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

May 31st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


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.


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.

Posted in Uncategorized | 7 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.


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.


“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.”


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….”


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 »

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.


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 | 33 Comments »

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

April 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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.”


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?”


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.”


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.


“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.”


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.

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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


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.”


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.


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.

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

April 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


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.


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)


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.


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.


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.

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