you don’t have an alternative.

[SNIP]

Your chief of staff Tom Angel resigned last week after publication of emails he sent while the assistant [police] chief in Burbank. He’d forwarded jokes that made fun of different racial, ethnic, and religious groups. I know it’s a personnel matter, which limits what you can say, but in a case like that with an employee found responsible for something like this, why isn’t an apology sufficient?

Look at the business we’re in. It’s all based on our relationship with the communities we serve. Los Angeles County is probably one of the most diverse counties in the world. It’s critical that we have a great relationship with all of those communities to do our job as well as it can be done. I was quoted as saying that I did not intend to discipline, but the conversation actually was that I had to speak with county council to determine what discipline was available to us because happened four years prior and when he was with another organization. We’ve done a lot of community outreach and are looking at this as an opportunity for all of us to take away some lessons learned and to repair relationships with our community.


ICAN cover art by Eugene Park.

Posted in Foster Care | 7 Comments »

LASD Deputies Sentenced in Jail Abuse Trial

May 10th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

On Monday, Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez were sentenced to 18 months and 13 months, respectively, in a federal prison for falsifying incident reports. The two deputies were also charged with (but ultimately, not convicted of) assault for allegedly punching, kicking, pepper spraying and whacking with a flashlight an allegedly non-resistant former Men’s Central Jail inmate named Bret Phillips, on February 11, 2009. Aguiar and Ramirez reportedly falsified reports after the beating, in order to portray the mentally ill Phillips as the violent, out-of-control aggressor.

Aguiar and Ramirez were convicted only of the latter charge of falsifying the reports. The charges of wrongly beating Phillips resulted in a hung jury, with 10 jurors voting to convict.

Why did two jurors decline to convict Ramirez and Aguiar of unlawfully beating Phillips if they unanimously voted to convict the deputies of falsifying their official reports?

Jury forewoman Janet Giampaoli shared some of the things that made it hard for the holdouts to convict the men of assault.

“The injuries that we were shown did not match up with what the prosecution claimed,” Giampaoli said. “In the medical records all we saw was one laceration and two to three superficial abrasions, and a bruised elbow.”

The forewoman said the two holdouts were also bothered by perceived inconsistencies in the testimony of the prosecution’s two primary witnesses, jail Chaplain Paulino Juarez and prison inmate John Maestez, who is serving a 21-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and who was bussed down from Delano state prison to testify in leg chains. Maestez testified that he had seen the beating, and been very disturbed by it, but had not wanted to testify (and received nothing in exchange for his testimony).

Speaking personally, Giampaoli said that she was not impressed by Maestez, adding that she did think Chaplain Juarez “definitely saw something. But I don’t that what he said he saw was the same thing as what he saw.”

In handing down the sentences, U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell said she believed the defendants used excessive force. O’Connell also said she bought the accounts of the prosecution’s two main eyewitnesses.

On the other hand, Judge O’Connell noted that Aguiar, who is now 29, was much younger at the time of the Feb. 2009 beating, and had no other criminal record. And, Ramirez, a 40-year old father of two, had overcome a difficult background, and also had no prior criminal record. So, she said she gave the two a break, handing down less than the 2 years called for by sentencing guidelines. (In addition to the prison time, both men must also do 100 hours of community service.)

Still, O’Connell said, “there has to be a penalty.”

When he spoke to the judge, Aguiar said his family feared for his safety if he was to go to prison, because of his background in law enforcement.

“Phillips feared for his safety,” the judge replied, referring to the mentally ill inmate whom Aguiar and Ramirez were accused of beating and unnecessarily pepper spraying, even though his hands were handcuffed to a waist chain. “You put his life in danger.’ And the defendant’s actions resulted in charges against the victim, said O’Connell.

Both the of the defense attorneys—Vicki Podberesky, representing Ramirez, and Evan Janesse, counsel for Aguiar—questioned why the two deputies should get sentences that were so much higher that the 0 to 6-month sentence that is laid out in the plea deal that former Sheriff Lee Baca has accepted.

“It’s troubling,” said Judge O’Connell, looking, well…troubled. But, she noted, Judge Percy Anderson has yet to actually sentence Baca, possibly implying that Anderson could decide to go outside the agreed upon sentencing guidelines. (Both Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka are scheduled to be sentenced on different days in June.)

When O’Connell asked federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins about Baca’s far lower proposed sentence, Williams said the matter was “apples and oranges.” In Baca’s case, Williams said, there was no use of force at issue, and Baca is elderly—73 years old. Moreover, Baca admitted to what he’d done before the deal was made, whereas Aguiar and Ramirez had not admitted to using undue force. And if the charges of excessive force were not true, why did they need to falsify their reports?

Jenness, Aguiar’s defense attorney, broke in to opine that the Baca sentence was not apples and oranges, but “politics.”

When the sentences were announced, there were lots of tears from the family members of Aguiar and Ramirez who filled several rows in the courtroom.

“Our whole system relies on the fact that police officers swear to uphold the law,” O’Connell told Ramirez and the rest of the observers.

Posted in LASD | 16 Comments »

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