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Case Going to Trial of LA Sheriff’s Investigator Claiming Retaliation for Refusing to Falsify Job Apps & to Raise Big $$ for Tanaka

September 19th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


NO SETTLEMENT, GOING TO COURT

In early 2015, former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy Ban Nguyen filed a civil lawsuit alleging that he was retaliated against when he refused to falsify paperwork for certain unsuitable job candidates favored by department higher ups, particularly those candidates supported by former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

The retaliation got worse, Nguyen alleges in his lawsuit, when he was asked to raise money for Tanaka’s campaign to become sheriff, and he refused, explaining that he didn’t favor Mr. Tanaka for that post.

(If you remember, Tanaka was in the running from mid-2013 through November 2014 for the job that Sheriff Jim McDonnell holds today.)

After being what he describes as forced into retirement, Nguyen is suing the former undersheriff, and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for alleged violations of his civil rights along with violations of the state labor code and more. Nguyen also names in his lawsuit two LASD captains, and two department sergeants. (Kevin Hebert and Judy Gerhardt, are the captains named, although both have since been promoted to commander.)

According to court documents filed late last week, the defendants attempted with reams of paperwork to get a summary judgement without going to trial. But it appears that the case is going to trial anyway.**

“For Ban it isn’t about the money,” sources close to the case told us. At this point, say the sources, Nguyen wants to “expose the corruption” he alleges, in open court.

Indeed, given some of the witness already deposed, the trial, which is expected to begin in mid October, will be well worth watching.


PRESSURE, POOR POLYGRAPHS, AND PAINTING THE PAPERWORK WHITE

Ban Nguyen, 51, has an interesting background. He was born in what was then Saigon, and emigrated with his family to the United States in 1974, when he was approximately nine-years-old, and the writing was on the wall about where the war in Vietnam was headed. (Saigon fell—or was liberated, depending upon your political perspective—on April 30, 1975.) In 1985, eleven years after his arrival, Nguyen became a U.S. citizen.

Nguyen joined the LA County Sheriff’s department in 1996, when he was in his early 30s. For the first ten years of his career as a deputy, according to court documents, things went well. Nguyen, who has a BS in Biology and and MA in Public Administration, did not try to promote past the rank of deputy. He comes from a high achieving family and reportedly had—and still has—other business interests of his own, and thus additional sources of income. As a consequence, he had no real desire to advance up the promotion ladder. He simply liked the work of being an LASD deputy.

After working in various other parts of the department, Nguyen was transferred in 2008 to the personnel division’s “Pre-Employment Unit,” where for four years he recruited deputy candidates and oversaw and reviewed parts of their application process, a job he liked and at which he seemed to excel.

In 2012, however, according to Nguyen’s court filings, he was transferred to personnel’s “Administrative/Reserve” team, where a healthy portion of his duty was to handle the job applications of “sensitive” deputy or reserve candidates, meaning those who, for one reason or another, were important to someone or other on the LASD’s command staff, most often, allegedly, the then-undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

Applicants for deputy sheriff training (DST)—as opposed to applicants for “non-sworn” positions—are required to complete an 11-page application that includes questions on work history, education, family, references, along with questions designed to reveal any potential problem areas such as drug use, arrests and the like. After that, an investigator checks out references and does other probing. The candidate must also make it past such hurdles as a psych evaluation, and a polygraph test.

Once he began working on personnel’s Administration/Reserve team, according to Nguyen, he became aware that there was a practice of not only giving the “sensitive” candidates a leg up, but also the team was expected to whitewash the applications of favored candidates when necessary.

For instance, in one alleged situation, a candidate whose father was a friend of the former undersheriff failed the required polygraph test six separate times, specifically around questions relating to drug use and some other problematic issues. When Nguyen declined to recommend that the candidate be accepted for deputy training anyway, the applicant’s case was allegedly yanked from Nguyen and given to another, presumably more agreeable investigator, at which time the polygraph-challenged candidate magically passed the poly the seventh time around.

In other cases, according to court filings, Nguyen and colleagues were given a negative background report on a pet candidate, and told to rewrite the report, in effect ‘sanitizing” it, until it was shiny and clean enough to get the applicant through the gate.

Sometimes the alleged sanitization involved finding a more compliant psychologist to redo the psych evaluation, if “there were negative psychological or psychiatric issues” that had previously prevented the candidate from passing. Or, as with the earlier alleged example, Nguyen and his colleagues would be ordered to redo polygraphs, modifying or leaving out questions that produced problems.

When Nguyen refused to whitewash an application, reportedly stating to his immediate boss, Sergeant Ismael Chavez, that the practice of shoehorning “unqualified” candidates onto the force was both wrong and a potentially dangerous strategy, Chavez allegedly “berated and screamed” at him, according to court documents.

Nguyen states that he went over Chavez’s head to request to the appropriate lieutenant that the matter be investigated, but the lieutenant allegedly declined to look into the matter.


PERSONNEL AND POLITICS

The 2012 job transfer also coincided, according to Nguyen, with the discovery by the captain of personnel division at the time, Kevin Hebert, now a department commander, that Nguyen had experience and expertise with political fundraising. For instance, in 2010, he had reportedly been helpful in helping Sandra Hutchens get elected to the position of Orange County Sheriff-Coroner. (Hutchens, who was originally with the LA Sheriff’s Department, before moving to Orange County, served first as the interim sheriff after former sheriff Mike Corona resigned in the face of federal indictments.)

One day at work in mid-November 2012, according to Nguyen, his boss, Sgt. Chavez took him to see then-captain Hebert, who Chavez said wanted to talk to Nguyen. Hebert then allegedly asked Nguyen what his experience was with raising money, and how one went about raising big bucks for a political campaign, or words to that effect. Nguyen states that he told of his involvement in previous political campaigns, and explained, in general, how one goes about raising $100,000 in political funds.

A few days later, according to Nguyen, he was again brought to meet with Hebert during the work day, at which time Hebert asked if he’d like to raise money for Paul Tanaka, who was planning to run for sheriff. Would he be on the team? Hebert allegedly asked.

Nguyen says he declined multiple requests.

(For the record, Hebert has stated in a deposition that he never met with Nguyen, much less pressured him to become involved in Tanaka’s campaign.)

Near the end of 2013, according to the lawsuit, Nguyen told then Sheriff Lee Baca about the demand to “lie about or conceal damaging background information concerning Tanaka connected applicants,” and the retaliation that occurred when he would’t comply, or support Tanaka’s political campaign. Rather than helping matters, Nguyen alleges that, after he went to Baca the retaliation—which had begun after his various failures to cooperate with what he believed was wrongdoing—got worse. Hebert was no longer captain of personnel, but his successor, then-captiain Judy Gerhardt, allegedly told Nguyen “he was not allowed to go beyond the chain of command again with his complaint.”

Interestingly, when Nguyen went to meet with then Sheriff Baca, which he did more than once, a retired LASD commander who had been Nguyen’s mentor in earlier years, came with him to help bolster his case. The retired commander was Robert Lindsey, a man with his own personal story about refusing what he believed were illegal (or at the very least corrupt) orders coming from Paul Tanaka.

According to the signed declaration Lindsey made for this case, when Lindsey was still with the department, Chief Tanaka told him to make it possible for certain chosen favorites to advance up the ranks by giving these favored few the answers to the lieutenants’ exam. Additionally, according to Lindsey, Tanaka asked him to give certain applicants-for-promotion credit for non-right test answers that Tanaka allegedly claimed were “close enough.” Lindsey alleges that when he declined to facilitate Tanaka’s orders to…well….cheat, Tanaka told him that he would “live to regret it,” and that his career was over, and then allegedly triggered an internal affairs investigation against Lindsey.

(Lindsey also alleges that, years later, Tanaka took out his still existing fury on Lindsey’s LASD deputy son by ginning up a criminal case against Robert Lindsey Jr. But that’s another upcoming civil lawsuit for another day.)

Nguyen describes an increasingly hostile work environment, then a transfer to an “entry level position” in what was known as the Civilian Investigative Unit. When he tried to transfer to what he believed was a more appropriate job, he was moved to a desk job under then-Captain Gerhardt, which he alleges involved “no real duties.” At the same time, he was told that an anonymous complaint had been filed against him, and that he was being “investigated,” although according to Nguyen he was never told anything about the investigation, or whether it was criminal or administrative in nature.

Nguyen states that, around this point, his health and state of mind began to suffer.

In September 2014, he was put on sick leave. In November 2015, Nguyen retired. In between he filed his lawsuit, now slated to go to court in October.


THE UNDERLYING ISSUES

In court, the defendants will of course tell a very different story—or more accurately multiple different stories—than that which plaintiff Nguyen and his attorney, Richard A. Love, have told through court documents.

Yet, whichever side ultimately prevails in this lawsuit, many of the issues underlying Nguyen’s civil complaint call out loudly for better examination.

For years there have been credible reports of certain people in the LASD’s personnel division being asked to shave the dice, so to speak, for either unsuitable job applicants, or candidates for promotion who didn’t manage to make the grade on their own.

Perhaps this lawsuit will trigger a long overdue closer look at those stories of corruption.


**NOTE: We originally wrote that there was talk of a settlement of the case, which Ban Nguyen declined. Whether true or not, the most recent court documents pertain to a “Summary Judgement,” which is basically a kind of appeal from the defendants to dismiss the case.

Posted in LASD | 52 Comments »

BEGGING TO GO TO PRISON: Former LA County Sheriff’s Deputy Wants to Begin His Federal Prison Term Right Away—If He Can Get Past the Bureaucratic Obstacles

August 29th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



On August 31, former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy James Sexton
will turn himself in to federal marshals in order to begin his eighteen month sentence in federal prison.

Weirdly, Sexton’s choice to get on with his prison term has not been a simple matter to achieve.

Sexton is the first and only former department member indicted for obstructing a federal investigation who has elected to go ahead and begin his prison time. Everyone else—including Paul Tanaka, the former undersheriff of the LASD—is still fighting their respective convictions. And former sheriff Lee Baca has yet to go to trial. But surrendering one’s self to the feds, it turns out, isn’t quite as simple as it seems.

As most readers remember, the obstruction indictments brought by the government against a total of 10 former LA County Sheriff’s Department members pertained to the alleged hiding of federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers, falsely threatening an FBI agent, interfering with potential federal witnesses, and generally attempting to get in the way of an undercover FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights violations, brutality, and corruption on the part of deputies inside the county’s troubled jail system.

Sexton is the lowest person on the departmental food chain to be convicted of the obstruction charges, and sentenced to federal lock-up. Although the government does not suggest he had anything to do with the threatening of FBI agents, or interfering with witnesses, he was involved in hiding federal informant Brown, based on orders coming from several layers of supervisors, including—according to federal prosecutors—the two people running the department.

Among the other defendants already convicted are former LASD deputies Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith, former sergeants Maricela Long and Scott Craig, and former lieutenants Gregory Thompson and Stephen Leavins, who were tried as a group and whose sentences in a federal lock-up range from 21 months to 41 months.

Paul Tanaka, the notorious former second in command of the department, was himself convicted of the dual charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice for his role as the shot caller of the obstruction actions, and was subsequently sentenced to five years behind bars.

Tanaka has appealed to the 9th Circuit for relief thus he is able to stay out of prison until his appeal is settled.

The six—Manzo, Smith, Scott, Craig, Thompson and Leavins—-appealed to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and lost with a ruling from a three-judge panel. Now they are appealing to the entire 9th Circuit for their collective case to be reheard, so they too are not yet packing for incarceration.

Former LASD captain Tom Carey, who made a plea deal with the government, has yet to be sentenced.

And of course, there is former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca who, according to the government, gave the orders that set the whole obstruction circus in motion, with Tanaka doing the micromanagement.

Baca originally agreed to a plea deal for which he expected to do somewhere between no time at all, and six months. He backed out of the deal in early August, after it became evident that U.S. District Court Judge Percy intended to go with a sentence that could be substantively longer than the maximum six months that his agreement with the feds prescribed. (It should be noted former deputy Sexton’s sentence was three times higher that the highest end of Baca’s proposed sentence 0 to 6 months.)

Now Baca is going to trial, beginning in early December, and his attorney, Nathan Hochman has indicated he will likely have experts and witnesses explain to the jury that the former sheriff was too compromised by his oncoming Alzheimer’s disease to have knowledgably committed the three crimes of which he is charged by the federal government.

(Mr. Baca has been indicted for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, along with the original charge of lying to federal officials that Baca admitted to back in February, as part of his now dynamited plea deal.)


GETTING ON WITH IT

Sexton, who is 31, has been fighting his case for the last three years, and through the whole of his three-year marriage, and says he wants to pay whatever debt he owes so that he can begin to plan a new future.

“Out of respect for the jurors who sat for my two trials,” he wrote to WitnessLA in a text, “I’m going to continue the appellate process while serving time in an effort to move on with my life…..I am grateful for the people in my life, especially my wife, family, and friends who supported me exercising my Constitutional Rights.” But now he is ready to move on, he said.

(Sexton refers to “two trials” because he was tried twice, with the first proceeding ending in a mistrial due to a hung jury that was “hopelessly divided” with six for conviction, and six against. Also, although Sexton says he has stopped fighting his prison term, he is not completely giving up on his right to appeal in the future.)

When Sexton decided to move forward with serving his time, however, the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, the 9th Circuit and the rest of the federal bureaucratic machinery was not ready to take him, although he was sentenced on September 16, 2014, and his appeal to the 9th—along with that of the six—was rejected on August 4 of this year.

He could turn himself in if he wanted, but the BOP has nowhere to put him. Former law enforcement officials are generally incarcerated in facilities where the BOP is better able to keep them safe from inmates who may wish to harm cops. However, they didn’t have such a facility ready. So, he might languish in a less secure private lock-up for an indefinite time.

Concerned at where his client might wind up, Sexton’s lawyer, former U.S. Attorney, Tom O’Brien, attempted to blast through the logjam by filing a urgent motion with the 9th Circuit to pull Sexton out of the appeals queue, where he had landed automatically when the six decided to re-appeal, even though Sexton had not himself asked for a second appeal.

“In order to move forward with his life,” O’Brien wrote to the 9th, “Mr. Sexton now seeks to begin serving his sentence as expeditiously as possible. To do so, he respectfully requests, and the Government does not oppose this request, that the mandate should be issued as to him as quickly as possible.”

Once the 9th Circuit gave up their dominion over Sexton, O’Brian submitted a petition to Judge Anderson, in whose court Sexton was convicted and sentenced.

At first it was not clear that the various motions would shove the slow-moving governmental cogs. But finally, late on Friday Judge Anderson signed the necessary stipulation, which went then to Sexton’s probation officer and then to the US Marshals immediately. Sexton hopes the BOP will be ready for him by his wished for turn-in date of August 31. It remains to be seen what prison will be his home for the next year and a half.

“Still, I think we’re prepared now,” Sexton’s wife, Keely Sexton told WLA. “We’ve come to a peace with it. Yeah, it’s scary. I respect him for going in. But it’s scary. It is. I’m scared of coming home to an empty house, and scared of not knowing what’s going on with him, and scared of not being able to talk to him for a while. We’ve gotten to go through a lot of things that people who have been married for 30 years had never gone through. And it’s made us stronger. I wouldn’t trade any of that. Now it’s time to get on with it.”

Posted in LASD | 13 Comments »

Lee Baca: A December Trial Date, A New Lawyer, and a Pitch for Legal $$$ – UPDATED

August 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

UPDATE:

At Wednesday’s hearing, although former sheriff Lee Baca’s lawyer, Nathan Hochman, pushed for any trial to be delayed until February or March of next, after considerable debate, U.s. District Court Judge Percy Anderson set a new trial date for December 6th.


On Wednesday of this week, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca and his new lead attorney, Nathan Hochman, will meet on the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson for a “status conference” with federal prosecutors to discuss when Baca’s criminal trial will begin.

While the trial was originally set to begin in September, then moved to October 4, our sources tell us that new and hopefully final date will likely be in December of this year. (But we’ll let you know for sure on Wednesday.)

Baca, who is now 74-years-old, was arraigned on August 12, also before Judge Anderson, at which time he pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials.

The former sheriff was indicted on the three charges after he pulled out of a plea deal with the government that had been crafted back in February, in which he’d agreed to plead guilty to one count of lying in an interview with the feds in 2013. In return for his plea, government prosecutors agreed to a sentencing range of 0 to 6 months.

In July, however, Anderson blew up the deal by rejecting the maximum six month sentence. In a sober-minded but scathing series of comments to those assembled in his courtroom, Anderson said that a six-month sentence would not “fairly account for the significant harm” caused “by this defendant” and “under-appreciates this defendant’s culpability.” The guidelines agreed upon, the judge said grimly, “fail to fairly measure the culpability of this defendant….and the nature and circumstances of criminal conduct,” and would “…trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

After Anderson’s rejection of the 0 to 6 month sentencing agreement, Baca withdrew from the plea deal altogether, rather than take a chance on what promised to be a sentence from Anderson that likely would have fallen somewhere between 2-5 years in a federal prison.

But, to withdraw from the deal meant that Baca would instead go to trial, and likely face added charges—which was exactly what happened.


THE ALZHEIMER’S ISSUE

Now, the gigantic wild card in the eventual trial will be the issue of Baca’s cognitive health. He has, as most readers are aware, been diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis that was made public in late June (although WLA broke the news the month before).

On the day of his arraignment, Baca also filed for a change in his lead attorney. Through the course of his plea deal, and the withdrawal from it, Michael Zweiback, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, has represented Baca.

Now Nathan Hochman will represent Baca. Hochman is also a former federal prosecutor, and the former head of the Tax Division for the US Department of Justice. While both he and Zweiback have strong CVs, they are reputed to have different personal styles when it comes to representing a client in a criminal trial.

Hochman has made it very clear that Baca’s mental state will be a significant issue when Baca goes before a jury, and that the defense will explore whether there was any “cognitive impairment,” during the period of the summer and early fall of 2011, when the alleged actions occurred that are the basis of the obstruction of justice charges, and in 2013, of course, when Baca was interviewed by the feds, and allegedly lied.

During the arraignment, Judge Anderson, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2002 by George W. Bush, repeatedly asked defendant Baca if he understood the proceedings. Baca replied that his mind was “clear enough” but also added that he had a “cloudiness in my brain and I’ve had that for quite awhile.”

When the case goes to trial, the government is expected to have its own witnesses who suggest that, while the former sheriff may be eccentric, he cognition and memory were fully operative during the periods in question.

Both Baca’s present and past attorneys have strongly hinted (but not outright stated) that they will do what they can to have Judge Anderson removed from the former sheriff’s case, pleading that Anderson is biased against Baca.


THE COST OF DEFENSE & THE PITCH FOR FUNDS

Trials are, of course, very expensive, and with this in mind, the former sheriff’s wife, Carol Baca, has recently sent out fund raising emails to friends in her husband’s behalf, two versions of which WitnessLA has obtained. (The LA Times’ Joel Rubin was the first to report on the emails’ existence.)

In one of the emails, Mrs. Baca wrote in part:

“The attorney fees for this defense will be substantial, well over $1 million, in addition to the large amount of money we have already spent on Lee’s legal fees. As a result, we are reaching out to our family and friends to help Lee beat these charges. Lee is in the fight for his life given his Alzheimer’s disease, and he hopes he can count on you to help him have the resources for this fight.

“There are two ways to contribute to help Lee. Any person can donate as a gift to Lee a maximum amount of $14,000 a year tax-free. In addition, we are setting up a legal defense fund that can accept contributions without limit (more details to follow).”

On the subject of legal bills, except for Paul Tanaka, nearly all of the other 21 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department members who have been convicted by the government in the course of the multi-year federal investigation into corruption and brutality inside the LASD, have been provided attorneys by either the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), or the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA).

(James Sexton was the exception among the deputies who faced federal charges, as ALADS declined to pay even a portion of his bills, for reasons that make up their own disheartening tale.)

So, would Baca be eligible for any help?

We asked PPOA president, Brian Moriguchi, what he thought about whether either union could or would pay any of Baca’s bills, and he told us that “any full-member of our association in good standing is entitled to representation or financial support, regardless of whether their rank is a deputy sheriff or the sheriff himself.”

PPOA, he said, has provided financial assistance “to all of our members who were indicted related to this matter.”

Since we called Moriguchi on Sunday, he could not easily check whether or not Baca was, in fact, a full member. But if he is, Moriguchi said, “he is entitled to the same member benefits we afford all of our members, including financial assistance.”

Paul Tanaka, he said, “did not received any financial support from PPOA because he was not a member of our association.”

For the record, Mr. Baca receives roughly $328,000 annually in pension and benefits. In 2013, his total salary plus benefits was $490,727, according to Transparent California.

In 2013, Mr. Tanaka made $598,026. He also received salary and benefits as the Mayor of Gardena, which last year was $30,938.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 20 Comments »

Now That a Grand Jury Has Indicted Former Sheriff Lee Baca, Can His Trial Move Us Closer to Lasting Reform?

August 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

THE INDICTMENT ARRIVES

On Friday, former Sheriff Lee Baca was indicted by a federal grand jury for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. These two new charges are on top of the original charge of lying to federal officials that Baca admitted to back in February, as part of a plea deal hammered out with federal prosecutors.

The new charges were not exactly a surprise.

The grand jury indictment came about after U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson rejected Baca’s plea deal at a sentencing hearing in July, telling those in the courtroom that the 0 to 6 month sentencing range that the deal required “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust…..”

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.”

Once Anderson dynamited the plea deal on July 19, at the next sentencing hearing on August 1, Baca and his attorneys had three possible ways to move forward:

Number 1: Baca could continue to plead guilty to the single charge with the understanding that the judge was going to hand down whatever sentence he saw fit, which could be as much as five years.

Number 2: Baca and his attorneys could work with the prosecutors to come up with a new deal that might please Anderson, which turned out to be nearly impossible.

Number 3: Baca could withdraw from the plea deal altogether, meaning that the only option left was to go to trial. This last option all but guaranteed additional charges, since the government had maintained in the negotiations for the plea that it could hit the sheriff with more counts, hence the motivation to plead to the single charge of lying to the feds.

On August 1, Baca went with Door Number 3, the go-to-trial option.

If Baca is convicted on the two obstruction counts, plus original count of lying to the feds, he could face as much as 20 years in a federal prison.

But that kind of lengthy a term is considered unlikely, especially since Baca’s second in command, Paul Tanaka, received a sentenced of five years—although he was, in the eyes of many, the person responsible for the day-to-day control of the operation that has thus far resulted in seven obstruction of justice convictions, on top of his own, with the sentencing of a ninth, former LASD Captain Tom Carey—who took a plea deal—still to come.

Yet, however one spins things, when it comes to the actions that have resulted in a string of convictions of LA Sheriff’s Department members in the last two years, some for obstruction of justice, others for corruption and brutality, all of that criminal misconduct—and far more, frankly—was allowed to occur on Lee Baca’s watch, which seemed to be much of Judge Anderson’s point.


DIMINISHED CAPACITY?

The former sheriff’s defense is expected to make Baca’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease a significant issue in the trial. His attorneys, Michael Zweiback and a new member of the team, Nathan Hochman, have already suggested that, in the summer of 2011—the period when the actions took place that make up the heart of the obstruction charges—the former sheriff “delegated more than he should have,” due to his condition. In other words, some kind of claim of diminished capacity may be in the offing.

On the government’s side, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui, wrote that Baca was “well aware of the accusations of rampant abuse,” in the jails, particularly in Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility. There were the ever-worsening ACLU reports. Then there were things like the “allegations about LASD deputies who worked on the 300 floor of MCJ” and called themselves “the 3000 boys,” who “exhibited gang-like and violent behavior, who “used excessive force on inmates, “and “falsified reports to cover up wrongdoing.”

In the indictment, the prosecutors also hinted that they have witnesses waiting in the wings who will testify that they told Baca about brutality in the jails, and that he still made no effort to curb the problem.

As for the actual obstruction charges, the 15-page indictment of Baca is not as long or detailed as the 20 pages written by federal prosecutors in their final indictment of Paul Tanaka. For example, there are no dramatic moments when a witness describes the defendant shouting “Fuck the FBI!” as was the case in Tanaka’s indictment.

Yet, there is the mention of Baca approving an expensive bunch of overtime so that a rotating team of deputies could guard federal informant Anthony Brown round the clock, after he’d had his name changed and was moved to an out-of-the-way sheriff’s station in San Dimas, allegedly in order to allegedly keep him away from his FBI handlers. There are accounts of a meeting where Baca was reportedly present for discussions of approaching FBI agent Leah Marx and threatening her in order to obtain information. And there is the letter from Baca to then US Attorney Andre Birotte, threatening to “end the LASD’s participation in federal task forces” if Birotte didn’t yank his support for the FBI’s investigation of the jails—and so on.


A “VASTLY DIFFERENT” TRIAL

According to Baca’s attorneys, however, when it comes to the obstruction charges, the feds have themselves admitted that their case against the former sheriff is not particularly strong.

They point to passages in the prosecution’s sentencing memo, which was designed to persuade Judge Anderson that a six-month sentence for Baca was appropriate:

Indeed, there are lines in the memo such as the following: “Baca’s involvement in the obstruction is not as clear as the others,” and “may be more limited…” and “During the obstructive conduct, records show Baca was rarely in contact with any of those involved in the obstruction, with the exception of Tanaka. Tanaka himself was routinely in contact with the others.”

On the other hand, when the plea deal was first announced back in February, the government indicated that, if Baca changed his mind and the deal fell apart, they were willing and able to go to trial.

According to the feds, they laid the going-to-trial-with-additional-charges gun on the table when bargaining with Baca’s attorneys to achieve the plea. And they were fully prepared to fire that metaphorical pistol, if it became necessary.

Meanwhile, the former sheriff’s attorneys continue to express confidence.

In a text to WitnessLA, Hochman said that the new obstruction charges “represent punishment” by the feds for their client’s decision to go to trial. He also reiterated the defense’s point that the prosecutors had “admitted in court the weakness of its obstruction case” against Baca.

“This trial will be vastly different than the others,” Hochman wrote.

Well, one thing is certain: the upcoming trial of the man who led the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for fifteen years presents an opportunity like no other to shine a light on what went so catastrophically wrong in the LASD, and what still needs to be done to fix it.

The trial of Lee Baca is, at present, scheduled for September of this year.

Here’s the text of the Baca indictment



THE NEXT CHAPTER IN THE BACA SAGA & THE NEED FOR REFORM

Rhetoric aside, whether Baca or the federal prosecutors do or do not actually want to go to trial, it has come to pass that, barring something wildly unforeseen, the former sheriff will in fact be on trial after all—even though for several years, the likelihood of such an event occurring appeared all but impossible.

Now the trial of Lee Baca suddenly feels weirdly fated.

Given the disturbing display of departmental arrogance and wrongdoing that the previous LASD trials have have illuminated, it seems fitting that the guy at the top should also get his chance to face a jury—whatever the outcome.

After all, the whole obstruction of justice mess came about because the feds were covertly investigating accounts of brutal and corrupt behavior by deputies toward jail inmates (and, it seems, their visitors) that department higher-ups had aggressively refused to address, no matter how many awful reports of abuse were brought to their attention.

Unfortunately, based on our own investigations over the last six years, along with those of the LA Times, ABC7, the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, and others, the problems forced into public view by a raft of federal indictments are indicative of a larger toxicity that was allowed to spread unchecked in the department, both in the jails and elsewhere in the LASD.

Yet, despite what has been brought to light by two years of federal trials, and the many positive steps taken by Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the path to lasting reform still seems to be littered with obstacles.

It was heartening to note that, in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, the editorial board wrote about the fact that, while it’s a good thing that Baca will be on trial, the need for departmental reform is bigger, wider, deeper than the various prosecutions can reasonably accomplish.

Here are some clips from their essay:

Consider, for example, McDonnell’s continuing attempts to weed out of the department those deputies who have shown themselves to be unsuited to carry weapons and to wear the badge and the tan and green uniform.

Under the Los Angeles County system, fired deputies can be, and indeed have been, reinstated by a civil service commission that has no expertise in law enforcement or public safety and that makes its decisions based in part on the precedent set by previous sheriffs and commissions. So as McDonnell is attempting to raise standards of performance, the commission is judging deputies based on previous, lower standards. McDonnell then is compelled to take back — and to keep paying — deputies he and his command staff have deemed unfit for their jobs, completely undermining his power to set high standards of performance. It is an untenable system that has nevertheless become the envy of law enforcement officers in other agencies who would like to enjoy similar leniency…..

….The county Board of Supervisors voted this year to establish an oversight commission to keep tabs on sheriff reforms, but the panel has yet to be appointed or to convene. The board agreed to consider asking voters to grant that commission subpoena power, but with deadlines approaching to put measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, there has been no move forward on that issue….

….Switching out the man at the top was a solid step but it will not be enough to correct the Sheriff’s Department, and Los Angeles cannot rely on criminal prosecution of sheriffs, command staff and deputies as a substitute for oversight. Baca’s failed plea deal and his looming trial may be among the more compelling chapters in the story of the Sheriff’s Department, but the most important pages are those that lay out how we make sure that a similar meltdown does not occur again — and those pages haven’t yet been written.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 42 Comments »

After Sentencing Negotiations Fall Apart, Baca Says He Wants to Go to Trial to Set the Record Straight

August 2nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


THE DEAL CRUMBLES

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca returned to the court of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, August 1, where his attorneys made one last ditch effort to save the plea deal that Baca agreed to in February, and that Judge Anderson dynamited two weeks before at the former sheriff’s first sentencing hearing, instead of sentencing Baca to six months in federal prison, and thus concluding his case.

Now at just after 1:30 p.m. after five hours of sidebars, out-of-court negotiations, and several lengthy recesses, Attorney Michael Zweiback, stood up, walked to the attorneys’ podium to address the court, Baca beside him, and announced the decision that had likely been in the cards since everyone assembled in the courtroom five hours earlier.

“Your honor,” Zweiback said “….unfortunately we have failed to reach any kind of resolution that could be acceptable to the court,” despite the fact that both parties “tried diligently.”

Therefore, “we request that our plea be withdrawn, and we be allowed to proceed to trial.”

Anderson asked Baca if he was in agreement. “Yes, your honor,” Baca replied. He appeared ready for this outcome.

The judge, who has a reputation for liking to move is calendar along at a brisk clip, announced that he was going to set a date for trial.

Voire dire—jury selection—would begin September 20, 2016, at 8:30 a.m., Anderson said, with the last pre-trial hearing scheduled for September 12, at 3 p.m. (Obviously Anderson planned ahead for this eventuality.)

Zweiback said he almost certainly intended to petition for more time, since the prosecution had given them “a terabyte worth of data…”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox countered saying that, the giant pile of data notwithstanding, this would be a fairly “straightforward” case, with multiple previous trials that have already laid out the issues.


THE CIRCUITOUS ROUTE TO TRIAL

Monday’s sentencing hearing came about because, two weeks ago, at the first sentencing hearing, on Monday July 18, Percy Anderson surprised court watchers by firmly rejecting Baca’s plea deal, which specified that when Anderson selected a sentence for Baca, he remain within the constraints of a 0 to 6 month term in federal prison.

Instead, Anderson informed the former sheriff, along with attorneys for the prosecution and the defense, that a six-month maximum sentence “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

Anderson’s rejection of the plea deal meant Baca had the choice of accepting whatever sentence Anderson decided to impose, which could go as high as five years, or working with the prosecution to come up with a new deal that both parties could live with, and that Anderson hopefully might accept.

Option three was that Baca and company could withdraw altogether from the plea deal, meaning that the former sheriff would take his chances in a full-scale, high profile trial. Of course, if Baca decided to go to trial, it was virtually guaranteed that the government would add some new charges on top of the single count of lying to federal officials, which had consituted the plea.

The new charges would almost certainly be obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Eight department members had already been convicted of those two charges, all with Anderson presiding at their trials, including the former under sheriff, Paul Tanaka, whom Anderson sentenced to five years in a federal prison.

(For more on the back story on the plea deal, and Anderson’s rejection of it, go here and here.)


“HISTORIC MOMENT”

After court adjourned on Monday afternoon, Lee Baca and his legal team, met with reporters on the steps of the federal courthouse, where the former sheriff addressed everyone briefly, and then read from a prepared statement.

“I want to first of all thank the thousands of people who I’ve come across since I retired,” Baca told those assembled, “people who have come to me on their own initiative to say how much I have done, and how much the sheriff’s department has done to make their communities safer,”

“Go to trial and die in jail!” hissed a heckler who suddenly turned up in the photo-journo mob, but who was quickly yanked out of the way,

“This is a very historic moment in my life, obviously,” Baca continued. Then he announced that he would read his statement, after which he would take no questions.

Baca’s prepared statement was as follows:

For the peace of my family, to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial, and to minimize the court drama associated with this case, several months ago I entered a guilty plea to the one charged filed against me.

“Be very clear—one charge!” Baca said with emphasis, breaking for a moment from the prepared script.

“I am withdrawing my guilty plea today and will seek a trial. I have made this decision due to the untruthful comments about my actions made by the Court, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, that are contradicted by the evidence in this case.

“While my future and my ability to defend myself depend on my Alzheimer’s disease I need to set the record straight about me and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on the misleading aspects of the Federal investigation..while I am capable of doing this.

“I want to thank my friends and family for encouraging me to stand up for what is right. My spirits are high and my love for all people is God’s gift to me…”

And with that, federal marshall’s escorted him to a friends vehicle that was waiting at the curb, and Baca was gone.


DIMINISHED CAPACITY?

Once Baca had been ushered away, his attorneys, Michael Zweiback, and a new addition to the team, Nathan Hochman, said that due to Baca’s “catastrophic illeness,” and the uncertainty of Judge Anderson’s sentencing intentions, they had to choice but to go to trial.

Zweiback also said their team didn’t believe the government could prove their case and, when asked if the trial wasn’t a big risk for the defense, Zweiback said that the prosecution has “the biggest risk” with its case. “They now have the burden of proof.”

Hochman when further. “I think the prosecution would like this to be an open and shut case,” he said. “But I think the prosecution is going to be a bit surprised.”

Zweiback and Hochman said that Baca’s illness will definitely come into the trial. For one thing they said, they have evidence that “the arc of the disease started” while Baca was still the sheriff.

When asked whether Baca’s health had impeded his ability to function as sheriff during the time in which the alleged obstruction occurred, Zweiback said, “Well, he was certainly delegating more responsibility in those days….”

And so the drama continues.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 19 Comments »

Baca Sentencing: Round 2 – Negotiations Fall Apart, Baca Is Going to Trial

August 1st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

UPDATE: When Lee Baca, his defense lawyers, and the prosecution team returned from recess at 1:30 p.m., Baca’s attorneys announced to Judge Percy Anderson that they would be withdrawing from the plea deal, and felt there was no choice but to go to trial. The trial for the former sheriff is now set to begin on September 20.

Details to follow.



SEARCHING FOR AGREEMENT

When former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca returned to the court of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, August 1, his attorneys made one last effort to save the plea deal that Anderson dynamited two weeks before at a previous hearing. If Baca walks away from the deal, then he will assuredly be indicted by the government and proceed to trial.

The defense team’s Hail Mary was the notion of what is called a “settlement judge,” a kind of outside mediator within the federal system who can help parties save plea deals that have become stuck.

But after a cluster of sidebars with the judge and the prosecution, plus a half-hour recess, there was no resolution, and the settlement judge idea in particular was deemed a non starter. (It turned out that the prosecution has its own rules on the matter that preclude it from joining in such a strategy.)

“All sides are trying” added Zweiback. “But right now there’s a good likelihood that we’re going to trial.”

The other wild card in the mix, said the attorney, is the fact that “Mr. Baca’s disease has progressed.” (But we’ll get to all that in a minute.)

Finally, around 10 a.m., Judge Anderson agreed to one more recess asking all the players to return to court after lunch at 1:30 p.m.


JUDICIAL CONCERNS

Anderson too appeared to want a resolution, but he also reportedly reiterated in the sidebars the concerns that caused him to reject Baca’s plea deal in the first place two weeks ago. Unlike more conventional plea deals, this particular federal deal has built constraints that allow only for a sentence within the range of 0 to 6 months in federal prison. Thus the deal precluded the judge from handing down a prison term of more than six months.

Those following the Baca sentencing saga may remember that, at the previous sentencing hearing on Monday, July 18, Anderson’s tone was flinty as he informed the former sheriff, along with attorneys for the prosecution and the defense, that a six-month sentence “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

But Anderson did not say what sentence would be acceptable to him, leaving the defense and prosecution with a guessing game as they tried negotiate with each other to craft a new and mutually acceptable deal that, most crucially, Judge Anderson would also accept.

Were it not for the constraints of the plea deal, under federal sentencing guidelines Anderson could sentence the former sheriff to as much as 5 years in a federal prison. Thus if the defense knew for sure that Anderson was leaning toward, say somewhere between one year and 18 months, rather than between three and five years, perhaps he and his attorneys would keep the deal in place and go ahead with sentencing, rather than taking a chance on a trial. Yet, if Anderson believed only the upper ranges were appropriate, then the trial option becomes more attractive.

On Monday, August 1, however, the judge explained that he felt he couldn’t legally tip his hand and let the defense know what kind of sentence he felt was fair, because it would be deemed an interference in the plea-making process according to Rule 11, of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure.


GO TO TRIAL, GET MORE CHARGES

To remind you how everyone arrived at this quandary, here—again—is the backstory: 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.

If all efforts fail to find a resolution to the plea deal standoff, then a trial becomes the only option. And that will mean additional charges, according to Zweiback, who said that the prosecutors had indicated that they would definitely add a charge of obstruction of justice and likely conspiracy to obstruct justice, the same two charges of which former LA County undersheriff Paul Tanaka was convicted. Anderson also presided over that trial, and sentenced Tanaka to five years in a federal prison. (Tanaka’s conviction has been appealed to the Ninth Circuit, thus he remains out of prison at this time)

Zweiback, a former assistant U.S. attorney has been with his client through the lengthy plea process.

On Monday, however, in advance of a possible trial, he was joined by a new team member, attorney Nathan Hochman, who was the Assistant Attorney General for the US Department of Justice’s Tax Division, and also served as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Criminal Division of the Central District of California.


BACA’S WORSENING HEALTH

As mentioned above, Monday’s negotiations have been further complicated by the fact that, according to his attorneys, Baca’s health has worsened. Specifically, Zweiback said, the former sheriff’s Alzheimer’s has progressed. “He had early stage Alzheimer’s,” the attorney told reporters. Now it has progressed to “normalized dementia”

When asked if Baca understood all that was going on in Monday’s hearing, Zweiback was firm. “He very much understands the significance of what is going on and has been intimately involved in every phase of this process.

“What my client wants is a degree of certainty.” said Zweiback. “He wants this very much to be over. He wants it to be over for his family. And he wants it to be over for the members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, especially—and for himself, to be able to move on.’

But to agree to a situation “where he has no idea what he’s walking into, said Zweiback, “he has no alternative but to fight for his life and go to trial.

Thus far, however, the certainty all parties appear to seek has been elusive.

Posted in LASD | 30 Comments »

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 | 14 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 | 18 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.

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