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Lie & Deny: What Does the Still Unsolved Death of Mitrice Richardson Say About the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department?

April 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Lost Compassion Trailer 2015 from Chip Croft on Vimeo.


“EVERYTHING ABOUT THE HANDLING OF THE RICHARDSON CASE IS HORRIFIC, BUT NONE OF IT IS SUPRISING”

In February, six years after Mitrice Richardson’s body—or what remained of it— was found in a nearly impenetrable area of the Santa Monica Mountains called Dark Canyon, the Office of California Attorney General Kamala Harris agreed to launch a formal investigation into the way the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department handled the Richardson case. Whether the investigation will be pro forma or truly aggressive remains to be seen.

(WLA reported on the AG’s decision to take up the case here.)

Now Newsweek’s Alexander Nazaryan, has taken a new and very interesting look at the matter of Mitrice Richardson—her arrest, her incomprehensible release in the middle of the night, without her car, purse, cell phone or any cash, the staggeringly clumsy treatment of her remains.

But instead attempting to reinvestigate Richardson’s case, Nazaryan has instead examined the larger departmental context in which these actions involving Richardson occurred.

The result is disturbing.

Here’s a clip from Nazaryan’s excellent longread story. We strongly recommend you read the whole thing.

We hope the relevant people in the California Attorney General’s Office will also read the story.

Sitting in a car parked outside an Albertsons supermarket, Ronda Hampton was sobbing. “I can’t do this,” she cried, holding a bouquet of flowers, afternoon shoppers pushing past us, the Santa Monica Mountains aflame with sunlight in the distance. Chip Croft, a documentarian, made some feeble attempts to calm her down, but Hampton kept crying, so the three of us sat there awkwardly, two white men somberly watching a black woman wail over the death of another black woman.

After a time, Hampton’s tears subsided, and we headed off into the hills of Malibu Creek State Park, around where the 24-year-old Mitrice Richardson disappeared on September 17, 2009, several hours after being released from police custody in the middle of the night. Croft, who did not know Richardson but recently made a documentary about her with Hampton, drove, at times pointing out where celebrities lived, as if we were on one of those Hollywood tours.

Richardson had been arrested at a popular restaurant on the Pacific Coast Highway, just down the road from the beachfront estate of Steven Spielberg; Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies towed her car and took her inland to the Malibu/Lost Hills station, close to the Albertsons where Hampton broke down. That’s the station made briefly famous in 2006, when Mel Gibson was transported there after being pulled over for drunken driving. Deputies eventually escorted Gibson from Lost Hills to his towed car; the department tends to treat the famous with deference. Richardson had competed in beauty contests, but she was not a celebrity. She was released into the night at 12:38 a.m. without money or phone, expected to hike the 11 miles to the tow pound, which is on the Pacific coast.

Richardson was last seen the following morning in a residential area of the Santa Monica Mountains called Monte Nido, near the house of retired television news reporter Bill Smith, not far from the vast estate of Will and Jada Pinkett Smith (no relation). Richardson’s half-decomposed body was found several months later, in a remote stretch of the park called Dark Canyon, the clothes she’d been wearing scattered nearby. Some law enforcement officials surmised that Richardson, who suffered from bipolar disorder, walked into the canyon, took off her clothes and succumbed to anaphylactic shock from extensive poison oak exposure. This is highly unlikely, but so is every other hypothesis about her death: violent vagrants, drug cartels, neo-Nazis. Nobody knows anything, though most everyone suspects something. The most grave of these suspicions are aimed at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).

Mitrice Richardson was a young woman who became a case but also cause. To many in Los Angeles, she is a symbol too, as potent as Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, or Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, of a law enforcement culture that has grown contemptuous of both laws and men. “I consider Mitrice Richardson to be a victim of police brutality,” says Jasmyne Cannick, a Los Angeles journalist who writes frequently about race.

To those familiar with the LASD, everything about the handling of the Richardson case is horrific, but none of it is surprising. “The Sheriff’s Department is much worse than LAPD,” one lawyer said in a Knight Ridder investigation into the LASD. That was in the summer of 1991, blurry footage of Rodney King being beaten by four Los Angeles Police Department officers haunting the nation. The lawyer continued: “A growing joke in our circles is you never would have had the Rodney King videotape if they were sheriff’s deputies, because they just would have shot him.”

The sheriff at the time was Sherman Block, who died in 1998 and was replaced by Leroy “Lee” Baca, who had spent three decades rising steadily through the LASD ranks. The department was his from 1998 until 2014.

Now, though, Baca is probably headed to prison for lying to federal investigators looking into abuses in the jails run by his department. Because he took a plea deal, the sentence, to be doled out in May, won’t be longer than six months. The sentence for Baca’s longtime undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, who was convicted earlier this month on a similar array of charges, could be up to 15 years. Neither man had any direct connection to Richardson’s disappearance, but the secrecy, tribalism and cynical dishonesty that tarnished that investigation have manifested elsewhere: in the horrific abuses in the Los Angeles jail system, the nation’s largest, which the LASD operates; in the racial profiling by LASD deputies across the Antelope Valley; in charges of fawning favoritism for celebrities but often belligerent disdain for the average citizen.

Bob Olmsted, a former LASD commander who mounted a failed bid for the department’s top spot in 2014, tells me the men in charge of the department had an modus operandi for all potentially troublesome situations: “lie and deny.”

“They destroyed the organization,” he says of Baca and Tanaka. “They destroyed the public trust.”

Posted in LASD | 29 Comments »

Use-of-Force Policies, Immigrant Kids Held Indefinitely, the Healing Power of Art, WLA on Deadline LA

April 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

OPINION – INSTEAD OF PUSHING PILES OF NEW “PAPER POLICIES” TO REDUCE USE-OF-FORCE, GIVE OFFICERS MORE TRAINING

Sean Van Leeuwen, vice president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, says that so-called “paper policies” (like the recently released recommendations by the Police Executive Research Forum) intended to reduce use-of-force incidents, fall flat when law enforcement agencies fail to provide officers with the appropriate training and equipment for the policies already in place.

Leeuwen points to, for instance, San Francisco police commissioners refusal to equip officers with Tasers in 2010, setting the city apart as one of only two big cities nationwide that did not give cops the (mostly) less-than-lethal weapon. (Detroit was the other city.) This led to a shooting situation in which, an officer reportedly fatally shot a knife-wielding suspect because he had no valuable alternative to deadly force.

Leeuwen says that if Los Angeles County wants to reduce how often officers use force, it must remedy the fact that there’s not enough money in the sheriff’s department’s budget for the necessary equipment and ongoing training in mental health crisis de-escalation, use-of-force, ethics, search and seizure, and other important areas.

Here’s a clip:

Currently, the Sheriff’s budget has been stretched to the breaking point, making even the most vital training and equipment scarce commodities. If Los Angeles County’s leaders want to have a positive impact and reduce use of force incidents, they can start by providing the adequate funding needed to equip properly and continuously train deputies on the best tactics and procedures, not criticize and second-guess deputies’ actions given the benefit of 20/20 hindsight.

In the area of training, we are in continual contact with our members who are the rank-and-file deputies of this department and are well aware of how many hours of training they receive on average each year. We know that in many areas, including dealing with the mentally ill, use of force, search and seizure, and ethics that the hours of training received on a yearly basis have substantial room to be increased.

In the area of equipment, the County can and should do much more. Every deputy sheriff whose primary duty is law enforcement should have a Taser. Why in 2016 do we put deputy sheriffs on the street without a Taser? Some stations have resorted to relying on “shared” Tasers, designating certain deputies or sergeants to carry them. It doesn’t do a deputy sheriff or the community we are sworn to protect any good if the first responding deputy sheriff to a violent subject happens to be the deputy who doesn’t have a Taser. Every time a deputy is forced to discharge a firearm, it creates a risk, whether someone is hit or not. I once told a high-ranking department executive a Taser is always cheaper than a bullet, meaning that Tasers not only give deputies viable force options, they reduce the risk of loss of life and possible civil liability whether or not they are deployed. Tasers have their place, but we recognize from the recent Los Angeles Times article that Tasers are not a panacea. In split seconds when a deputy’s life is at risk, deadly force may be the only option.

While training is a Department responsibility, it is the Board of Supervisors who needs to fund the Sheriff’s Department to ensure complete training cycles can be offered to all deputies every year. That training needs to be relevant, continuous and ongoing to be effective. Yes, that means that there may be deputy sheriffs removed from patrol duties for several days or more to attend this training, which has a fiscal impact since someone else will be filling their place on patrol. The County and cities who contract with the Sheriff’s Department need to embrace the concept of funding training which will enable deputies to effectively employ tactics and measures required by our 103-page use of force policy . If we could reduce even one deputy involved shooting by providing deputies with the necessary equipment and training, it will be money well spent.


HUNDREDS OF UNACCOMPANIED IMMIGRANT KIDS KEPT FOR MONTHS IN GROUP HOMES OR DETENTION FACILITIES OFTEN WITH NO ACCESS TO REPRESENTATION AND NO TRANSPARENCY

More than 200,000 unaccompanied immigrant kids and teens—many of them seeking asylum from gang violence in Central America—have been detained at the border US-Mexico in the last five years.

The Department of Homeland Security deals with adults caught at the border, but the Dept. of Health and Human Services’ Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) takes custody of kids traveling without parents that are picked up at the border. Most children are held for month or so in a shelter before ORR places them with a relative during immigration court proceedings.

There are, however, between 500-700 unaccompanied kids that are locked up in secure group homes and detention centers each year, usually for two or three months, but sometimes for much longer. And these warehoused kids, that are essentially forgotten, according to advocates, don’t often have legal representation.

One such teen, Pablo, has been locked up for 21 months. After his older brother was taken by a gang and never seen again, Pablo—then 14 years old—fled his country trying to follow his mother, Evelyn, who had moved to Los Angeles to build a housekeeping buisiness to support her children. Now, Evelyn drives six hours from Los Angeles to Yolo County Juvenile Hall to visit her son every three weeks.

ORR has transferred Pablo all over the country, despite requests that the teen be released to his mother or to a less-restrictive shelter near Evelyn. But ORR makes decisions behind closed doors without an oversight system, and doesn’t recognize the court system as a place for kids to contest their detention and seek release.

KQED’s Tyche Hendricks has more on the issue, as well as Pablo and Evelyn’s story.

Pablo is one of more than 200,000 migrant kids traveling without their parents who have been detained at the U.S.-Mexico border over the past five years. He’s part of a wave of Central American children fleeing violence, as criminal gangs in El Salvador and neighboring countries have come to wield terrifying power with impunity, and weak governments struggle to respond. That violence is a legacy of the civil wars of the 1980s, subsequent migrations to the United States and the deportation of gang members back to their home countries in the 1990s.

When adults are picked up at the border, they are dealt with by the Department of Homeland Security. But unaccompanied children are turned over to a different agency, the Office of Refugee Resettlement, in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. As the number of migrant kids has multiplied, ORR’s job has grown. In 2011, the agency took custody of 7,000 children. In 2014 it was 57,000.

The majority of those kids spend about a month in a licensed ORR-funded shelter, and then they’re placed with a relative or another sponsor while they await their day in immigration court. But a small fraction — roughly 500 to 700 in any given year — are placed in jail-like settings: locked group homes or juvenile detention facilities, as Pablo has been. Those kids are held for two to three months, on average, but, like Pablo, some are detained much longer. Advocates say they become practically invisible.

Lawyers for immigrant children say kids in ORR detention don’t have the legal protections they should. Many may be eligible for asylum or some other kind of protection. But half of them don’t even have a lawyer. And prolonged detention can be psychologically damaging, according to child advocates.

By law, children in immigration custody must be placed in the least restrictive setting that is in the best interest of the child. But they can be confined if their behavior is disruptive or dangerous, if they’re considered an escape risk, if they have a criminal or delinquent history or if they’re merely suspected of criminal activity. Often that information is provided by the Border Patrol or Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the agency that is handing the child over to ORR. But advocates for immigrant kids say ORR makes placement decisions behind closed doors.

Evelyn says the government hasn’t told her why it won’t release her son.

[SNIP]

Evelyn’s mind was back in El Salvador. She told me about how her boys grew up with their cousins, attended a good school and played soccer. But the area where they lived grew sketchier after she left and gangs operated openly. The police were either intimidated or corrupted, she said. And teenagers were frequent targets of gang recruitment and coercion. Four years ago, something happened to William.

“William was 16 when I lost him, the same age Pablo is now,” Evelyn said. “One weekend I was driving to work when my sister called and said she had something bad to tell me. … She said, ‘Here’s what happened to William. The gang took him.’ He was always trying to steer clear of them. But they forced him. They disappeared with him.”

In anguish, she added, “As a mother I have hope that one day someone will tell me if he’s alive or not. I’m still hoping.”

Pablo became physically sick after is brother disappeared, Evelyn told me. But she wasn’t there to take care of him. Two years later, when Pablo reached high school, Evelyn said her sister told her he was not safe. So the boy headed north to avoid his brother’s fate. But he never reached his mom.

So, in spite of her lack of immigration status, Evelyn walks right into the jail every three weeks in order to see her child and to finally have a chance to touch him.


THE POWER OF ART TO HEAL TRAUMA AND CULTIVATE RESILIENCY IN YOUTH

In an op-ed for the Huffington Post, Alex Johnson, Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund-California and board member of the LA County Board of Education, explains why the arts can be such a powerful disrupter of the school-to-prison pipeline, by healing trauma, empowering young people, and helping them connect with their culture. Here’s a clip:

I’m a firm believer in the transformative power of the arts to save lives and as part of a smart workforce-development and reentry strategy for incarcerated youth, particularly in Los Angeles County where arts related industries are one of the largest and the fastest growing sectors.

Investing in the arts and arts education however must begin well before a young person enters into incarceration. It must begin with early childhood education as it is one of the core building blocks of child development. Every child, regardless of zip code, should be exposed to the arts in order to receive a well-rounded education. As a board member of the Los Angeles County Board of Education, I am excited that the Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) is one of the premier public arts high schools in the nation.

The arts can take shape in many ways and many forms - but the bottom line is that for young people we know it will improve their achievement in school and is a critical strategy to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline while addressing trauma. Giving children and youth strategies to express their pain, and cope with the stress, prepares them for a strong future. As we learn more about the brain and the effects of trauma on youth, our system, policies, programs and allocation of resources must change to reflect this new knowledge. Healing the effects of trauma builds hope and resiliency; and, resilient children grow up to live healthy productive lives.


WITNESSLA ON KPFK’S DEADLINE LA TALKING ABOUT THE TANAKA VERDICT AND WHAT COMES NEXT

On Monday, WLA’s editor, Celeste Fremon, was on KPFK’s Deadline LA with host, Howard Blume, discussing last week’s conviction of former LA County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, and what the conviction means for the sheriff’s department and the county.

Here’s a link to the podcast. (The air date was Monday, April 11.)

Posted in LASD | 9 Comments »

The Trial of Paul Tanaka Part 6: The Verdict & the Jury

April 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



THE VERDICT

It was around 9:20 a.m. on Wednesday, when U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson got a note from the jury in the federal trial of former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka, once the second most powerful person in the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

The jurors had, by that time, been deliberating for less than three hours. So when word came down about the note, most of the attorneys and trial watchers figured the jury panel merely wanted some kind of clarification, or perhaps a read back of testimony.

But the jurors needed no additional information. They had a verdict.

The seven-woman, five-man federal jury found Paul Tanaka guilty on both counts of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice pertaining to allegations that Tanaka directed and oversaw deliberate efforts to disrupt an FBI investigation into a culture of brutality and corruption inside the LA County jails, that began in 2010.

Specifically, the prosecution contended that, from mid-August 2011 through September 26, 2011, 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 alleged that department members under Tanaka’s command attempted to intimidate potential witnesses, who had information on 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.

Tanaka and company began their efforts to obstruct, according to Assistant United States Attorney Brandon Fox, and fellow prosecutors, Assistant U. S. Attorneys Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui, when by accident a deputy discovered a contraband cell phone among informant Brown’s belongings, and it came to light that Brown acquired phone by bribing a corrupt deputy, as part of an FBI sting.

The idea that the feds were not only investigating inside the jail system that department higher-ups considered “our house,” but that much of the investigation was an undercover operation, made Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka livid.

For the first week and a half of the trial, the prosecution presented a carefully constructed case that included a dozen witnesses to demonstrate that the result of that anger was the series of actions that came to be known, unofficially, Operation Pandora’s Box, and that Paul Tanaka was the operation’s undisputed leader, a leader who the said already had a long record of protecting deputies who stepped over the line of legality in the name of the kind of aggressive policing Tanaka favored. They brought in multiple witness who testified that Tanaka called that law enforcement style “working the gray,” and that anyone who in any way opposed the former undersheriff’s brand of leadership faced swift retaliation.

“He was running the show,” said prosecutor Fox of Tanaka. “We knew that from the beginning.”

When it was their turn, the defense worked to tell a very different story of a brilliant and demanding but scrupulously ethical lawman who did what his boss, the sheriff, lawfully ordered him to do, but who certainly was not the author of the actions underlying the charges he was facing. The primary form of evidence the defense used to tell their counter narrative, was the testimony of their client Paul Tanaka.

The jury didn’t buy the message or the messenger, whom they found “devious.”

When the guilty verdict was read aloud in court, Tanaka sat silently, his expression unmoving. His wife, an LASD detective began crying softly. Tanaka and his wife fled through a side door of the federal court building on Spring street in downtown Los Angeles. But his brother and sister and other family and extended family came out one of the court’s main doors, in spite of the mob of press. Tanaka’s brother, a municipal court judge, chatted briefly with reporters, his expression one of melancholy that he only partially masked. Tanaka’s sister, Cindy, a pretty, very slender woman, was sobbing. “Nobody gets it,” she sobbed. “My brother is the kindest man I know. I’m not kidding, the kindest man I know.”



“THE ENORMITY OF IT”

Corrine Zemliak, the jury forewoman said that she and her fellow jurors were close to announcing a verdict on Tuesday afternoon after talking for a little over an hour.

“The evidence was really strong. But we wanted to do our due diligence,” Zemliak said. “We wanted to make sure we hadn’t missed anything.”

“We realized the enormity of it,” added juror Mark Nolan. “And nobody wants to send somebody to prison.”

But jurors said that they became convinced early on that Tanaka was the man in charge. “The defense kept saying that Tanaka was a proactive leader,” said Zemliak, “and so he acted like a proactive leader.”

Jurors said this idea was strengthened by several of the witnesses who said that when Tanaka was assistant sheriff in charge of patrol, “he still was involved on the custody side,” telling people what to do, said Zemliak. And the lieutenants involved in moving Anthony Brown kept calling Tanaka, rather than “going through the normal chain of command,” she said. “Why would the lieutenants call the undersheriff if he wasn’t involved?”


ABOVE THE LAW

According to several jurors we spoke with, there was a list of things that tipped the scales early for the panel.

Among the most potent pieces of evidence, said juror Theresa Cisneros, was an audio recording of a call involving former LASD sergeants, Maricela Long and Scott Craig, who were the two department members that cornered FBI special agent Leah Marx outside her apartment. (Marx is now Leah Tanner, as the FBI agent recently got married.)

The audio is of a recording made by Long and Craig of a phone call they received from Marx’s boss at the FBI after the agent reported her encounter with the two sergeants who told her that a warrant was being sworn out for her arrest.

When he called, the boss got Long on the phone and he asked her if there was really a warrant and, if so, when it would be sworn out.

“It could be tomorrow, sir,” Long replied. “You’re going to have to talk to the undersheriff.”

Long repeated the instruction to call the undersheriff then, after ringing off, she clearly did not realize that she was still recording, so chuckled and said, “They’re scared! They’re like, do you know when– is the warrant….”

“You’re still rolling,” Craig warned her, and the recording ends there.

The jurors said they were similarly disturbed by the video taken by investigators from the department’s internal criminal investigative bureau (ICIB) of Marx being accosted by Long and Craig.

“It was bullying,” said Cisneros and juror Belinda Becerra of the encounter. “They are the law and they thought they could act above the law.”


PHONE PATTERNS

Another of the prosecution’s most powerful pieces of evidence, according to the jurors, was a labor-intensive series of phone call charts that FBI investigators put together for the trial. The charts tracked all phone activity between Mr. Tanaka and some of the main department members involved in the alleged obstruction activities—namely former Lt. Greg Thompson, former Lt. Steve Leavins, former Cpt. Tom Carey and others—during the crucial time period of August 18 through September 26, 2011. The charts also showed any phone activity between the former sheriff, Lee Baca, and the same department members during that same period.

The phone records were impressive, said jurors. Not only did they show relatively constant contact between the alleged co-conspirators. (Thompson, Leavins, and five others have already been convicted for obstruction of justice, with their cases on appeal. Carey, who was originally Tanaka’s co-defendant, took a plea deal last year, but he has yet to be sentenced. And, of course, Lee Baca pleaded guilty to lying to federal officials about his roll in events, although his deal will not be finalized until he is sentenced in May.)

According to the charts, the calls, along with flurries of emails, clustered around various significant events in the obstruction plan, such as the launch of the name-changing strategy to obscure the whereabouts of informant Brown, the confrontation with FBI agent Leah Marx in front of her apartment and, tellingly, August 23, after Marx and two of her FBI agent colleagues managed to get into the jail unimpeded to visit their informant, against Tanaka’s wishes. After the rash of phone calls, the hide-the-ball plan kicked in that same afternoon.

Tanaka and his attorneys, Jerome Haig and Dean Steward, still maintain it was Baca, not Tanaka, who was obsessed with the actions of the FBI and their covert investigation into departmental wrongdoing, and who directed the actions that became the basis for the government’s criminal charges against Mr. Tanaka.

Yet to the jurors, the phone charts suggested muscularly otherwise.

In his closing arguments, defense attorney Steward claimed that the government had manipulated the phone records to falsely strengthen their theory of the case, but the defense presented nothing with which to back-up the accusation, and the jury—which was provided with the charts, and the phone lists—didn’t believe him.

Jurors said they kept coming back to the phone call lists, and the pattern of calls from the main players “after every event. And none were with Lee Baca.”

The jurors also said they were surprised by the fact that they were never bored for a minute of this complicated trial that began on the afternoon of March 24, nearly three weeks ago.

“We understood a lot was at stake,” a juror said, and we really wanted to do our civic duty.



THE MEANING AND THE MESSAGE

“Mr. Tanaka created a culture of corruption seen only in the movies, and certainly nothing that anyone would expect from the nation’s largest Sheriff’s department,” said David Bowdich, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office when he and United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker spoke on the steps of the courthouse after the verdict was announced.

Decker herself talked about what the jury said with its verdict. “Another jury has spoken and sent a clear message that the former leaders of the Sheriff’s Department who abused their positions by encouraging, and then concealing, a corrupt culture, must be held accountable.”

After the verdict was announced, George Hofstetter, President of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), put the sentiments in similar but even stronger terms.

“The era of corruption which characterized the upper management in the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department has ended with the conviction of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka,” Hofstetter said in an official release from the union. “The Department can move forward now that the truth about the failed leadership of disgraced former Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka has been revealed through the judicial process.”

Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who defeated Mr. Tanaka in the 2014 political race to succeed Lee Baca as head of the scandal scarred department, was more conciliatory.

“We look forward to closing this particularly troubling chapter in the Sheriff’s Department’s otherwise long history of providing essential public services in a professional and caring manner.”

Yet, when I asked members of the jury what, if anything, they learned through the trial regarding the allegations of corruption and brutality that the FBI had been investigating, and that Tanaka and those under his direction seemed intent on sweeping out of sight, they were much less upbeat.

“It was very concerning,” said forewoman Corrine Zemliak as several her fellow jurors murmured agreement. “We have a lot of work to do. A lot of work.”


YES, THERE WILL BE AN APPEAL

United States District Judge Percy Anderson will sentence Paul Tanaka, who is 57, on June 20. Tanaka faces a statutory maximum sentence of 15 years in federal prison.

According to attorney Jerome Haig, Tanaka will certainly appeal the verdict. Among the points Tanaka and his team will make in their pitch for an appeal will be the court’s unwillingness to grant Baca immunity and compel him to testify as they did for one of the prosecution’s start witnesses, convicted former LASD deputy, Mickey Manzo.

“If there is a guilty party, Lee Baca is that guilty party,” said Haig. We wanted Lee Baca to testify, but he wouldn’t testify and we couldn’t force him to testify. We asked the court to force him to testify. The court denied that request.”

Mr. Haig also mentioned what he called former sheriff Baca’s “sweetheart deal” plea bargain, which suggests only a sentence of from 0 to 6 months in federal prison. Judge Anderson will sentence Leroy Baca in May.


In addition to the now ten former department members, Baca and Tanaka included, who have now been convicted of or pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice charges (or in Baca’s case, lying about the obstruction issue), another nine deputies who held various ranks have been convicted on charges related to the illegal use of force, illegal firearms and bribery. Two additional deputies are scheduled to go on trial May 3 in a case alleging an illegal use of force at the Twin Towers jail.

Posted in LASD | 147 Comments »

The Trial of Paul Tanaka: GUILTY!!!

April 6th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


There is much to say. The jurors’ comments were most telling. Back soon.

Posted in LASD | 50 Comments »

The Trial of Paul Tanaka – Part 5: The Former Undersheriff and the Vikings

April 5th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


THE FATE OF THE V-WORD

When the federal trial of former undersheriff Paul Tanaka continued on Monday morning at 8 a.m., at first it appeared that U.S District Court Judge Percy Anderson had nixed any discussion of The Vikings, the notorious deputy gang of which Tanaka was a member.

But then later in the morning, when the jury came back at 10:05 a.m. from its first 15-minute break of the day, everything seemed to have changed.

On Friday, as we noted in our last report, after a week and a half of testimony by the prosecution’s witnesses, Tanaka took the stand in his own defense for nearly three hours, and defense attorney Jerome Haig spent much of the time guiding his client through the process of building a portrait of himself as a man with a stellar career in law enforcement, and a deep sense of morality and ethics.

Then the defendant and his attorneys moved on to dispute the prosecution’s criminal case, claiming that, in those matters, Tanaka was a peripheral player who, at most carried directed others to carry out Lee Baca’s lawful orders having to do with such actions as causing inmate/informant Anthony Brown to vanish from the jails’ computer system and threatening FBI Special Agent Leah Marx with arrest after LASD sergeants accosted her outside her apartment and she declined to answer questions.

When Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox got up for cross on Friday, he too began with Tanaka’s career and character. But he addressed the part of Tanaka’s career that the defense left carefully out of their chronology, namely the mid-80’s and early 1990’s when the former undersheriff was a sergeant at the Lynwood station, home of the infamous deputy clique, the Vikings.

As we described earlier, however, before Fox got the word Viking fully out of his mouth, the defense objected, and Judge Anderson called a side bar. Then, after hearing verbal arguments from the defense and the prosecution, Anderson told both sides to deliver briefs to him on Sunday, for a decision Monday morning.

Yet, on Monday, after another nearly 20-minute sidebar it appeared that Anderson had decided in the negative. Thus, when Fox took-up cross-examination again, he went in another direction, not back to Lynwood station.

Then, after the break, everything changed one more time. Suddenly, the Vikings were on the table.

Tanaka, who had managed a genial, even humble demeanor in earlier questioning, began to stiffen

The Vikings were not a “clique,” he said. “There was no reference to it as a “clique,”

Fox tried other terms: “Subset of deputies,” deputy “group.”

Tanaka tersely rejected each. No, you didn’t have to be invited into the group, he said. In fact, “there was not a group.”

“Were there requirements” for membership? asked Fox.

“No,” Tanaka said.

“When were you invited into the group?”

There was no inviting, said Tanaka. “The mascot of the station was the Lynwood Vikings. The Vikings were like the mascot of an intermural sports team, he said.

Fox shifted gears. Well was Mr. Tanaka “aware of a finding in a 1991 civil lawsuit that found the Vikings to be a deputy gang?

“I’ve never looked at the lawsuit. I wasn’t part of it.”

Fox asked if Tanaka was aware that the judge found the Vikings to have engaged in widespread civil rights violations and “other acts of lawlessness?”

(It should be noted that violations are listed in vivid detail in the complaint.)

Many of those named were deputies that Tanaka supervised when he was a Sergeant at Lynwood, Fox said.

(Greg Thompson, who is one of the nine other department members who have been either already convicted of obstruction of justice, or taken a deal, was named several times in the 1991 lawsuit, although Fox didn’t point that out.)

The back and forth continued, with Tanaka denying that the Vikings were any sort of membership organization, and Fox advancing evidence that they were a membership organization with a shadow-fraught history.

And then Fox brought up the Viking tattoo.

“At the time that I received that tattoo,” said Tanaka, his voice turning brittle, “nothing in the Vikings was evil.

“I was not a Viking in the way you’re trying to infer,” he said. “There was nothing sinister about it when I got the tattoo.”

So did he have it still? “As you sit here today, you have that tattoo,” said Fox. It was a statement, not a question.

Tanaka’s expression grew dark as he seemed to struggle to control fury.

“I have the tattoo, sir.”


“IT COULD HAVE BEEN A COINCIDENCE”

Eventually, the cross examination returned to the matter of Anthony Brown and other topics related to the charges against Tanaka. The prosecutor continued to hammer Tanaka with facts that made it difficult for him to continue to claim non involvement, naming times that the former undersheriff was briefed, describing a meeting he had in a parking lot with an undercover deputy who was reportedly going to pose as an inmate in the cell next to Brown to try to get Brown to talk about his FBI relationships.

“I don’t know why I was there,” Tanaka said of the parking lot meeting. “It could have been a coincidence. I probably just told the deputy to be careful,” Tanaka said of his talk with the undercover officer.

In answer to other questions, he frequently said he didn’t recall.

Perhaps the most oddly effective series of questions during the prosecution’s cross examination came when Fox showed Tanaka page after individual page of lists of phone calls made during the main days of the Anthony Brown/alleged FBI obstruction period from August 18, 2011, to September 26, 2011.

There are many calls to and from Tanaka to the main players, people like then Captain Tom Carey, and former lieutenants Steve Leavins and Greg Thompson. On each page, Tanaka is urged to search to see if there are any calls to or from former sheriff Lee Baca.

Out of all the pages, Tanaka only finds one call. He says that Baca often made calls from the car, which sometimes meant that his driver would make the call from his own county issued cell phone, and hand the phone to the boss. It is a legitimate point, but likely not enough to counteract the pages of other calls.

Eventually Tanaka steps down from the stand, and various witnesses for the defense like Chuck Antuna, Ed Medrano, the Chief of the Gardena Police Department, a woman who is a Gardena activist, and a newish deputy sheriff who had been fired from the Gardena PD, whom Tanaka help get hired at the LASD.

All of the witnesses describe Paul Tanaka as an exceptionally honest and warm person.

Former U.S. Attorney, now federal judge Andre Birotte is called to give his version of a meeting between Baca, Tanaka, and other LASD members, and Birotte and a cluster from the U. S. Attorney’s office, where Baca complains about the way the FBI’s undercover investigation was handled.

The way he viewed the meeting said Judge Birotte, “This was [Baca’s] opportunity to express his displeasure. He was letting us know he didn’t like it.”

By the end of Birotte’s testimony he seems to have helped the prosecution more than the defense.


CLOSING ARGUMENTS AHEAD

So did Tanaka’s testimony primarily help or harm? Did he damage the prosecution’s case, or his own?

We’ll know soon enough.

On Tuesday the defense has two more witnesses: Paul Yoshinaga and Kevin Hebert.

The prosecution will call two rebuttal witnesses. Then closing arguments….and the case will go to the jury.

Posted in LASD | 32 Comments »

The Trial of Paul Tanaka – Part 4: Tanaka Takes the Stand, and the Prosecution Uses the “V” Word

April 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


‘UNWAVERING SENSE OF RIGHT AND WRONG”

Midmorning on Friday, after a week and a half of witness testimony, the prosecution rested its case in the criminal trial of former Los Angeles County undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

But the main event of the day in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, was when the defense began their case and called their first witness at 9:53 a.m.

“We call Paul Tanaka,” said defense attorney Jerome Haig.

Paul Tanaka, for those just joining us, was the second in command at the nation’s largest sheriff’s department and, for many years, the man whom it was assumed was would succeed former Sheriff Lee Baca when Baca stepped down. Instead Tanaka has been charged by U.S. Government with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Specifically, the charges allege that Tanaka oversaw and directed deliberate efforts to get in the way of an FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jails that began in 2010. To do so, the feds contend that, from mid-August 2011 through much of September, Mr. Tanaka and department members under his direction devised a scheme to hide an inmate-turned-confidential-informant from his FBI handlers; that they attempted to intimidate potential witnesses into refusing to cooperate with the FBI; and that they falsely threatened a federal agent with arrest (among other allegedly problematic actions).

Using a string of two-dozen witnesses, plus piles of telling emails, records of interestingly-timed phone calls between relevant parties, audio recordings of Brown and other potential witnesses being interviewed by department members, and more, government prosecutors have painstakingly built what they hope is an impregnable case against the former undersheriff.

During his three hours of testimony, Tanaka and Jerome Haig, one of his two attorneys, attempted to smash as many pieces of the prosecution’s case as they possible could.

Tanaka began his testimony by painting a picture of himself as an accomplished, and scrupulously honest and hardworking lawman. He told about his graduation from Loyola Marymount University, his background as a Certified Public Accountant, the fact that he is now in his twelfth year as the mayor of the city of Gardena, and his speedy rise through ranks of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

Tanaka then spent time telling the jury about his management style and his ethics.

He described himself as someone with an “unwavering sense of right or wrong,” who attempted to impart that ethic to those working under him.

For instance, he said that when he visited the department’s various stations, he always told deputies to “make sure that you’re as smart as you can be, know all the laws, know the lines of right and wrong, and do your job,” but do it in “the right way because that’s our obligation as peace officers.”

Tanaka also portrayed himself as a hard worker who demanded the same from other supervisors, noting that when was the assistant sheriff he often “had difficulty” finding chiefs, commander and captains who often seemed to ditch work for part of the day. So, he said, he ordered that supervisors “have to be at work,” Monday through Friday from 9 to 5.

Tanaka implied that some of the prosecution’s witnesses who alleged negative things about him were, in reality, disgruntled slackers whose feet Tanaka had held to the figurative fire.


THE MATTER OF THE F-BOMBS

Several prosecution witnesses quoted instances of Tanaka reportedly dropping the F-bomb with impressive frequency in meetings. Tanaka and his lawyer addressed this issue as well.

“Have you ever use language not suitable for television?” Haig asked his client.

“In administrative sessions? No,” Tanaka said.

Well, did he ever say, “Fuck the FBI?

Tanaka hedged this more specific question with the classic, non-denial denial. “I have no recollection of making that comment,” he said.

About the testimony of witnesses who said he told deputies to police in the “gray area, or by crossing “the blue line”—meaning crossing over the line of legality, Tanka was more definitive.

No, said Tanaka, he did not ever talk about “the blue line.” As for the gray area, he explained that this term in no way suggested illegality. To illustrate, the former undersheriff held his hands out in front of his chest, but far enough apart that he could have been holding a long sourdough baguette between his palms.

Yes, he had told deputies to work the gray area, but that was the area between legality (he gestured with one hand) and department policy (he gestured with the other hand).

In general, Tanaka worked to dispatch the testimony by such government witnesses as Bob Olmsted, Al Gomez, John Clark, Pat Maxwell and Steve Roller by implying—or stating conclusively—that what those men said happened, in fact, never occurred.

(See our story on those witnesses’ testimonies here)


WHO REALLY GAVE THE ORDERS?

Of necessity, much of Tanaka’s testimony addressed the issue of whether or not he gave the orders that precipitated the various actions that are the basis of the government’s criminal allegations.

Tanaka insisted that any orders that were given were “lawful” and came from then sheriff Baca, who Tanaka said was “consumed” by the issue of federal informant Anthony Brown, and the contraband cell phone that Brown had paid an LASD deputy to bring to him in return for a bribe, as part of an FBI sting.

When Haig asked his client if he issued “any orders that Anthony Brown should be hidden from the FBI?” Tanaka answered with a firm no. He also said he did not give orders to ignore a federal grand jury subpoena. Nor did he give orders to confront a federal agent, or keep the FBI from seeing inmates.

Tanaka said he didn’t remember personally giving ICIB Captain Tom Carey any kind of instructions about investigating the matter of Brown and the contraband cell phone.

“I didn’t have any investigative experience,” Tanaka told the jury reasonably.


USING THE “V” WORD

Friday’s most dramatic moment came just after Tanaka had finished testifying. The court day was nearly over but, with ten minutes remaining, Judge Anderson called the prosecution to begin its cross-examination.

Prosecutor Brandon Fox walked quickly to the lectern.

“Mr. Tanka,” he said, “Mr. Haig took you back through your career, and your experience as a CPA. However, Fox noted, Tanaka’s attorney did not ask him about certain other periods in his long career. For instance, Fox said, “Mr. Haig didn’t you ask about your experience as a supervisor at the Lynwood Station, correct?

“He did not,” answered Tanaka.

“And when you were a sergeant at the Lynwood Station, you learned that there was a deputy clique at the Lynwood Station, correct?

“Yeah,” Tanaka replied cautiously.

“And that deputy clique was known as the Vi…..”

It had been a long and strenuous day and it appeared to take a couple of seconds past the word “clique” for the defense to grasp where this was going.

Then they got it.

Fox did not fully get out the first syllable of the word “Vikings,” before Tanaka’s attorneys bounced from their chairs like spring-loaded jacks-in-the-box, shouting “objection, your honor!”

The Vikings is, of course, the tattoo-wearing, sign-throwing deputy clique that was most active in the department from the mid-1980’s into the 1990’s, and was the focus of a huge class action lawsuit—Thomas v. the County of Los Angeles—that alleged a wide variety of brutal and illegal actions by deputies toward community members. These deputies, wrote the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals of the Lynwood Vikings, “…regularly disregard the civil rights of individuals they have sworn to protect.”

More relevantly here, it was the group of which Mr. Tanaka was/is famously a member.

Even Judge Anderson’s eyes appeared to be pin wheeling as he hastily called for a sidebar.

When finally the two groups of attorneys returned to their seats, neither the prosecution nor the defense team looked particularly cheerful so it was impossible to guess which side might have prevailed at the sidebar.

“I believe we’ve done about as much as we can do for today,” Anderson said noncommittally from the bench and then told the jury that the court was going to break until Monday, and delivered the usual admonition to jurors about not talking to anyone, or reading or watching anything pertaining to the trial.

“As for the issue we discussed at sidebar,” Anderson said, then he asked for short briefs by both sides by Sunday, as to why the court should allow this line of questioning “or why we should not.”

And so the day ended with a cliffhanger.

Monday should be interesting.

So stay tuned!


POST SCRIPT: For your reading pleasure, you can find the government’s brief here.

And the defense’s brief here.

Plus the defense is trying one more time to get the judge to grant Lee Baca limited immunity and to compel his testimony—or at the very least, allow in snippets of previous interviews with him by the feds. You can find that motion here.


WITNESSLA ON KPPC TALKING ABOUT TANAKA TRIAL

On Friday afternoon, I was on KPPC FM with Nick Roman for a quick story talking about the trial, Paul Tanaka’s testimony and what is to come. You can find the podcast and a web summary of the story here.

Here’s a clip:

…Tanaka testified for nearly three hours in what was the main event of the day, according to Celeste Fremon of Witness L.A., who’s been following the trial. The prosecution rested Friday morning after a week and a half of testimony on Tanaka’s alleged crimes.

Tanaka answered questions trying to dismantle the structure of the prosecution’s arguments Friday, Fremon said. The judge began to allow cross-examination, but when prosecutor Brandon Fox started to ask about Tanaka’s involvement with the deputy gang known as the Vikings, the defense objected. The judge ultimately told everyone to come back Sunday with briefs on why that line of questioning should be allowed.

While the Vikings aren’t directly related to this case, Tanaka has allegedly been a member for many years of the deputy gang that made news in the 1990s and was part of a class-action lawsuit, Fremon said. The reason for the question, Fremon said, was that it speaks to what the government is calling the context of Tanaka’s alleged style of supervision as undersheriff.

Posted in LASD, Uncategorized | 8 Comments »

” F— the FBI!” – Trial of Former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Part 3

March 30th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


The trial of Paul Tanaka, the former second in command
of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, finished its second day of testimony on Tuesday.

Mr. Tanaka, who is charged with obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, reportedly once believed himself to be a sure thing to replace former sheriff Lee Baca as the department’s leader, when Baca resigned.

In fact last Friday, during the first day of testimony, one of the witnesses—retired LASD commander Bob Olmsted—said as much to the jury in response to questions.

(“I make all the decisions in on the department,” Olmsted said Tanaka confided later. “I make all the promotions in the department. And I’m going to be the sheriff for the next 15 years [after Baca], so I need my people around me.)

The first witness up on Tuesday, was former LASD deputy Mickey Manzo, who is one of the seven former department members who were convicted of obstruction of justice nearly two years ago. Their convictions have since been appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Manzo told the jury that now, post conviction, he’s working as a receiving associate at Home Depot. Yet, he looked relaxed on the stand, although he did not want to be there, and had to be officially compelled by judicial order and promised limited immunity.

Much of the purpose of Manzo’s testimony seemed to be to place Mr. Tanaka at crucial meetings, and to give some of the details of his alleged words, actions and influence in relationship to the series of events that have resulted in the charges against him.

Before his conviction forced to leave the department, Manzo was a member of Operation Safe Jails (OSJ) the gang investigative unit that worked inside the county’s jail system.

Manzo told how, in mid-August 2011, he learned from another jail investigator that an inmate named Anthony Brown had been caught with a contraband cell phone. Yet, when the other investigator had the numbers on the phone traced, counter to conventional expectations, Brown had not been calling family or criminal confederates with his mobile device. Instead, he had been calling the civil rights unit of the Los Angeles office of the FBI.

Manzo said he immediately passed along this startling information to his boss, Lt. Greg Thompson (another of the seven who have already been convicted of obstruction) who then directed him to interview Brown early the next morning, along with Manzo’s partner, Deputy Gerard Smith (also among the seven previously convicted), because he would need to brief Sheriff Baca, and then undersheriff Tanaka.

Manzo told the jury about how Thompson arranged for him and Smith to attend the meeting, which took place later that same afternoon, on August 19, 2011.
Manzo described Baca’s demeanor at the meeting as “confused, as if he didn’t know what was going on.

Prosecutor Brandon Fox asked about Tanaka’s demeanor?

“He was visibly upset.”


F— THE MOTHERF—–S!

Manzo and Smith were also permitted to attend the meeting called by Baca for the following day, August 20, 2011. The meeting was on a Saturday, and Baca showed up wearing a tracksuit. Heads of various departmental units were there, including Tom Carey, captain of the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau or ICIB. (Carey was originally Tanaka’s co-defendant, but he has now made a deal with the feds, in return for testimony.)

According to Manzo, the highlight of the meeting came when Thompson played excerpts from recordings of the Brown interview to those gathered, (excerpts that the jury heard on Tuesday aw well). When the recordings stopped paying, Manzo reported, Tanaka reacted to what he’d heard with fury.

“He stood up,” Manzo told the jury, “and said ‘Those motherfuckers! Who do they think they are?! Fuck them!

Them meaning the FBI, Manzo explained.

While the witness spoke, over at the defense table, Mr. Tanaka, who was dressed in a grey suit, a blue shirt, and a Wedgwood colored tie, wrote furiously in a lined notebook without looking up during most of Manzo’s testimony.

Manzo said that Baca announced that Captain Carey would be heading up the investigation, and that everything that came out of the investigation would be run through Mr. Tanaka.

Baca and Tanaka then left the meeting, and a few minutes later, Tanaka came back alone.

According to Manzo, Tanaka said that he’d known the sheriff for a long time and he’d never seen him that upset, and that the investigation into the Brown matter was hugely important.

In a later email, Manzo’s partner, Gerard Smith, would characterize Tanaka as saying the investigation into Brown, the cell phone, and Brown’s connection to the FBI was “one of the most important investigations in the department’s 160 year history.”


SHUTTING OUT THE FBI

Tanaka also said, according to Manzo, that “nobody could interview Mr. Brown without Tanaka’s approval.”

But, as luck would have it, that’s not how things worked out.

On August 21, Manzo, Smith plus ICIB lieutenant Steve Leavins (yet one more of the convicted seven) interviewed Anthony Brown again.

Two days after that, on August 23, according to Manzo’s testimony and also later testimony by FBI special agent David Dahle, three FBI agents, including special agent Leah Marx, and Dahle, came to Men’s Central Jail and checked in, using the routine that was usual for law enforcement who are coming to MCJ to interview inmates. Initially, all went as expected; no one stopped them and they spent time with Brown, asking him about the cell phone discovery, and reassuring him they would be back soon. Then, however, around an hour into their conversation, an LASD sergeant burst into the interview room and announced tersely that the interview was “over.”

According to Manzo, Greg Thompson learned of the FBI’s presence when the interview was already well in progress. Furious, Thompson made a call and demanded that the interview “be cancelled.”

ICIB’s Leavins wanted to know how this could have happened, said Manzo.

Later, Thompson reportedly told Manzo “he was going to go up to Mr. Tanaka’s office and, to use is words, ‘fall on the sword.’”

Manzo was present at the falling-on-sword meeting later that day.

“We got yelled at quite extensively,” Manzo told the jury. “[Tanaka] said that we had really let him down, that this was a hugely important investigation and we let him down.”

Then Tanaka again cranked up the intensity and decibel level, according to Manzo.

“Fuck the FBI!” he yelled.

Manzo read aloud a later email string between assistant sheriff Cecil Rhambo and Manzo’s boss, Thompson, that had been exchanged, post Tanaka meeting. In one email Rhambo characterizesd the FBI being allowed to get to Brown as “the mother of all screw ups.’ Still, Rhambo assured Thompson, “He still loves you, as do I.” He being Tanaka.

In other emails, the jury heard that now “all FBI interviews would be subject to approval by Mr. Tanka.

On whose orders? asked Fox.

“He [Thompson] said ‘this is what Mr. Tanaka wants.”

Anothter exchange of emails Manzo read to the jury indicated that at first Thompson was going to send out “a custody-wide notice, effective immediately, about the requirement to require any FBI approaches to Brown to be approved by undersheriff Tanaka.” But The former undersheriff rethought the idea of having his name on such an order.

In a subsequent email, Thompson said he would “remove all reference to [Tanaka]and all executives.”

Instead the jail liaison was to be the official gate-keeper, as far as most were concerned.

Yet, at the August 23, fall-on-the-sword meeting, according to Manzo, Tanaka wanted “a one hundred percent guarantee that it [the FBI getting to Brown] wouldn’t happen again.”

Thus the idea was launched for rotating teams of guards—two guards to a team—to be stationed outside Brown’s cell, round the clock.

Brandon Fox: Were there any discussions of Anthony Brown’s safety at that meeting?

Manzo: No


WHO GAVE WHAT ORDERS?

Much of the rest of Manzo’s testimony contained information on such topics as how Anthony Brown’s guard detail was allegedly set up, how Brown’s name was changed to obscure his whereabouts, and how he was made to vanish from the jail computer system.

On cross examination, attorney for the defense, Dean Steward made the point that, due to his new status as an informer, inmate Brown legitimately needed protection, that he could have been in danger from other inmates, and also from deputies on whom he had attempted to inform.

Steward also established that Baca spoke, by far, the most at what Steward christened the “track suit meeting,” in reference to the former sheriff’s get-up at the August 20, 2011 gathering, called after the discovery of Brown and the phone.

“Did he tell everyone to get to the bottom of what was happening…?”

Manzo agreed Baca did.

“And he talked about Anthony Brown being protected?”

Manzo again agreed.

(And although it was not counterclaimed again on Tuesday, it is still important to note that, in opening statements, defense attorney Jerome Haig stated unequivocally that Paul Tanaka never said “Fuck the FBI.”)


SCOPE AND PROCESS

The rest of the day featured testimony by FBI Special Agent David Dahle and LASD Commander Judy Gerhardt.

Dahle spoke about the scope of the FBI’s investigation into brutality and corruption inside the sheriff’s department, and gave small glimpses into the process used, including the differences between overt and covert investigations, and how the grand jury process worked.

For instance, Dahle said that over 80 witnesses were subpoenaed to testify in front of a grand jury, and more than 80 did indeed testify.

Over a half million documents were subpoenaed during the investigation, said Dahle.

Also, with Dahle on the stand, the prosecution played excerpts from the multiple interviews by various department members—most of them now convicted of and sentenced for obstruction of justice—-and inmate and FBI informant Anthony Brown.

Across the various interviews, those doing the questioning seemed most interested in what Mr. Brown knew about the feds who were investigating their jails, how long they had been investigating, and what information he had given them in the course of his time as an informant. Browns questioners agreed to supply their subject with cheeseburgers, and cigarettes if he would cooperate.

Stay tuned for Part 4.

And, if you missed them, read Part 1 and Part 2.

Posted in Paul Tanaka | 39 Comments »

The Trial of Paul Tanaka, Part 2: The “Context” and “the Crime”

March 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


THE CONTEXT AND THE CRIME

“Every crime has a context,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox in his opening statement in the federal trial of Paul Tanaka, the former second in command of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who, for years was the man who many assumed would be the next sheriff.

Opening statements were Thursday. Then on Friday, the prosecution called its first witnesses—all but one of whom were on the stand to give the jury a picture of what prosecutor Fox had called “the context” of the crimes with which Mr. Tanaka has been charged. Witnesses pertaining to the actual alleged crimes—AKA what this trial is ultimately about—will take the stand next Tuesday.

(The court is dark on Mondays.)

On Friday, however, the prosecution’s witnesses each possessed one piece of the portrait the prosecution is endeavoring to paint for the jury, depicting a supervisor who favored a cowboy brand of law enforcement where toughness was allowed for— even required—and deputies were encouraged to step over the legal line, as needed. In this portrait, the defendant rigorously enforced his point of view by protecting rule-breaking deputies and supervisors loyal to him, from any and all consequences. Often this meant retaliating swiftly and ruthlessly against anyone who didn’t follow and support his point of view.

First up was former LASD lieutenant, Alfred Gonzalez, who had worked both in the department’s Internal Affairs bureau and, in the last few years before he retired in 2007, at Men’s Central Jail, primarily on the 3000 floor.

When on the stand, he described to the jury how he was initially assigned to the graveyard shift in MCJ when he began to notice a pattern of a high level use of force on the 3000 and 2000 floors. As he reviewed the force reports, he noticed a cookie-cutter sameness to a lot of the mandatory written reports that were generated after the force incidents, which struck him as suspicious.


THE 2000 AND 3000 BOYS

Gonzalez also described the actions of deputy clicks on those two floors, the members of which associated only with each other, and whose loyalty seemed to be to the cliques they called the 3000 Boys or the 2000 Boys, not to the department. And it was these clique members, Gonzalez told the jury, who were responsible for some of the worst instances of force, and also for some off duty incidents. “They were getting in bar fights,” Gonzales said on cross-examination. “It wasn’t just camaraderie. They wouldn’t associate with anyone else.”

(WLA’s report on Gonzalez’s testimony at the Jail Commission has additional details of the experiences he reported with problem deputies at MCJ and with Tanaka, much of which duplicated his testimony on Friday.)

Gonzalez related how he and other supervisors, including the then captain of MCJ, John Clark, were concerned about the aggressive attitudes of the cliques and the spiking force reports, and made some progress in mitigating force issues with greater supervision. But the progress was not nearly enough. So, Gonzalez explained, Clark decided to implement a rotation system that didn’t alter times of the deputies’ shifts, but instead regularly rotated the deputies to different locations in the jail, so that cliques couldn’t cluster together at work. (A similar rotation system had been successful in lowering force numbers under a previous MCJ captain, although Gonzalez didn’t bring this up.)

Yet before the new strategy could be launched, according to Gonzalez, Tanaka called a meeting of the MCJ administrators and canceled the rotation system in a state of fury, reportedly shouting that the captain and the supervisors were “dinosaurs” who needed to learn to “coddle” their young deputies.

“He said, ‘You will stay off these floors and let the deputies do what they have to do!’” Never mind, said Gonzalez, that “when the supervisors weren’t on the floors, force went up.”

Former MCJ captain John Clark was called to the stand next. Clark is a straight-backed, Basset-eyed man who spoke concisely and clearly. He explained why he felt the rotation system Gonzalez had described was important. He said he’d tried other methods to solve the problem, but they hadn’t gotten the desired results. So he’d gotten the rotation approved with his direct superiors and with employee relations. “Then I put out a memo to deputies,” telling them of the change, and encouraging them to discuss any concerns with him, he said.

Instead, he was “told that Mr. Tanaka did not approve of the plan,” said Clark. The supervisors’ meeting was called. After the meeting and the alleged shouting, Clark managed to meet privately with the then assistant sheriff, at which time Clark said he explained why the rotation would be useful in lowering force. “But he told me to make it go away before it ended up in the sheriff’s office.”

Clark understood the threat.

“I took that to mean I would be transferred,” he said. The rotation was trashed, as required. Almost immediately, Clark was transferred anyway.


THE REGULATORS AND CROSSING THE BLUE LINE

The next witnesse, Steve Roller, seemed to particularly capture the jurors’ attention.

Roller, now retired, told how he became the captain of the department’s Century Station in 2005. Century, which is located in Lynwood California, and also polices the unincorporated areas of Florence/Firestone, Walnut Park, Athens Park, Rosewood, and Willowbrook. In short, Century’s patrol area is considered to be high in crime and gang heavy.

Roller told the jury that when he took over as captain, Century was in a dismaying state when it came to use of force, and complaints of deputy wrongdoing. “They had the highest use of significant force in the department,” said Roller, and had “the top number of resident complaints.” And, said Roller, Century had “more officer-involved shootings than the entire rest of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department” combined.

Added to everything, there was a group of deputies, he said, who seemed to have assumed control of the station. This deputy clique controlled who got overtime, who was on what shift, and more. “They called themselves the Regulators,” said Roller.

He saw demonstrations of the clique’s influence in various ways. For instance, at a funeral for a deputy who had worked Century in the past, one of the prominent floral arrangements featured a number that turned out to be the dead man’s “Regulator number,” indicating the order in which he’d been chosen for and initiated into the group.

And there were other things, like reports that the Regulators were extorting money from probationary deputies for Regulators’ events and to make up lost wages for a member who was disciplined for misconduct.

Roller told the jury he called a meeting with six or seven of the Regulator leaders and laid down some boundaries. He also made changes in staffing positions, which put limits on the things that the Regulators could control.

It helped, he said. The problematic behavior of the group lessoned.

Then came the request from Paul Tanaka—then Assistant Sheriff—who said he wanted to come to an all station meeting. The meeting was scheduled for June 28, 2007 at 2 p.m..

Both sworn and unsworn staff were there, Roller told the jury. Tanaka didn’t show up until 2:30 p.m. so Roller spoke first. He noted that shootings were down, and so were complaints. He praised the deputies for their efforts.

Then Tanaka arrived and delivered a very different message, according to Roller. “He said that he hated internal affairs, and that it had no place in the department. “ Roller said that Tanaka told those assembled that he didn’t like captains who put cases on deputies and that if he thought a captain was putting too many IA cases on deputies, he would see to it that an IA case was put on that captain.

Then, according to Roller, Tanaka began talking about the “blue line.”

The “blue line,” explained Roller, has to do with ethical law enforcement conduct. It is the line that cannot be crossed, he said.

However, according to Roller, that day in 2007, Tanaka told deputies that in rough environments like Century, they had to work right on the line and “cross it at times,” and to “deal aggressively with gang members,” plus similar words to that effect.

Roller said he was “in shock.” Here the assistant sheriff of the department was undermining “everything I was trying to do.”

“I was trying to get them to toe the blue line, and he told them they had to be very aggressive and sometimes cross it…”

Roller said he told his chief about what had happened, and the chief asked him to put the experience into memo form.

At prosecutor Fox’s request, Roller read several paragraphs from the memo he wrote. (You can find the Roller memo here.)

“Three weeks after I wrote the memo, I was on vacation in Alaska when I received a phone call telling me I was being transferred effective immediately.”

Sheriff Baca was theoretically the person in charge of such transfers. But Roller said it was later made clear to him that it was in fact the assistant sheriff who had triggered his removal from Century.

On cross, attorney for the defense Steward, noted that Rollers descriptions of what Tanaka said were harsher in his testimony that in the memo, suggesting that Roller was maybe exaggerating now.

Roller replied without hesitation. “This memo was, quite honestly toned down from my recollection of the meeting because I didn’t know where the memo would go….”

The defense pointed specifically to the “blue line” section.

“He said sometimes deputies had to cross the line,” replied Roller.

But did Roller put that phrase in the memo?

“No,” said Roller, entirely unrattled. “But I said it to my chief.” Roller reiterated that he toned the verbiage memo down considerably “because I knew this document was going to go up the chain. But the exact comments were made to my chief” and to the chief’s superior, he said. What Tanaka said at that meeting, Roller told the jury, “contradicted everything I tried to do at Century.”

Later Roller said he was told by his aid that, some days after the memo was sent, Paul Tanaka and Lee Baca showed up at Century station and met with three leaders of the Regulators.

It was after the Tanaka/Baca visit that Roller got the transfer call. “Effective immediately,” he said again, explaining the unusual nature of that phrasing.

Roller then was made captain of ICIB, the criminal version of Internal Affairs.


THEY GRAY AREA AND THE WHISTLEBLOWER

Other witnesses provided additional pieces of “the context.”

LASD Commander Pat Maxwell told of Tanaka attending a staff meeting when Maxwell was the captain at Norwalk station, at which time the then assistant sheriff told deputies to “work the gray area,” which Maxwell said, according to his understanding meant, “to work outside policy or outside the law. “

After Maxwell, former Commander Bob Olmsted was another witness that the jury seemed to watch with rapt interest.

Olmsted told how he was asked to replace John Clark as captain at Men’s Central Jail, when the high number of force incidents and the actions of the two deputy cliques were still clearly a problem.

To get a better idea of what was going on, Olmsted said he began walking the floors of the jail regularly. “I’d walk up to the 3000 floor and be surrounded by 10 deputies who would say ‘What’re you doing on our floor?’”

At most “there should have been three deputies in the area,” he said. That meant “seven were not doing their jobs.”

Olmsted instituted a series of reforms, and was able, he said, to lower force by 30 percent, in the sixteen months he was captain of MCJ.

But in April 2008, he was promoted to commander of all three southern jails, and a hand-picked Tanaka guy named Dan Cruz took over as captain of Men’s Central.

And force spiked.

“Significant force was off the scale” under Cruz, Olmsted said.

Olmsted then told the jury that he asked an operations lieutenant to randomly pull and review 30 “force packages.” The subsequent report by Mark McCorkle, showed that 18 out of the 30 randomly pulled cases “were out of policy,” never mind that they had all been approved by supervisors. They were illegal.

Olmsted tried to work with Cruz on the problems, but Cruz ignored him. Olmsted requested another report investigating the force issue. The results were equally troubling.

Olmsted went to his chief with the problem. When that proved unsuccessful, he talked to the assistant sheriff in charge of custody who sent him to Paul Tanaka who was then also an assistant sheriff but, although he was not in the chain of command over custody, appeared to be calling the shots.

In his meeting with Tanaka, he explained the force was out of control, and brought his documents to illustrated the problem. Tanaka promised to investigate.

A week later there was a second meeting. Cruz was indeed the problem, Tanaka admitted. But, to Olmsted’s surprise, incredibly, rather than removing Dan Cruz, Tanaka explained he wanted to promote him, and wanted Olmsted to help get the problematic captain ready to be promoted, and protect him.

“I make all the decisions in on the department,” Olmsted said Tanaka confided later. “I make all the promotions in the department. And I’m going to be the sheriff for the next 15 years [after Baca], so I need my people around me.”

On cross, the defense brought out the fact that Olmsted eventually brought his concerns to Lee Baca three times, without success. Finally, Olmsted went to the FBI and eventually to the press.

“Why did you go to the FBI,” asked the defense. And the press?

“I felt it was the right thing to do.”

Well, had Olmsted ever sought monetary compensation for all this? What had he gotten out of it personally?

It was a weird question for the defense to ask and Olmsted’s gaze became steely.

Nothing, he said.


THE ACLU & SHOOTING THE MESSENGER

ACLU Legal director Peter Eliasberg was the last of the context witnesses, and the jury also seemed to listen carefully to his narrative of investigating abuse in the jails, and issuing regular reports, which the department repeatedly ignored.

They listened particularly intently when he told of the January 2011 incident when “one of my colleagues,” the ACLU’s Esther Lim, witnessed the brutal beating of an inmate by deputies. When Lim and the ACLU reported the incident to the department, they were largely rebuffed Eventually the ACLU issued a press release, hoping that “public pressure would help.”

In response, he said, sheriff’s officials “made public comments questioning” Lim’s “credibility. “

The last witness of the day was Robert Bayes, who was actually the first witness with information pertaining to the charges of obstruction.

(More on him later.)

One of the witnesses scheduled for testimony on Tuesday, is former LASD deputy Mickey Manzo, who was among the men tasked with organizing the surreptitious guarding of FBI informant Anthony Brown. Manzo is also one of the seven who have already been convicted of obstruction of justice, and whose cases are on appeal. He was reluctant to testify, so has been compelled to do so, and granted limited immunity.

And the beat goes on.

Posted in LASD, Paul Tanaka | 45 Comments »

Missed Deadlines and a Backlog of Searches for Family Leave LA Foster Kids in Painful Limbo

March 28th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services has been having a terrible time
finding enough good foster families. As a consequence, too many kids wind up in group homes, the modern replacement for orphanages, where—even under the best of circumstances—there is no one person whose job it is to be emotionally present for a child who has been through the trauma of neglect and/or abuse.

On the flip side of that coin, when a child is placed with caring foster parents who are willing to invest personally in parenting, should the blood parents or other family not be able to do so, it seems that the LA system has repeatedly left kids in a legal limbo longer than 12 months the law dictates is the maximum time a child should remain in temporary foster care before his or her case it taken up by the court.

Within that time, DCFS officials are supposed to provide support and guidance to the mother and/or father in the hope that the child can eventually be safely reunited with one or both parents. Meanwhile, the system is also required to do a speedy and thorough search to find out if there are other family members available to take the children temporarily or permanently. If not, and if the child cannot be safely returned to a parent, eventually foster families may able to apply for permanency if they so wish. In any case, the goal is a stable loving outcome for the young person as soon as is possible, with family being the preferable placement.

But it turns out LA’s DCFS is backlogged in its ability to search for family or extended family who are willing and able to care for kids who have entered the system—and children suffer as a result.

The problems resulting from not prioritizing the location of potential family caregivers right away is illustrated by the recent high profile story of a six-year-Santa Clarita girl, who is part Choctaw Indian, who—after four plus years in a foster care family— went last week to live with relatives in Utah, who are also raising the girl’s younger sister. (The story has other complications, including a multi-year legal battle, most of which experts think could likely have been avoided had the family caregiver option been found by DCFS at the beginning.)

The LA Times Garrett Therolf has a story that looks at the various sides of this issue of children in foster care limbo. Here’s a clip:

…The Times filed a public records request to determine how often Los Angeles County courts miss statutory deadlines in child welfare cases, but the presiding judge of Los Angeles County juvenile court, Michael Levanas, declined to provide the information, saying the release would improperly interfere in his personnel decisions and the assignment of judges.

He did not deny, however, that a backlog exists.

“The number of new petitions [to remove children from their parents] filed in dependency court have risen almost 25% from 21,557 in 2010 to 26,457 in 2014 while funding to the court has been drastically cut,” Levanas said. “Cases and the law have become far more complex in the last 10 years.”

Marcia Robinson Lowry, a veteran litigator who has filed class action lawsuits aimed at reforming foster care systems around the country, and who leads a nonprofit law firm called A Better Childhood, said the pressures faced by child welfare officials are no excuse for the delays experienced by children and families.

“L.A. County has big problems in its foster care system and a real lack of accountability,” she said. “There is no question that there has not been a great deal of attentiveness to the consequences for children, and I think it’s a violation of the law and constitutional principles.”

Citing the adage “justice delayed is justice denied,” Leslie Starr Heimov, who leads the court-appointed law firm for foster youth in Los Angeles County, said delays hurt everyone involved…

“Nobody saw it because there weren’t television cameras, but it was even more painful for the family that was waiting,” Heimov said.


MORE COMING ON PAUL TANAKA TRIAL LATER TODAY

So…stay tuned!

Posted in DCFS | 1 Comment »

The Trial of Former LA Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Begins With Two Very Different Stories

March 25th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

TWO DIFFERENT OPENING STATEMENTS, TWO DIFFERENT STORIES

It was just after 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon when opening statements finally began in the trial of Paul Tanaka, the former second in command of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and the man whom many viewed as the real power behind former sheriff Lee Baca’s throne.

Tanaka is charged with obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice in relationship to what the government alleges was both a deliberate and a criminal attempt to undermine a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the county jail system. The alleged obstruction occurred after Lee Baca and Tanaka discovered the investigation’s existence. According to the government, Tanaka was the chief obstructor and that he did so through multiple means, including ordering what became an elaborate plan to hide an inmate-turned-federal-informant named Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers. The prosecution will also try to convince the jury that teams under Tanaka’s direction endeavored to keep potential deputy witnesses from talking to the FBI, and also secretly surveilled and threaten a federal agent.

Voir Dire, as jury selection is called, had taken nearly two days, as scores of potential jurors were asked about any severe hardships they might experience if they were selected to sit through what is expected to be a three week trial, not counting jury deliberation. They were also asked if they had any relatives in law enforcement. Or, alternately, would be jurors were queried about any prejudices against law enforcement. There were other questions of that nature, including some pertaining to whether any of the jurors or their families had been in jail or prison. (A startlingly high percentage of the jury pool answered yes to this last question.)

But eventually a jury of seven women and five men, plus four alternates, was seated in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson.

And, the curtain on the main event was finally raised.


“HE TRIED TO CONCEAL THE CRIMES OF HIS DEPUTIES AND COMMITTED A CRIME OF HIS OWN IN THE PROCESS”

During their opening statements, the prosecution and the defense described dramatically different views of the events that took place in August and September of 2011

The prosecution, as is customary, was up first, with Assistant U.S Attorney Brandon Fox delivering the opening for the government.

In 2011, said Fox, defendant Paul Tanaka was confronted with the discovery of a federal investigation into abuse and corruption in the county jail by his jail deputies.

At that point, Fox told the jury, Tanaka “had a decision on his hands.”

And Tanaka “decided to conceal the crimes of his deputies— and committed a crime of his own in the process.”

Specifically, Tanaka and his coconspirators, according to the prosecution, hid a federal informant from his handlers, tampered with potential witnesses, and threatened the arrest of the FBI case agent.

But “every crime has a context,” said Fox.

In this case, to explain the government’s theory of the “context” of the alleged obstruction of justice, Fox laid out a narrative beginning in 2006, in which he described deputy cliques working inside Mens Central Jail on the 2000 and 3000 floors, and severe problems with force and physical abuse of inmates in MCJ and other jails in the system.

Similarly, said Fox, in 2007 at one of the LASD’s high crime stations, the station’s captain “noticed excessive force,” among the deputies and—as had been the case at MCJ—the rise of a deputy clique.

Fox then talked about various supervisors—including a lieutenant, two captains, and a commander— whom he said reported the problems to the former undersheriff along with suggested solutions, only to have the defendant allegedly undo their attempts at reform and, in several cases, sideline the reformers.

Thus, in 2011, when Baca and Tanaka discovered the existence of the FBI’s undercover investigation into brutality and other wrongdoing in the jails, “since he could not overrule it,” said Fox, “he undermined it.”

At the end of his presentation, Fox repeated his opening refrain: “Paul Tanaka tried to cover up the crimes of his deputies, and committed his own crime in the process.”


“HIS GOAL WAS TO BE A GOOD COP”

When it was the defense’s turn, attorney Jerome Haig assured the jury that the real facts of the case were far different and far simpler than what the prosecution contended

“His goal was to be a good cop, not to be well-liked,” said Haig of his client. But while Haig presented Tanaka as a fair but tough supervisor who demanded excellence from himself and those around him, and who “showed up every day to do what the sheriff wanted him to do,” he also stressed that Mr. Tanaka would not tolerate any crossing of legal lines.

He “would never look the other way” if he encountered wrongdoing, said Haig.

But the facts of the case, said Haig, were not about Tanaka’s style as a manager. “The facts of this case” are about “what happened between August 18, 2011 and September 26, 2011,” in other words, when Baca and Tanaka heard about FBI informant Anthony Brown and his contraband cell phone. That was when, according to the defense, Baca ordered the protection of inmate Anthony Brown for his own safety, along with an investigation into how and why a dangerous contraband cellphone had made its way into the possession of an inmate in the county jail.

What occurred during that August/September, 2011 time period, as Haig spelled it out, was lawful and, in the case of Tanaka, done at the direction of his boss, the Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.


THE PRESENTATION OF “CONTEXT” BEGINS

The trial resumes at 8 a.m. Friday morning at which time the prosecution is expected to call Al Gonzales, a former LASD lieutenant, now retired, who was one of those who reportedly tried to rein in problem deputies in Men’s Central Jail. Gonzalez will likely be asked to describe how he was slapped down forcefully by Mr. Tanaka when he attempted some kind of discipline and reform in LA County’s largest and most historically troubled jail.

Posted in LASD | 31 Comments »

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