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No New Plea Deal Reached, Baca Almost Certain to Be Indicted and Go to Trial

July 30th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


After two weeks of negotiation, reportedly no new plea deal has been reached between attorneys
for former sheriff Lee Baca, and government prosecutors.

This means, according to sources, that barring some legal miracle, in the near future the four-term former leader of the nation’s third largest law enforcement agency will face an indictment for charges that go beyond the one count of lying to federal officials that was the basis of Baca’s original plea deal.

Specifically, if indeed Baca’s plea deal vanishes,—as is expected to happen on Monday morning, August 1, in the courtroom of Federal district Court Judge Percy Anderson—the government is expected to indict Baca soon for obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice, along with the single count of lying to the feds, that was the basis for Baca’s original deal.

Then some time next year or so, Baca will go to trial.

For those coming late to this drama: in February of this year, the former sheriff pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal officials having to do with an FBI investigation into corruption and brutality by deputies inside the sheriff’s department-run LA County jail system—an investigation that, according to the government, Baca, his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and others attempted to thwart.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning 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.

Once Baca pleaded guilty to the single felony count in February, all that remained was for the former sheriff to be sentenced by Judge Anderson, which was supposed to occur just under two weeks ago, on July 18th. There were, however two wild cards that affected the sentencing end of the deal.

One wild card was Baca’s newly disclosed diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease (a story that WLA broke in late May).

The other wild card was the fact that the plea deal agreed to by Baca was a special kind of legal arrangement in which the sentencing range was agreed to upfront, rather than leaving it to the whim of a judge, post deal. In Baca’s case, the sentencing range approved by both the defense and the prosecution was 0 to 6 months in a federal prison.

The prosecutors pushed for the upper end, meaning a six-month sentence.

At the same time, the defense tried to persuade Judge anderson that no prison time and probation only was the way to go given Baca’s past accomplishments, and his present declining health.

But Judge Anderson chose door number three and elected not to accept either the prosecutors’ suggestion or that of the defense. Instead a grim-faced Anderson said he was rejecting the plea deal altogether, and giving Baca a chance to withdraw his plea, and go back, legally speaking, to square one.

A six-month sentence for Lee Baca, said Anderson, “would trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

Anderson gave Baca and his team of attorneys, led by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Zweiback, until Monday, August 1, to decide what the once-powerful former sheriff wanted to do now that the judge had dynamited the plea deal.

His options were as follows: He could elect to accept whatever sentence the judge decided to impose, which could be as high as five years. Or, together with the prosecutors—Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui—Baca and company could present a mutually-agreed-upon alternate deal that might be more to the judge’s liking.

Or Baca could simply withdraw his original plea, thus almost certainly triggering an indictment and a lengthy federal trial sometime next year.

It appears—barring the aforementioned miracle—everyone, however reluctantly, is about to go for option three.

More soon.


PHOTO NOTE: The above photo of the former sheriff was taken at the swearing in of Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | No Comments »

LA County Pays $10.1 Million Because an LA Deputy Allegedly Influenced Witness Causing a 16-Year-Old to Go to Prison for 20 Years

July 25th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday, July 20, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to award a civil rights settlement of $10.1 million
to Francisco Carrillo for 20 years of wrongful imprisonment. That’s $500,000 for every year of his life he spent behind bars.

It is the largest per anum settlement for wrongful imprisonment in California history.

Franky Carrillo was a sixteen-year-old high school student when he was arrested for the 1991 drive-by murder of Donald Sarpy. In 1992, after two trials, the first with a hung jury, Carrillo was convicted of the murder, along with multiple counts of attempted murder, for which he was given a life sentence, plus a second sentence of 30-to-life. The two sentences were to run consecutively, reducing the chance of Carrillo ever getting paroled to zero.

Throughout two criminal trials (the first produced a hung jury) and his 20 years in custody, Mr. Carrillo insisted on his innocence and wrote everyone he could think of try to get someone to help with his case. When at first that failed, he filed his own habeas petition. He also refused any plea bargain that involved an “explicit or implicit admission of guilt.”

But fifteen years into his sentence, an attorney responded to his letters and decided to look into Carrillo’s case.

On July 26, 2011, after a weeklong evidentiary hearing, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Paul Bacigalupo granted Carrillo’s habeas corpus request and vacated Carrillo’s sentence. The LA District attorney’s office neither appealed the ruling, nor attempted to re-file charges.

And so it was that Franky Carrillo was released from custody on March 16, 2011, after having been locked up continuously since January 24, 1991, over 20 years.

How the jury came to convict the teenager with no previous criminal record is complicated, but according to Carrillo’s attorney, civil rights lawyer Ron Kaye, much of it reportedly hinged on the actions of a Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff named Craig Ditsch, now retired, an admitted member of the Lynwood “Vikings,” and a close supporter—according to Ditsch —of former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who described his mentor’s controversial use of the term “gray area” as proactive policing.

“This settlement should send a loud and clear message to law enforcement throughout LA County that such manipulation of the evidence will not ever be tolerated,” said Kaye. “Franky Carrillo will never regain those years of his life – the birthdays, the weddings, the graduations and the funerals of loved ones that he missed, things we all take for granted – but at least this settlement holds those responsible accountable.”


THE SHOOTING

At approximately 7 p.m. on Friday, January 18, 1991, six African American teenagers, ages 15 to 18, were clustered near to the curb at the front of a house in the 4000 block of Lugo Avenue in Lynwood, California, when one of the boys’ dads, Donald Sarpy, walked toward the kids from his nearby house, intending to talk to his sone and the others. As Mr. Sarpy walked, a car approached and drove slowly past the group. Then, when the car had travelled a few houses away, the front seat passenger leaned out of the car’s right front window, his arm outstretched as he turned back toward the group, a in his hand. He fired several times. One of the bullets hit Donald Sarpy, who died several hours later at the hospital.

At the time when Frank Sarpy was murdered, Franky Carrillo was a tenth grader attending Schurr high school in Montebello, and living with his father and siblings in Maywood, California.

Before the move to Maywood a year before, Carrillo’s family lived in Lynwood, which had become increasingly gang-ridden. By the time Franky Carrillo hit middle school, he was at fringes of one of Lynwood’s main gangs called the Young Crowd. Carrillo wasn’t a member. He was never jumped into the gang. He had no tattoos—gang related and otherwise, and he had never been convicted of even the most minor criminal conduct. But he was friends with some of the actual gang members whom he’d known since elementary school. Due to those friendships, and where he lived, he was viewed as affiliated with the Young Crowd, by some. At one point, he was assaulted and stabbed by so-called enemy gang members. Another time, according to Carrillo, when he and a friend were riding their bikes, a sheriff’s deputy asked to photograph each of the boys. Carrillo’s image would later be put in a book containing photos of possible Young Crowd gang members.

These and other incidents led Carrillo’s dad to decide that he needed to get his kids away from Lynwood and its gang dangers, so moved to nearby Maywood. After the move, Franky went to school without fear of being jumped. “It was a brand new life, life,” he said.

But, then, back in Lynwood, Donald Sarpy was killed.


WITNESSES

When the first LA County sheriff’s deputies showed up at the scene minutes after the shooting, all but two of the six victim witnesses were gone. The two remaining witnesses, one of them Sarpy’s son, were interviewed at the site of the shooting. The other four were identified and interviewed by phone shortly afterwards. 


According to the initial police report, when the teenage witnesses first spoke to police, none of the six could give a useful description of the shooter past the fact that the person was a young Hispanic male. But four of the witnesses reported hearing one of the kids in the drive-by car yell something as shots were fired, like “Fuck N-Hood,” and possibly also, “Young Crowd Locos.” The purported shouted messages made sense because, at the time, there was a lethal rivalry between the two gangs. Yet, although the kids were “upset” and appeared to be trying hard to be helpful, according to the subsequent police report, other than those few details, the boys could produce little else. It had been dead dark at the time of the shooting, and the shooter was several houses away.

Hours later still, after 1 a.m., five of the adolescent witnesses were taken to the LA County Sheriff’s Lynwood sub-station where they were interviewed for a second time. (The sixth witness was, for some reason, was not re-interviewed until months later.) When the first four ended their interviews, they had produced no better picture of the suspect than they had earlier in the evening with the patrol deputies.

The last of the five, however, a 16-year-old named Scott Turner, was interviewed around 2:15 a.m. by LA sheriff’s deputy Craig Ditsch, who was a member of Lynwood’s Operation Safe Streets unit, or OSS— the gang enforcement unit. Ditsch reportedly knew Turner from previous gang-related cases and various street contacts in the Lynwood area.

Turner’s interview was also different from that of the other eyewitnesses in that he was the only person shown photographs at the Lynwood sheriff’s station that night.

At first Ditch showed Turner a “gang book” filled with photos of teenagers and young men who police believed were members of Young Crowd, or might have some affiliation. Turner would tell Carrillo’s defense attorneys years later that, at Ditsch’s urging, he picked several photos of people who might look like the shooter—even though, along with the others, he’d said earlier that he couldn’t really see the shooter. According to Turner, after he picked each of the photos, Deputy Ditsch told him he was incorrect, that this or that selection could not be the gunman. Finally, Turner put his finger on Francisco Carrillo’s photo. This time, according to Turner, Ditsch’s reaction was different. The OSS deputy told Turnerthat his choice was the right one.

“After guiding Mr. Turner to select Mr. Carrillo’s photograph,” attorney Kaye wrote a civil court document, 
 “…Ditsch presented a six-pack to Mr. Turner with Mr. Carrillo’s photograph in position number one. Having already been led by Defendant Ditsch to select Mr. Carrillo’s photograph from the hundreds of photographs in the gang book, Mr. Turner picked up the cue, and selected Mr. Carrillo’s photograph in the number one position as 
the perpetrator of the Sarpy murder.” 


According to Carrillo’s civil complaint, the six-pack that featured his photo was pre-existing in that it had been assembled for an an earlier case in which a witness testified at preliminary hearing that another Lynwood OSS deputy named Loy Luna urged her to pick Carrillo as the perpetrator, that he was a member of the Young Crowd. On the stand, the witness told the judge that she could not, in fact, ID Carrillo.

In his subsequent police report, Deputy Ditsch stated that Turner had independently chosen the photo of Carillo.

As for Turner himself, when he saw his friends again, he told them about Ditsch and that he’d picked out the right photo and the shooter was Carrillo. The remaining five witnesses were not shown the six-pack until months later, shortly before the trial. By then, they too were convinced they’d seen the shooter and that he was Franky Carrillo..


CONVICTION

Franky Carrillo was tried for the crime twice. The first trial ended with a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury. Before trial number two began, Scott Turner told prosecutors that his identification of Carrillo had been “a mistake” and that he could no longer testify against him.

According to Turner, when Ditsch heard that Turner was recanting, he cornered the teenager outside the courtroom, and threatened him, telling Turner there would be “negative consequences….once Mr. Turner was on the street,” if he took back his identification of Carrillo.

When Turner got on the stand, he ignored Ditsch and told the jury that he couldn’t ID the shooter. Two decades later, he told attorneys helping Carrillo that he was fearful of retaliation from Deputy Ditsch and other members of the Lynwood Sheriff’s sub-station, so did not tell the jury that Ditsch had told him that Mr. Carrillo was the shooter.

Although Turner recanted in the second trial, the other five witness stuck with their story that Franky Carrillo shot Donald Sarpy. The jury found Carrillo guilty of murder and six counts of attempted murder.


RELEASE

While in Folsom Prison, Carrillo did what he could to make his time inside count for something. He was part of The Blind Project- an organization which transcribed regular print into Braille for people without sight, worked in the Optical Department where he would refurbish used eye glasses that were then provided to those need, worked in the prison’s Youth Diversion Program.

And he wrote many, many letters—to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, to the California Office of the Inspector General, Innocence Projects in both California and New York, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU of Southern California, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and a list of private attorneys. After fifteen years, the writing paid off. An assistant state public defender named Ellen Eggers agreed to look at his case. For the next five years, on evenings, weekends, and days off Eggers, and attorneys she recruited to help, pulled apart the case and tracked down the various eyewitnesses, who were now in their 30s.

At the subsequent Habeas hearing, five out of the six—including Donald Sarpy’s son—recanted their original testimony in front of Judge Bacigalupo. The sixth invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Scott Turner apologized to Carrillo from the stand, according to Scott Wood, a Loyola Law School professor with a specialty in restorative justice, who was one of the lawyers who signed on to help Eggers with Carrillo’s case and wrote about how the experience affected him. “I never got a chance to apologize to Frank or apologize to his family..… It’s not right.,” Turner said. “So I’m standing up … [to] I say I was wrong. And, you know, I’m sorry, Frank. I apologize.”

Carrillo replied right away. “I forgive you. I forgive you, Scott.”


POST SCRIPT

After his release from prison Franky Carrillo enrolled at Loyola Marymount University and graduated this June his Bachelor of Arts degree. “I needed to take hold of my future and follow my heart,” he wrote in an essay for LMU Magazine last summer when he was headed into his senior year. At Loyola, Carrillo fell in love with a woman, and last year the couple had a baby. Since graduation, the once-incarcerated man has been active criminal justice reform work. Most recently, he has been among those leading the charge to abolish the death penalty in the state of California through the passage of Prop 62.

As for Craig Ditsch, while Carillo was serving time at Folsom, he remained with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department until his retirement at the rank of lieutenant. He and other deputies maintain that Ditsch did not in any way improperly influence Scott Turner.

Ditsch—-and Loy Luna, who was also named in Carrillo’s civil lawsuit—were named multiple times in the huge and influential class action lawsuit of 1990, Thomas, et al v. the County of Los Angeles, about which both a U.S. District Court Judge, and the 9th Circuit Court of appeals wrote as a finding of fact:

“The actions of many deputies working in the Lynwood sub-station are motivated by racial hostility; these deputies regularly disregard the civil rights of individuals they have sworn to protect. Many of the incidents which brought about this motion involved a group of Lynwood area deputies who are members of a neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang—the Vikings—which exists with the knowledge of departmental policy makers.

Last Tuesday, in the letter to the LA County Board of directors recommending a settlement of the Carrillo case, Jonathan McCaverty of County Counsel wrote, “due to the risks and uncertainties of litigation, a reasonable settlement at this time will avoid further litigation costs, therefore a full and final settlement in the amount of $10,100,000 is recommended.

In a “Corrective Action Plan” attached to the settlement, the county asked for remedial changes in department policy, essentially to attempt to make sure this kind of thing doesn’t happen again.

Thus on March 21, 2016 the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Field Operation Support Services disseminated [a] newly written department policy related to suspect identifications, photographic arrays, and “admonishment procedures.”

The report also states that, “…due to the fact that both involved deputy sheriffs are no longer employees of the Department (for unrelated reasons), the incident was not investigated by representatives of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs DepartrnenPs Internal Affairs Bureau.”

Carrillo’s attorney, Ron Kaye sums up the matter of retired LASD lieutenant Craig Ditsch very differently: “This deputy stole my client’s youth by coercing a 15-year-old witness to pick Franky out a line-up, even though he admitted he could never identify the shooter of the drive-by on the night of the crime.”

Posted in Innocence | 14 Comments »

Former LASD Commander Discusses Baca Leadership….Treating Locked-Up Kids Like Adults…LAPD Chief and the Game Anti-Violence Campaign….Reseda Church Holds Police-Community Town Hall

July 22nd, 2016 by Taylor Walker

FOLLOWING FED JUDGE’S REJECTION OF BACA’S PLEA DEAL, FORMER LASD COMMANDER IN CHARGE OF MEN’S CENTRAL JAIL DISCUSSES BACA’S FAILURE TO MANAGE HIS UNDERLINGS

In an interview with KTLA’s Kareen Wynter, former L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Cmdr. Ralph G. Ornelas, says former Sheriff Lee Baca did not properly supervise the actions of his number two in command, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

“[Baca] didn’t do the one thing that was extremely paramount, was to manage the people below him,” said Ornelas, who was in command of Men’s Central Jail from March of 2011 until mid-2013.

At a sentencing hearing for Baca last week, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson dynamited Baca’s plea deal (a sentencing range of 0-6 months in prison). Now, Baca and his lawyers can either come back with a deal Anderson is more likely to accept, or withdraw the plea and go to trial.

Paul Tanaka was sentenced to 5 years in federal prison for the dual crimes of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice while a federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the county jail system was taking place.

Ornelas, who testified against Tanaka, said Baca’s sentence needs to send a message. “It’s bigger than Baca,” he said.


LIZ RYAN: YOUTH DETENTION PRACTICES TOO SIMILAR TO ADULT PRISONS

A growing body of research on teenagers’ still-developing brains (notably the areas of the brain governing impulse control, critical thinking, and consideration of consequences), has led to major juvenile justice reforms at the local, state, and federal levels. Yet, the majority of juvenile lock-ups don’t reflect the fact that kids and teens are fundamentally different from adults.

Writing for Medium, youth justice advocate and CEO of No Kids in Prison, Liz Ryan, points out some of the ways that juvenile detention centers mimic adult prisons, and why the similarities—like solitary confinement, a focus on punishment, dehumanizing treatment, and rampant violence and victimization—are especially harmful to children. Of course, not every youth facility subjects kids to these injustices, but most do.

In California, it’s taken many years to improve conditions for locked up kids. In 2003, the nonprofit Prison Law Office sued the state of California over huge problems in the California Youth Authority facilities. In order to settle the case in 2005, the state agreed to “provide wards with adequate and effective care, treatment and rehabilitation services, including reducing violence and the use of force, improving medical and mental health care, reducing the use of lock-ups and providing better education programs.” It took the state more than a decade to implement the necessary reforms and end the lawsuit (like reducing use of force, overhauling education, and implementing evidence-based rehabilitation programs).

Here’s a clip:

Focus on punishment, not rehabilitation

Youth prisons were designed to serve as an alternative to adult prisons by having a more rehabilitative focus. It hasn’t turned out this way in many instances, even when the purpose of the juvenile facility is defined in a state’s statute to rehabilitate youth.

For example, in Connecticut, the Department of Children & Families (DCF) states that the mission of Connecticut’s youth prison, the Connecticut Juvenile Training School (CJTS), “is to provide a safe, secure and therapeutic environment while providing opportunity for growth and success.”

This mission statement which promotes a rehabilitative approach is not consistent with the report and videotapes released by the Office of the Child Advocate last year documenting youth being brutalized by staff. These actions appear to be more about punishment than rehabilitation.


LAPD CHIEF AND RAPPER THE GAME TEAM UP TO CALL FOR AN END TO VIOLENCE IN LOS ANGELES

In a video released Wednesday, Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck and rapper the Game announced they would be partnering on a new anti-violence campaign.

The duo called for an end to bloodshed in the city. Chief Beck pointed out that of the nearly 1,000 people shot in 2015, close to 300 died, and 80% of both victims and shooters were young men of color.

“We have to stop killing one another,” the Game said.

Snoop Dogg and the Game led a peaceful march to LAPD headquarters earlier in July, and joined LAPD Chief Charlie Beck and LA Mayor Eric Garcetti for a press conference.


BRINGING COPS AND THE COMMUNITY TOGETHER TO TALK ABOUT POLICING

On Thursday night, the Reseda Church of Christ hosted a town hall for community members, city officials, police, and clergy to discuss race and policing to “facilitate healing and reconciliation” between law enforcement and communities of color.

The predominantly black congregation has lost two members to violent encounters with officers.

“For us to make progress, we’ve got to focus on the reduction of overall violence in these communities,” said LAPD Deputy Chief Bob Green, who spoke at the meeting.

LA Daily News’ Brenda Gazzar has more on the town hall. Here’s a clip:

In 1982, congregant James Mincey, 20, died after he was put in a chokehold by a Los Angeles police officer during a struggle in Lake View Terrace. The public outcry that resulted from the Pacoima man’s death prompted limitations on the use of the controversial technique by the LAPD.

On May 16, 2013, another congregant, Christian Eaddy, 25, was fatally shot during an encounter with Los Angeles police in Pacoima. His cousin had called 911, reporting that Eaddy was sticking himself with syringes and was armed with two knives. Police said Eaddy refused commands to drop the knives and continued to approach the officers before one used a stun gun on him and another shot him. Another cousin, however, said Eaddy was 3 feet away from officers when he dropped the knives and was shot, according to prosecutors who investigated the case.

Winrow said Eaddy had the mental capacity of a 10-year-old. No criminal charges were filed and the case is in civil litigation, he said.

The 63-year-old minister, who lives in Granada Hills, believes that more community policing as well as having more officers from the communities they patrol would help reduce such incidents.

“Sometimes we view people not in the same way that we view our own, and we become more likely to make mistakes of judgement,” Winrow said. “Those kinds of mistakes … can cost people their lives.”

MORE ON THE ISSUE OF POLICE-COMMUNITY RELATIONS

On KPCC’S Take Two, host Alex Cohen spoke with Jerry Hoffman, co-chair of the community police advisory board for the LAPD’s Northeast division, and Ruben Arellano, Sergeant at the Northeast division, discussed how to get involved and improve police-community relations through open dialogue and other tools. Sgt. Arellano suggests attending the community advisory board’s meetings and attending the LAPD’s community citizen’s academy—where, one night a week for 10 weeks, participants get special lessons on policing issues. Attendees learn about everything from traffic stops and chases, to how Internal Affairs works. Go take a listen.

Posted in LASD | 11 Comments »

Fed Judge Dynamites Baca Plea Deal, Says 6 Month Sentence Would “Trivialize the Seriousness” of His Offense”

July 19th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



JUDGE PERCY ANDERSON REJECTS LEE BACA’S PLEA DEAL

When the sentencing hearing for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca began on Monday morning in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, most of those in attendance were fairly sure they knew what to expect.

The room was packed with Baca supporters who had various kinds of personal ties to the former sheriff. Most of the supporters showed up at the downtown federal courthouse on Spring Street an hour early to make sure they got a seat in the courtroom before the place filled to overflow, which it did quickly. Tommy Lasorda, the beloved former manager of the Dodgers, was one of those waiting to enter.

One supporter brought with him a plastic bag full of enamel lapel pins, each formed in the shape of a small yellow ribbon tied in bow. The man went down the line passing out the pins to the crowd. One man who said he’d known Baca since middle-school, quick fastened a pin to his suit jacket. “I guess it’s just another way of showing support,” he said.

Eventually, a trio of federal marshals allowed everyone who could fit to file into the courtroom and get seated. By that time around two thirds of those gathered wore a yellow ribbon pin, excluding the press, and the smattering of lookee-loo attorneys who had wandered down from the building’s upper floors.

In February of this year, Baca pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal officials, having to do with his knowledge of hiding federal informant Anthony Brown, the threatening of a federal agent, and other forms of interference in a federal investigation into brutality and corruption by deputies the LA County Jail system.

It was an agreement that reportedly took much negotiation to wrestle to the ground. But, eventually the government and the defense were in accord, and Baca formally pleaded guilty to the single charge in front of Judge Anderson. Now all these months later, the deal was about to be finalized, once Anderson sentenced Baca.


THE BACK-TO-SQUARE-ONE OPTION

In most plea deals, when it comes time to sentence, the defense and the prosecution each make their pitch for the sentence they hope to sell to the court, then the judge delivers the sentence he or she deems just, and that sentence is binding.

But Baca’s agreement was a slightly different breed of federal plea bargain called an 11(c)1(C) agreement. This form of plea deal allows the government and the defense to agree upon a narrow range of possible sentences from which the judge may select. If the court doesn’t agree with the sentencing range, it may go outside the agreed upon parameter. Then the defendant must decide whether to accept the rogue sentence, or instead be allowed withdraw his or her plea, in which case everyone is back to square one. Commonly the judge stays within the agreed upon sentencing range since, in most cases, no one is all that interested in the square one option.

In Baca’s case, the agreed-upon sentencing range was 0 to 6 months —zero meaning probation only.

Thus, all that had to happen on Monday was for both defense and prosecution to make their respective pitches to the judge for their preferred sentences, and for Anderson to select the point on the 0 to 6 month continuum he believed to be the most appropriate for Baca.

But that was not what occurred.

As most of you reading this likely know by now, Anderson instead flipped the game table, took a blow torch to the sentencing spread, dynamited the plea agreement (or whatever other metaphor you prefer). He chose none of the above— which essentially rendered the carefully crafted 11(c)1(C) agreement null and void.

However, at the beginning of the morning, everyone was still blissfully ignorant of the curve ball that was coming.


A CRUEL PLACE?

When Baca entered the hallway outside Anderson’s court, stopping to greet be greeted by supporter after supporter, he seemed relatively prepared for whatever fate was going to be handed to him. (In contrast, when the former sheriff came to court back in February, he seemed on the verge of shattering.)

After some necessary legal remarks by the judge, Baca’s lead defense attorney, Michael Zweiback, got up with his client beside him, and made an eloquent case for the probation only alternative. Zweiback read excerpts from letters written by a wide variety of people whose lives Baca seemed to have touched or helped to make better, and listed Baca’s accomplishments.

Finally Zweiback laid out the Alzheimer’s issue, and why he believed his client’s condition would make a federal prison “a cruel place” for the former sheriff to be.

Unlike other sheriff’s department defendants the judge has sentenced, the defense attorney said, “my client is accepting responsibility” for what he’s done….

“We would urge this court not to incarcerate Mr. Baca. There is so much more that can be done for him and by him” if he is allowed to stay out of prison.


IT’S NOT ABOUT HIM, IT’S ABOUT JUSTICE

When it was the federal prosecutors’ turn, as they had in their sentencing briefs, the prosecution pushed for the full six months. Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox praised Baca’s positive achievements, But “this is not all about Mr. Baca,” said Fox. “It’s about justice.” And about “deterrence,” and communicating to others that “they will be held accountable.”

When Baca lied to federal officials, he did so to protect himself from an indictment, Fox said “That’s not what a leader does. That’s what a coward does.”

The former sheriff also “ignored plenty of warnings that deputies in his jails were abusing inmates,” and then became “angry” when the FBI began investigating his department,” the prosecutor said. Yet Fox also made it clear that the government thought anything greater than a six month sentence for Baca was excessive, considering his medical condition.

Furthermore Fox said, the government believed that Paul Tanaka was “far more responsible” for the wrongs that had been done in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, than the former sheriff. He also pointed out that no other defendant involved in the obstruction cases has admitted to the court that they’d done anything wrong, save Baca. “They remained defiant throughout the process.”

After Fox sat down, Baca read a page long prepared statement in which he expressed regret about his actions. “I failed,” he said. “I did not lead. Instead I delegated the responsibility for this investigation. I should not have done that.


MEASURING THE HARM

Finally it was Anderson’s turn. And, as the judge began to talk, it quickly became evident that he was not happy with the sentencing choices the plea deal had given him.

A six month sentence, Anderson said, does not “fairly account for the significant harm” caused “by this defendant” and “under-appreciates this defendant’s culpability.” The guidelines agreed upon, the judge continued, “fail to fairly measure the culpability of this defendant….and the nature and circumstances of criminal conduct.”

Under Baca, said Percy Anderson, a grand jury investigation was derailed, jail deputies “were taught to how to cover up abuse by other deputies.” If an inmate disrespected a deputy, his fellow deputies were taught that they should beat the inmate badly enough “to put him in the hospital.”

While [in the agreement] the parties place no value on this harm,” Anderson said grimly, “I do.

“The behavior of the chief law enforcement officer on Los Angeles county” involves covering up abuse in the men’s central jail.

Yes, Baca has many accomplishments, Anderson said. “But those factors are greatly outweighed by other sentencing factors.”

Six months in prison, he said, “would trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

“…Thus this court rejects the plea agreement.”

And that, was that.


NOW WHAT?

Anderson informed Zweiback that Baca was not longer bound by the plea agreement, a fact of which Zweiback and his associates were already quite aware.

This meant he and his client could withdraw the plea, and the “court could impose a sentence that is “more severe than what had been agreed upon.” But Anderson declined to say how severe.

After Zweiback and Baca conferred, the defense attorney asked for a continuance.

It was agreed that everyone would return to court in two weeks, on August 1.

Outside the courtroom, Zweiback said that in seventeen years as an Assistant US Attorney, and 9 years as a criminal defense attorney he’d never had a deal rejected.

Between now and August first, Zweiback added, he will meet with the federal prosecutors and try to hammer out another deal that will work both the government and the defense—and, of course, for Judge Percy Anderson.

But, said Zweiback, “It may well be that nothing will satisfy the court except for a trial.”

Yet a trial is a risk for both the defense and the prosecution, said former Assistant U.S. Attorney Miriam Krinsky, who was also the executive director of the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence. “If they go to trial, that means first the government has to present its evidence to a grand jury and get an indictment. And the government may decide to indict on more charges.”

At the same time, Krinsky said, the prosecutors have indicated that their evidence on Baca is likely not as strong as it was on Tanaka and others.

So what kind of sentence would Percy Anderson like to impose? There is no way of knowing, of course. However, two different veteran attorneys guessed that a one or two year sentence. “And if you’re Baca, you take that deal,” one of the attorneys said.

Miriam Krinsky agreed “This judge is very aware,” she added, “that a lot of people got caught up due to Baca’s failure of leadership, and got much higher sentences” than he found in the now-rejected deal.


WLA’s photo of Baca and one of his attorneys was taken after his plea hearing in February 2016.

Posted in LASD | 77 Comments »

What to Expect When Lee Baca To Be Sentenced Monday Morning

July 18th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson will announce
what sentence he believes is appropriate for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca.

There are a number of factors that could influence Anderson’s decision.

But, we’ll get to all that in a minute. First let’s quickly review how we got here:

In late 2015, it became fairly clear to Baca and his attorneys that the former sheriff was very likely going to be indicted for some part of his alleged participation in obstructing the FBI’s investigation into corruption and brutality by deputies in the LA County jail system. With this in mind, toward the end of last year—according to members of the U.S. Attorney’s office—Baca’s people floated the idea of a deal. However, it took until the first week of February 2016 for the final language of the plea deal to be nailed down in a flurry of negotiations.

Finally, it was agreed that Baca would plead to one count of lying to federal officials. Specifically, according to the feds, the former sheriff replied falsely to certain questions when he was interviewed in April 2013 by members of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, having to do with Baca’s knowledge of alleged attempts by LASD personnel working under him to obstruct the aforementioned federal investigation.

In return for the plea, the government would recommend a sentencing range of between zero to six months, but not to exceed six months. Additionally, Baca would agree not to contest certain other accusations, but would not plead guilty to them.

For their part, prosecutors would agree not to bring charges based on those acts that the sheriff would not contest.

And so it was that, on the morning of February 10, 2016, the deal was announced, and in the afternoon Baca pleaded guilty to that one count of lying before Judge Percy Anderson. All that remained was for Anderson to actually sentence Baca.

There was one small caveat: for the deal to remain in place, Anderson’s sentence must stay within the agreed upon 0-6.

Until the plea hearing, it was pretty much assumed that Anderson would stay within the 0-6 boundary because, should Anderson decided to give Baca a sentence greater than six months, this would effectively dynamite the deal, bringing everyone back to pre-deal conditions where the government was prepared to indict Baca and take him to trial, an outcome that nobody really wants.

But during that February hearing, while the judge didn’t say he’d exceed the 0-6 boundaries, Anderson also made it clear that he legally could go as high as five years, leading some court watchers to wonder if the judge might be toying with the notion of going at least a little higher.

Or then again, maybe not.


NO PRISON TIME, PROBATION ONLY

As one might expect, Baca’s team of attorneys, led by Michael Zwieback, has asked the court to sentence the former sheriff to probation only.

Baca “did the unthinkable,” wrote Zwieback and company in a 30 plus-page sentencing memo. But “he accepted responsibility and pleaded guilty to a crime.”

Baca is seventy-four years old, his attorneys wrote of their client. “He has early stage Alzheimer’s disease. He needs constant monitoring, prescription medications, and any treatment that may slow or stall the progression of this degenerative disease. No one contends that he is a threat to the community. He will not offend again. All conditions support a probation only sentence.”

(Lead defense attorney Zweiback is, by the way, a former assistant U.S. attorney.)

The former sheriff’s attorneys also told the judge that, if Baca was not sentenced to prison, he would be accepted into a clinical study at UCLA that might change the course of his disease, plus as a former high profile member of law enforcement, along with his medical condition, he would be a target for victimization in a federal prison.

The 36-page brief was accompanied by scores of letters from supporters that include sports personalities, religious figures, former jail inmates, at least two former California governors, and a lot of other names that you would know.

The elephant in the room, however, when it comes to Baca’s sentencing, is the fact that seven people to date working under the former sheriff, and to whom he directly, or through the chain of command, gave orders, have already been given federal prison terms by Judge Anderson ranging from 18 months to 41 months. And those sentences are arguably, at least in part, a consequence of the orders Baca allegedly gave. And then there is former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, who received a sentence of 60 months.

Baca’s attorneys argue that those other cases and sentences don’t apply because their client is to be sentenced for the crime of making a false statement in connection with a single interview, not with obstruction, bribery or any of the other alleged Illegal acts on which the other “Related Cases” are based.


A STUDY IN CONTRASTS

The prosecution, in contrast, wants Judge Anderson to give the former sheriff a sentence of six months in a federal prison.

“Defendant Leroy Baca is a study in contrasts,” prosecutors Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes, and Eddie Jauregui wrote in their most recent sentencing brief. “He was a champion of certain reforms in the criminal justice system, yet ignored warnings that his deputies were committing serious abuses in the Los Angeles County jails” and became “angry that the federal government was investigating his department”

Baca, they wrote, issued orders that,” taken literally, may not have been corrupt,” but were carried out, without Baca’s objection, in a manner that was corrupt.

And then he “lied to the federal government.”

As for the matter of the former sheriff’s Alzheimer’s, the prosecutors contend that, while Baca “suffers from a mild cognitive impairment” it should not preclude a sentence like the six months they propose.

In a separate 10-page declaration, Dr. James Pelton, Regional Medical Director for the Western Region of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, assured the judge that “Mr. Baca’s medical condition is not unusual in the BOP.”As discussed below,” Pelton wrote, “there are hundreds of inmates who have cognitive impairment that is more severe than Mr. Baca’s condition. Additionally, contrary to the assertion of Mr. Baca…it is very likely that Mr. Baca would continue to be able to take medication prescribed to him to treat his disease while incarcerated. I make this statement as the person who would be deciding whether Mr. Baca 2 would receive this medication….”


ABOVE THE LAW

Near the end of their brief, the prosecutors pointed to an incident that they said suggested that the former sheriff still felt he had done nothing wrong, and that he was “above the law” and that he “refuses” even now “to acknowledge the problems within the Los Angeles County jails.”

The were referring to Baca’s May 29, 2016, speech and interview given when he was honored on May 29, 2016, by a Jewish organization.

At that time, Baca stated he was not afraid of jail. “I’m not afraid of
anything….” he said. “I can serve time, I don’t care what the circumstances are…I’ll stand on my record proudly, anywhere, whether it’s in the free world or in jail.”

Similarly, although it was too recent to make it into their brief, the prosecution was also reportedly very interested in a panel with which the former sheriff participated this past Friday, July 15, entitled Every Life Matters – Solving the Imbalance of Race Relations From Both Sides.


WHAT WILL ANDERSON DO?

So will Anderson go with six months, or probation only? Or will he blow up the deal?

Those reading tea leaves, point to Anderson’s harsh remarks after he sentenced Gilbert Michel (the deputy who accepted a bribe to bring in the cell phone to inmate/FBI informant Anthony Brown), and then the scorched earth lecture he gave to Paul Tanaka before he handed down the undersheriff’s sentence.

If by some chance Anderson decides to go above the 0-6 boundary on Monday, Baca and his attorneys will have a decision to make. They can roll the dice and go to trial where, in addition to the public spectacle, if Baca loses, the judge can give him up to 5 years, which is what he gave Tanaka.

Or, if the sentence isn’t too excessive, Baca could elect to cut his losses and decide to keep the deal in place.

In any case, Monday morning all speculation will end, and we will learn what sentence Judge Percy Anderson considers just.

So…stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | 11 Comments »

9th Circuit Hears Appeal Arguments for 7 Former LA Sheriff’s Deputies – UPDATED

July 5th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



On Tuesday morning, July 5, attorneys for former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy James Sexton,
and six more department members who were convicted of obstruction of justice in a trial separate from Sexton’s, tried to convince the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals that their convictions should be overturned, and that U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson should be replaced in any future proceedings, should Sexton or the six be retried.

Most of the former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who have been convicted by federal prosecutors, are similarly appealing their cases (unless, like former sheriff Lee Baca, they have taken a deal, in which case appeals are precluded).

Former undersheriff Paul Tanaka and his attorneys, unsurprisingly, filed an appeal before the sun went down on the day of his conviction.

But the appeals of Sexton and the six others—namely former LASD members Gregory Thompson, Stephen Leavins, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig, and Maricela Long—were the first to actually appear in front of the 9th Circuit. Thus the arguments put forth by the defense and countered by the prosecution, were both interesting, and closely watched.

The defendants’ attorneys traditionally are given very little time to make their legal pitches in front of the three-judge panel, which heard Tuesday morning’s cases for Sexton and the six others, so presentations have to be brief, persuasive and to the point.

In the cases of all seven, attorneys argued, among other things, that the defendants didn’t really obstruct justice, but were following lawful orders.

Among the issues that seemed to catch the attention of the 9th Circuit panelists are the following:


JUROR NUMBER FIVE

In the trial of Greg Thompson, et al, one issue flagged by the defense had to do with the dismissal of a certain juror, by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, who presided over all trials pertaining to the alleged obstruction of the FBI’s investigation into corruption and brutality inside the LASD-run LA County jails, which included the hiding of a federal informant from his FBI handlers in an operation that came to be known, unofficially, as Operation Pandora’s Box.

Here’s the deal:

On the fifth day of jury deliberations, Juror Five sent a note to Judge Anderson asking to be dismissed from the panel.

Jurors, of course, can be legally and appropriately dismissed for a host of reasons. That is why any court is wise to have a good supply of alternates on hand.

In the trial of the six, one juror had already been dismissed earlier in the deliberation process because she suddenly had an emergency that affected her childcare situation. No one raised any particular objection to her exit. Emergencies are emergencies.

(We were to learn later that this mom juror was reportedly leaning strongly toward acquittal, so her dismissal was bad luck for the defense. But those are the breaks, not grounds for appeal)

A few hours later, however, a second member of the jury panel, Juror Number Five, sent the note to Judge Anderson. It read as follows:

Due to duress, I would appreciate your consideration in accepting my resignation from this case. Always loyal to our justice system and the privilege to serve my decision has been clouded with fear of retaliation.

Juror Five was an anxious-appearing woman who always seemed to keep her distance from the rest of the pack, when it was time for the jury to leave the building.

According to the defense’s initial brief, the judge asked the juror if she feared “retaliation” from an “outside source.” But reportedly, that wasn’t the issue. She said, the defense writes, that her feelings would not affect her ability to deliberate personally. But she did not believe that there was a fair exchange of ideas among he panel, and she was also doubtful that a fair and impartial verdict could be reached. (Or words generally to that effect. )

In their second brief, the defense went further:

Two things, taken together, make Juror Five’s dismissal unlike what occurred in any of the cases cited by the government, or any case of which Defendants are aware. First, juror dismissal usually results from a claim of misconduct made by another juror or jurors. Here, no one complained about Juror Five, she raised her concerns with the court. Second, after discussing her concerns with the court, Juror Five stated, repeatedly, that she could continue with deliberations, and there was no good reason to doubt her – after all, it was she who raised her concerns with the court. On the other hand, there was ample reason to believe that her initial request to be excused stemmed from a dispute amongst jurors about the merits of the case. (Ital. from WLA.)

In other words, the defense suggested that the judge improperly and unnecessarily dismissed Juror Five, who was distressed—not because she was fearful for her safety, or because she personally could not continue deliberate fairly and impartially—but because she was in disagreement with the majority, which upset her.

To put it another way: Juror Five, had she not been dismissed, arguably could have produced a hung jury, and thus a mistrial. (The defense attorneys did not say this directly, but the possibility was implied.)

The defense attorneys say more in their briefs (the second of which you can find here), and several of the court watching attorneys who were present when the dismissal occurred mentioned that they thought letting Number Five go could cause Judge Anderson problems on appeal.

The panel seemed very interested in this issue, and two of the judges asked a string of questions. What those questions portend is impossible to say.


TO EDIT OR NOT TO EDIT

When it was Sexton’s teams’ turn, his attorney, Tom O’Brien, focused primarily on two issues, both having to do with Sexton’s grand jury testimony.

The first of the two issues, had to do with editing, in particular whether Judge Anderson allowed the prosecution to introduce an improper and misleading edit of Sexton’s grand jury testimony that essentially changed its meaning by excluding certain contextual sections that, according to the defense, would have given the jury a different and, by definition, more accurate view of what Sexton did and didn’t know.

(James Sexton, we should remind you, was tried twice. The first trial resulted in a mistrial caused by a hung jury, which was evenly split, six to six.)

In the first trial, according to Sexton’s defense team, the prosecution read a mostly intact portion of Sexton’s grand jury testimony to the jury, which—in both trials—they characterized as a confession.

In the second trial, a portion of grand jury testimony was also presented. But in trial number two, the defense contends, the original text was selectively edited.

“Selectively editing the transcript—-including significant context–—allowed the jury to be misled,” the defense wrote in their briefs, and reiterated to the three 9th Circuit judges Tuesday morning.

This is from one of their briefs, which were delivered to the panel weeks ago:

“Similarly, the Government eliminated numerous other statements clarifying Sexton’s intent and knowledge behind his alleged confessions. As described in the Opening Brief, the Government withheld from the jury numerous statements regarding Sexton’s actual lack of foundation for his alleged confessions, such as: ‘there were rumors,’ ‘we as young deputies were speculating,’ ‘I was not privileged to the entire information,” “I had conversations about this with . . . my peers and just trying to establish what we were doing,’ ‘innuendo,’ ‘we’re baby faced in there,” “I’m not going to detain a U.S. Attorney at gun point’….and so on.

To make their point clearer still, the defense included the following:

One of the justices asked a number of questions about why the editing made such a big difference, while the other two judges made notes, their expressions impassive.


THE LEGALITY OF BEING A TARGET

The second issue in Sexton’s attorneys emphasized, both in their briefs, and in oral arguments, was the idea that the prosecution grievously erred when it reportedly failed to appropriately notify Sexton that he was a target before he testified twice under oath in front of the grand jury, particularly the first time.

(Interestingly, Sexton testified that first time without an attorney, because his lawyer from the deputies’ union, ALADS, failed to show up. But that’s another issue altogether, and not relevant to the appeal.)

In any case, believing himself to be a cooperating witness, not a potential defendant, Sexton didn’t demand to have an attorney present. Nor did he invoke his 5th Amendment rights, or claim a faulty memory when answering questions that could have put him in legal jeopardy.

Here’s a clip from Sexton’s attorneys’ argument:

A target must be notified of his status and rights prior to being subpoenaed for Grand Jury testimony. That did not occur here. The Government specifically advised Sexton, and his counsel, that he was not a target of the investigation (a claim that was false). (Sexton’s prior counsel stated under penalty of perjury that “it was obvious to me that I had been misled and James Sexton had always been a target defendant”).

By its own admissions—particularly given its reliance on the evidence at trial—the Government believed it had sufficient facts linking Sexton to a crime. It, therefore, had a duty to notify Sexton (or counsel) of his target status prior to obtaining a sworn “confession.”

Using that first Grand Jury testimony as a “confession,” wrote the defense, without letting Sexton know he was a target, is the equivalent of introducing a confession obtained by questioning a suspect without a Miranda warning.

The attorneys for Sexton and for the six will likely argue other points. But, as mentioned above, these are the legal questions we’ll be watching with the most ardent interest.

The prosecution replied to all of these and other points in their various briefs, and in Tuesday’s arguments.

Tuesday morning we will see how the 9th Circuit’s panel reacts.

By the way, the three judges who listened to Tuesday’s arguments and who will decided the fates of the seven defendants are:

1. Judge Ferdinand Francis Fernandez, a 1989 G. H. W. Bush appointee, stationed in Pasadena
2. Judge Richard Clifton, a 2002 G. W. Bush appointee, stationed in Honolulu
3. Judge Michelle Friedland, a 2014 Obama appointee, stationed in San Francisco

More in a while.

So, stay tuned.

Posted in How Appealing, LASD | 25 Comments »

Former LA Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Gets 5-Year Sentence & Scorching Lecture

June 27th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson sentenced
former Los Angeles County undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, to five years in federal prison for the dual crimes of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Before his forced retirement in August 1, 2013, Tanaka was the second-in-command of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department—according to many, the real power behind the throne—and was widely considered to be the person mostly likely to replace Lee Baca as sheriff.

Instead, Tanaka, 57, is scheduled to self-surrender to federal marshals on August 1 of this year. (Unsurprisingly, his attorneys have already appealed his conviction, which will likely put off any self-surrendering for a while.)

In the minutes before the stony-faced Judge Anderson actually announced Tanaka’s 60-month sentence, the judge first took time to deliver a scorched-earth speech to the defendant about his “abuse of the public trust” and the “incalculable harm you have caused this community.”

And that was just for openers.

It helps to know that, in addition to Tanaka’s trial, Anderson, who was nominated to federal bench in 2002 by George W. Bush, presided over the previous obstruction of justice trials that resulted in the conviction of seven department members for attempting to derail the FBI’s investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system, which is overseen by the sheriff’s department. Anderson also presided over the plea deal and sentencing of former deputy Gilbert Michel, who was caught in an FBI sting for accepting a bribe from an inmate in return for bringing said inmate a contraband cell phone. (The inmate, Anthony Brown, turned out to be a federal informant.)

And Anderson managed to yank former sheriff Lee Baca’s plea hearing away from another judge to whom it was originally assigned. Thus it will be Anderson who will sentence Baca on July 11.

In short, this means that Percy Anderson is far more familiar with the facts of Tanaka’s case, and those cases that surround it, than even the best informed and most diligent jurist would ordinarily ever be.

This has turned to be bad news for Tanaka, for whom Anderson reserved an unusually strong expression of censure.


A FRACTION OF THE PROBLEM

Anderson’s lecture of the about-to-be-sentenced Tanaka covered a lot of ground, including the fact that the judge found the defendant “evasive, combative and not credible” when on the stand in trial.

Most of the judge’s remarkably detailed criticism, however, had to do with the principles with which Tanaka allegedly “operated in his career.” The former undersheriff, said Anderson, “rewarded loyalty over honor,” and “derailed the careers” of anyone who got in his way. Anderson referenced such controversial Tanaka hallmarks as his infamous “work the gray” statements, which Anderson said communicated that “deputies would not be held responsible for aggressive behavior.”

Similarly, the judge said that Tanaka’s management style “undermined the authority of supervisors” who attempted reform, and “set the stage” for “an environment of aggressive deputy conduct,” and an “us versus them mentality” that resulted in hospitalized inmates, and falsified reports, to cover-up the LASD-perpetrated jailhouse brutality.

The evidence is “overwhelming,” said the judge, that the defendant “made no attempt to investigate and build cases against corrupt deputies.” To the contrary, Tanaka and his coconspirators attempted to convince witnesses “not to cooperate” with the FBI, seeming to focus only on “avoiding embarrassment” for the LASD.

“The most troubling thing about this troubling chapter” in the sheriff’s department’s history, Anderson told the former undersheriff, “is that your efforts to shield dirty deputies has been largely successful,” despite the government’s multiple convictions of deputies for brutalizing inmates.

“Those convicted deputies are a small fraction” of a “deputy culture” that Tanaka allowed to thrive, Anderson said. “Some of those deputies, remain with the department,” and have risen to high levels. As a consequence, Anderson said, “the public has little confidence” that the problem has been rooted out.


NO REMORSE

During much of this disquisition, Anderson stared down at Tanaka from the bench with the ferocity of a large-winged raptor, noting pointedly at one juncture that “you have shown no remorse.”

When U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker held a short post-sentencing press conference on the steps of the court building, her words echoed those of the judge. “His actions harmed the sheriff’s department, harmed law enforcement everywhere and the good men and women who strive every day to uphold their oaths and serve justice,” said Decker. “The sentence today demonstrated that, indeed, no one is above the law.”

In sentencing Tanaka, Anderson went above federal guidelines, which reportedly call for 41-51 months in prison. The 60 month sentence that Anderson finally imposed, was the term the prosecution had requested. Still, one got the sense that, while Anderson thought the five year stretch sent a strong message, he wouldn’t have minded going higher.

Tanaka—who wore a closely tailored black suit for the packed hearing, along with what appears to be one if his favorite ties, an elegant blue on blue striped number that went with his baby blue shirt—was stoic and mostly expressionless when the sentence was announced. In fact, perhaps the only time he spoke was when the judge asked him if he understood that if he violated his bail conditions in even the tiniest of ways, bail would be revoked.

“Yes, sir,” said the former undersheriff.

Tanaka’s family arrived in force for the hearing and, both before and after sentencing, did their best to offer Paul and each other steadying support.

Other court watchers mostly commented on Judge Anderson’s unusually vivid pre-sentencing tongue-lashing.


SENDING A MESSAGE

“I think that the judge made a very strong statement today,” said former Assistant U.S. Attorney, Miriam Krinsky, who was the executive director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, and served as an advisor to Sheriff Jim McDonnell during his first year in office. It wasn’t so much about the case, she said. “It was really an indictment of an entire career and a culture of lawlessness that Paul Tanaka allowed to fester,” “I think the judge sent a strong message that this kind of gross abuse of the public’s trust by those whom we trust with keeping the community safe will simply not be tolerated.”

Anderson also seemed to be making the point, said Krinsky, that Tanaka’s policy of sidelining anyone who attempted reform, may have produced as situation where, those department members already convicted for wrongdoing, “may be merely the top of the iceberg in terms of misconduct.” And that there may be others in the department “who share the views of those who have been criminally convicted.”

It’s clear, said Krinsky, “that this is the beginning not the end of a process of reform and transformation of this department.”

Tanaka’s attorneys, Dean Steward and Jerome Haig, also spoke after the hearing. They said they were “very disappointed” at the sentence, of course, and that they completely disagreed with the judge’s pre-sentencing remarks.

But they are also “very optimistic about our client’s chances on appeal,” said Haig. In fact, the attorney remarked as we chatted, that the fact Judge Anderson chose to allow a line of questioning about Tanaka’s Viking’s tattoo into the prosecution’s cross examination during the trial “is a big part of our appeal.”

In other words, the drama continues.

In the meantime, a three-judge panel at the 9th Circuit will hear the appeal of the seven department members previously convicted of obstruction of justice on July 5th.


Full updated story published at 7:45 p.m.

Posted in LASD | 73 Comments »

Sentencing Day Arrives for Former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka

June 26th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So….stay tuned.

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

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

June 20th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



WHO’S THE BOSS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


BACA’S “ISSUES”

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

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

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

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

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

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


SUBPOENAS AND THREATS

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

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

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

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

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


ENTER: THE JUDGE

So what will Judge Anderson make of all this?

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

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

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

So stay tuned!

Posted in LASD | 18 Comments »

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

June 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


A SURPRISING TURN OF EVENTS HAS COURT WATCHERS GUESSING

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

The sentence was a surprise to most of those observing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I humbly accept whatever punishment I am given.”

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

(click to enlarge)


CRIME AND CONSEQUENCE

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

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

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

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


BEATINGS & LIES

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

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

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

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


THE JUDGE RULES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


A GHOST OF SENTENCING FUTURE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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