Wachdog Report: Sheriff Dept. Aiding ICE More Than It Lets On

October 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

While Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell assured the public that his department had scaled back its cooperation with federal immigration agents, ICE agents continued to use offices in county jails and jail personnel helped them access information, according to a watchdog agency report released Sunday.

Inspector General Max Huntsman said the relationship between the Sheriff’s Department and some communities was already strained when the Trump administration moved to ramp up immigration enforcement.

“It is critical that the department make maintaining trust a high priority,” stated the report released by the Office of Inspector General. “The public needs accurate and unbiased information … and the (department) needs the public’s confidence that law enforcement is always a source of that information.”

McDonnell’s department failed to meet that standard, the report concluded.

Despite LASD assurances that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement had vacated offices in county jails and computers hard-wired to federal databases had been removed, visiting OIG staffers found ICE agents working at the downtown Inmate Reception Center. In the same office long occupied by federal agents, there were five computers linked to federal databases along with an LASD computer which offered “a constant flow of information regarding prisoners who were soon to be released,” according to the OIG’s report.

LASD officials said the computers were reinstalled after ICE agents complained of poor internet connectivity on their laptops. The desktop computers were removed once again when the OIG shared its findings.

The department had also said it no longer shared information with ICE agents on inmates set for release, forcing federal officials to dig through public data to find what they wanted.

Pushing back against a Los Angeles Times story on the topic in July, the department took to Twitter, tweeting, “LASD does NOT provide release info to #ICE. Our public website has ALL inmate release dates. It’s up to #ICE to vet the data.”

Yet the OIG report found that jail personnel often passed along nonpublic information that made it easier for agents to know just when to pick up inmates.

Responding to Huntsman by letter, McDonnell said he agreed with the report’s findings.

“We prioritize maintaining and increasing public trust and always endeavor to provide the public with accurate information,” McDonnell said.

Seeking to clarify earlier statements, McDonnell said the department used to provide ICE agents with seven-day advance notice of inmates’ release and that practice was ended early this year. Beginning in February, information on inmate releases was made public and pending release dates were added to that public website in May.

“It would have been more accurate to state that we believed we were not providing ICE with more information than we were providing to the public,” the sheriff said.

McDonnell acknowledged that at some point jail personnel began sharing screenshots with additional nonpublic data with ICE agents. He said that flow of information has since been shut down.

The sheriff noted that the department restricts its cooperation with federal officials more than the law requires it to and highlighted outreach to immigrant communities to try and clarify policies and develop trust.

One measure of that trust is that the LASD has certified 90 percent of U-visa applications submitted by immigration rights advocates this year, even as the number of those applications has nearly doubled from two years earlier. U-visas are issued to victims of crime who cooperate with law enforcement officials prosecuting the crime.

Civil and immigrant rights activist, however, say they want more than just verbal assurances.

“The reports of acknowledged falsity in the Sheriff’s Department’s public statements about cooperation with ICE identify a serious breach of public trust,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of MALDEF (Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund), in reaction to the revelations.

According to Saenz, County officials should demand from the Sheriff a plan to rebuild trust. “At a minimum, that plan must include strong and verifiable efforts to break the apparently cozy relationship between Sheriff’s deputies and ICE agents,” Saenz said Tueday.

“Promises that practices have changed, without accountability and verifiability, will not suffice here.”

 

Baca Sentenced to 3 Years in Federal Prison

May 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced today to three years in prison and one year of supervised release for obstructing a federal probe into corruption in the jails, with a judge lashing out at the longtime lawman and calling him an embarrassment to the profession.

Baca, 74, was also ordered to pay a $7,500 fine.

Baca’s attorneys had asked that he serve only home detention, and they have vowed to appeal his conviction. His attorney filed papers this week urging that the ex-sheriff be allowed to remain free pending arguments before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, however, ordered Baca to surrender to begin serving his prison term on July 25.

(EGP photo archive)

(EGP photo archive)

Baca was convicted March 15 of obstruction of justice and two other federal charges for his role in the scheme to thwart the FBI probe into inmate mistreatment in the jails that he ran, and of lying to the FBI.

After about two days of deliberations, a criminal jury in downtown Los Angeles – the second to hear the case – found that Baca authorized and condoned a multi-part scheme that now has resulted in the conviction of 10 former members of the Sheriff’s Department.

During his two trials, prosecutors described Baca as being the top figure in the conspiracy, which also involved his former right-hand man, Paul Tanaka, and eight deputies who took orders from the sheriff.

Baca showed no emotion as Anderson handed down the sentence. At one point, he nodded at his wife, but Baca did not speak during the hearing.

Prosecutors had asked for a two-year prison term, noting that they would ordinarily seek about four years, but took into account Baca’s age and diagnosis of being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. During the sentencing hearing, however, Anderson lashed out at Baca and said if it hadn’t
been for the ex-lawman’s health, Baca would have received the same five-year term given to his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka.

Anderson told Baca his Alzheimer’s diagnosis is not a “get-out-of-jail-free card.”

The judge referred to the “lasting damage you caused our community and the sheriff’s department,” saying Baca’s actions were taken “to burnish your legacy – all at the expense of the public’s trust.”

“Your loyalty was perverted,” the judge said, adding, “Your actions embarrass the thousands of men and women who put their lives on the line every day.”

Speaking to reporters outside court, Baca thanked his wife, his attorneys and “the people of Los Angeles County,” saying he has continued to hear words of support from the public.

“I would like to say that for me, it was an honor to serve the county of Los Angeles for over 48 years,” he said.

Baca did not specifically address comments made by Anderson, but said he was honored “to see the performance of such wonderful people that are deputy sheriff’s in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

“I’m grateful for their willingness to sacrifice many, many hours without pay to continue to do their jobs,” Baca said, adding that he has been “a blessed person.”

In a pre-sentencing memorandum, prosecutors wrote that in helping derail the FBI probe, Baca “abused the great power the citizens of Los Angeles County had given him,” while false statements made during a sworn interview with investigators was a “deliberate attempt to deflect blame and place it entirely on the shoulders of others within his department,” the prosecution wrote in pre-sentencing documents.

In its papers requesting a probationary term in home detention with community service, the defense cited Baca’s decades of public service, diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease and “peripheral” role in the wide-ranging conspiracy.

Attorney Nathan Hochman asked the judge to consider “an individual with one of this country’s most exceptional public service careers spanning over almost 50 years, an individual who suffers from the incurable and rapidly progressing and debilitating mental health disease of Alzheimer’s, and an
individual for whom prison will not allow him to obtain medical care in the most effective manner and will subject him to especially harsh treatment due to his medical condition as well to his age and former position as LASD Sheriff.”

Hochman spoke for nearly an hour during the sentencing hearing, asking that his client be spared prison time. But his request was sternly rejected.

Baca – who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for more than 15 years – was first tried in December on obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice counts, and prosecutors had planned a second trial on the false statements count. But a mistrial was declared after jurors
deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, and Anderson combined all three counts in the retrial. Baca did not take the stand in either trial.

The charges stemmed from events six years ago when a cellphone was discovered in the hands of an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail. Sheriff’s deputies quickly tied the phone to the FBI, which had been conducting a secret probe of brutality against inmates.

At that point, sheriff’s officials closed ranks and began an attempt to halt the formerly covert investigation by concealing an inmate-turned-informant from federal prosecutors, who had issued a summons for his grand jury appearance.

In a final statement of defiance – and a pointed criticism of the FBI’s smuggling of a phone to the jailhouse informant – Baca told reporters outside court Friday, “I will never accept a cell phone in a county jail given to a career criminal. I don’t care who puts it in.”

The charges involved a host of illegal acts, including a 2011 incident in which two sheriff’s investigators confronted an FBI agent in the driveway leading to her apartment and falsely told her they were in the process of obtaining a warrant for her arrest. Baca denied having advance knowledge of the illicit attempt to intimidate the federal agent.

Prior to the first trial, Baca had pleaded guilty to the lying count, but subsequently backed out of a plea deal – which called for him to serve no more than six months in prison – after the judge rejected the agreement as too lenient. If Baca had not withdrawn from the plea, he could have been handed a
sentence of five years behind bars. He was then indicted on the three felony counts for which he was subsequently convicted.

Prosecutors described the defendant as “a study in contrasts. He championed certain reforms in the criminal justice system, yet ignored warnings that his deputies were committing serious abuses in the Los Angeles County jails. He touted his close relationship with federal officials, yet was angry
that the federal government was investigating his department. He recited the LASD’s ‘Core Values’ – which emphasize honor and integrity – during the same interview in which he lied to the federal government.”

While physically fit and able to function in his daily life, prosecutors wrote, Baca now faces “an uncertain prognosis for how quickly his mild cognitive impairment will advance.”

In his argument for a non-custodial sentence, Hochman wrote that Baca’s condition would be best treated outside of prison.

Baca became sheriff in December 1998 and won re-election on several occasions. He was poised to run again in 2014, but federal indictments unsealed in December 2013, related to excessive force in the jails and obstruction of that investigation, led Baca to retire the following month.

In his request that Baca remain free pending appeal, Hochman argued that he is not likely to flee and poses no danger to the community.

The defense attorney further wrote that his appeal is justified because the court erred in barring jurors from hearing evidence of Baca’s “cooperation” with both the federal probe and an independent county review board, and that the panel should have heard about the ex-sheriff’s Alzheimer’s
diagnosis.

Hochman also claimed the jury should have been allowed to consider evidence of improvements Baca made in the training of jail guards to de-escalate problems and successfully deal with violent and/or mentally ill inmates. Baca was not charged with any instances of jail brutality.

Disminuyen Denuncias de Ataques Sexuales en Los Ángeles

April 6, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Una disminución del número de denuncias de crímenes sexuales en Los Ángeles ha puesto en evidencia el miedo de los indocumentados a ser deportados y las diferentes posturas de los cuerpos policiales respecto a cómo aplicar las normas de inmigración y si deben existir los “santuarios”.

Mientras el jefe de la policía de la ciudad, Charly Beck, ha dejado claro que sus agentes no están interesados en la condición migratoria de los residentes de la ciudad, el jefe de alguaciles del condado de Los Ángeles (LASD), Jim McDonnell, apoya abiertamente el colaborar con las autoridades federales de inmigración.

“El LAPD depende de la confianza de los residentes de Los Ángeles. Documentados o indocumentados hoy nos comprometemos a estar con ustedes”, aseguró Beck en su cuenta de Twitter.

Beck se pronunció de esa manera después de haber atribuido una baja en el número de denuncias de crímenes sexuales a que la comunidad indocumentada teme acudir a las autoridades por miedo a las deportaciones.

Según las estadísticas del LAPD, entre el 1 de enero y el 18 de marzo hubo 123 reportes de víctimas de asaltos sexuales, comparados con 164 en el mismo período de 2016, lo que significa una “inusual” disminución del 25%, en palabras de Beck.

El jefe policial opinó que se debe atribuir al “temor de la comunidad indocumentada a denunciar” este tipo de delitos, pues aunque también hubo una disminución en los reportes de víctimas no latinas de ataques sexuales, sólo fue del 3%, destaca el informe.

Las críticas al jefe de la policía de Los Ángeles por atribuir la disminución de denuncias exclusivamente a las acciones de inmigración no se han hecho esperar.

Para Dan Cadman, analista del Centro para Estudios de Inmigración, organización que se opone a la inmigración ilegal, no se puede descartar que la disminución de denuncias esté directamente ligada con la reducción de delitos.

“Entonces está la cuestión, ¿por qué sólo ese pequeño subconjunto de crímenes se vio afectado? Para plantear una verdadera causa y efecto, ¿este temor a las remociones, que supuestamente da lugar a no denunciar crímenes, no se extendería a toda la gama de delitos?”, cuestionó Cadman en un comentario enviado a Efe.

“¿Qué pasa con los asaltos físicos y los ataques no sexuales? ¿Qué hay de los robos a los vehículos o del robo de autos? ¿También se ha informado de que todos han caído entre los latinos? No lo sabemos”, argumentó el analista.

El reporte de los alguaciles del condado de Los Ángeles sobre delitos violentos en ese mismo periodo mostró que los homicidios disminuyeron un 1.8%, los robos aumentaron un 1% y los ataques graves se redujeron un 3.8%.

En referencia a los delitos contra la propiedad, el robo de vehículos aumentó un 7.6% y el hurto de objetos dentro de los autos se elevó en un 5.1%, mientras los robos a las personas disminuyeron un 6.9%.

McDonnell, el jefe de los alguaciles del condado, defendió la necesidad de colaborar con las autoridades federales de inmigración y criticó la propuesta legislativa SB54 que convertiría a California en un “estado santuario”.

“La SB54 prohíbe que mi agencia responda a las solicitudes federales de notificación cuando una de mis instalaciones carcelarias aloje a alguien acusado de un delito que podría ser sujeto de una acción de inmigración”, expresó McDonnell en una comunicación obtenida por Efe.

Guadalupe Mejía, directora de servicios de emergencia y voluntariado de Paz sobre Violencia, una organización que trabaja para eliminar la violencia doméstica y sexual, está de acuerdo con Beck en que la confianza en las autoridades es muy importante.

“Las personas que han sufrido abuso necesitan quién las escuche y quién las apoye y las proteja. Ellas deben saber que no están solas”, señaló Mejía.

Las autoridades de inmigración, por su parte, aseguran que están haciendo su trabajo e insisten en la importancia de que las autoridades locales colaboren en el esfuerzo.

“La mayor amenaza para la seguridad pública es la continua falta de voluntad de las autoridades locales para cumplir con los requerimientos de detención de inmigración”, declaró Virginia Kice, portavoz para la Región Oeste del Servicio de Inmigración y Control de Aduanas (ICE).

Paralelamente legisladores y funcionarios electos de California se preparan para enfrentar posibles recortes en la ayuda federal por su posición de “jurisdicciones santuario”.

“La amenaza de la Administración para retener fondos federales es equivocada e inconstitucional”, dijo el alcalde de San Francisco, Ed Lee, al reaccionar este lunes a la petición del Fiscal General de la nación, Jeff Sessions, para que los estados y jurisdicciones locales cumplan con las leyes federales de inmigración.

Lee Baca Corruption Trial Ends in Mistrial as Jurors Deadlock

December 23, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

With jurors saying they were hopelessly deadlocked, a judge declared a mistrial last week in the federal corruption trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, saying the possibility of “coercion” played a role in his decision.

The mistrial came on the fourth day of deliberations by the six-man, six-woman jury in downtown Los Angeles. Earlier in the day, attorneys in the case had a nearly hour-long series of private, sidebar discussions with the judge that at times included one of the jurors and Baca.

At the time, there was no public announcement of what the discussions entailed, despite objections from some members of the media in the courtroom audience.

The jury went back into the deliberations room around 2 p.m., and within 30 minutes, they sent a note to U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, who brought the panel into court. Jurors then announced they were hopelessly deadlocked. Anderson asked the panel if additional deliberations might break

the logjam, but jurors unanimously indicated that further discussions would be fruitless.

Anderson declared the panel “hopelessly deadlocked” and dismissed the jury. The judge suggested that the “complexity” of the case, particularly difficulty grasping the concept of “intent,” played a role in the jury’s inability to reach a decision. He said he also considered possibly effects of

exhaustion.

Without elaborating, Anderson added, “I’ve considered the possible effect of coercion — there was a manifest necessity to declare a mistrial in this case. … I believe the ends of the public are served by declaring a mistrial.”

One juror told reporters the panel was split 11-1 — in favor of acquittal.

The jury deliberated for a total of about 24 hours over the course of four days, following roughly two weeks of testimony.

Prosecutors will have to decide whether to seek a retrial on the charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Representatives for the U.S. Attorney’s Office declined to immediately comment.

Anderson scheduled another hearing in the case for Jan. 10.

Outside the courthouse, Baca said he felt “great.”

“The nature of this jury’s intense scrutiny of the whole facts in the case was extraordinary,” Baca said.

He thanked jurors for their service, saying, “This is what America thrives on — is jurors that really care.” He added that the jurors took the case “extraordinarily to heart.”

Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, said prosecutors tried to tarnish Baca’s reputation, but “thankfully 11 out of 12 jurors found that argument came up short.”

One juror said she couldn’t find a “smoking gun” proving Baca’s guilt.

“That’s what we kept on looking for was the actual axe to fall on Baca,” she said. “Even when I was taking notes I kept … looking for Baca’s name and trying to link it to guilt, and could not come to that conclusion.”

Another juror added, “I don’t feel there was any evidence that showed that Mr. Baca was guilty. Unfortunately we were unable to set that in stone and we were a hung jury.”

Baca is accused of conspiring to commit, and committing, obstruction of justice from August to September 2011, partly stemming from the incident in which two sheriff’s investigators confronted the FBI agent in the driveway leading into her apartment and falsely told her that they were in the process

of obtaining a warrant for her arrest.

The charges against Baca focus on a period of time five years ago when sheriff’s deputies based at the Men’s Central Jail stumbled upon the FBI’s secret probe of alleged civil rights abuses and unjustified beatings of inmates within jail walls.

After guards discovered that inmate Anthony Brown was secretly working as an FBI informant, they booked him under false names and moved him to different locations in order to keep him hidden from federal investigators who wanted to use him as a federal grand jury witness.

Prosecutors contend Baca so resented the federal government’s secret jails probe that he attempted to force the FBI to back down by illegally having deputies confront the agent. The prosecution also alleges that Baca ignored years of complaints about excessive force used illegally against jail inmates

in county facilities managed by the Sheriff’s Department.

Baca, 74, also faces a third count — making false statements to federal investigators in April 2013, which will be the subject of a second trial.

Prosecutors contend Baca lied to the FBI about his knowledge of department efforts to subvert a federal probe into corruption and inmate abuse in the jail

system.

The judge split the trial into two parts after he agreed to allow testimony by an expert on dementia — but only as it relates to the false-statements charge. Anderson agreed to hold a separate trial on those counts so the jury could hear the medical testimony. Baca is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

In closing arguments in the trial, a prosecutor told jurors that Baca “authorized and condoned” the conspiracy, but the defense threw blame on Baca’s former second-in-command.

In his summation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the six-man, six-woman panel that during Baca’s years as sheriff, he “abused the power given to him by the people of Los Angeles County” by ignoring evidence of brutality against jail inmates and working to ensure “dirty deputies” were

not brought to justice.

“He wanted to ensure that no outside law enforcement would police the jails,” Fox said.

Jurors also heard accusations from the prosecution that the retired lawman was the “heartbeat” of the sheriff department’s illicit response to the federal grand jury probe. Hochman countered that it was former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka who was to blame for the department’s actions.

The then-sheriff “was not the driving force,” Hochman said, telling jurors that Baca had no idea that Tanaka was running things. Tanaka was sentenced to five years in prison and is expected to begin serving his time next month.

Hochman told the jury that the government had “completely failed” to prove its case and had included graphic testimony of jail violence “to poison your mind” against his client.

Baca retired in 2014 at the height of the federal probe. He had been sheriff since December 1998.

 

Jury Deliberations Continue in Case Against Ex-Sheriff

December 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Jurors continued deliberating Wednesday in the federal corruption trial of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who is accused of authorizing a conspiracy to thwart a federal probe into civil rights abuses in Los Angeles County’s jail system.

The panel ended its first full day of deliberations Tuesday without reaching a verdict, but jurors heard a read-back of some trial testimony and watched a prosecution videotape. The short videotape of two sheriff’s sergeants confronting an FBI agent at her home and threatening her with arrest was played for the jurors in open court.

The jury also heard a read-back of the testimony of former Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Faturechi, who told of an article he wrote based on an interview with Baca. Just before hearing the reporter’s testimony, the jury submitted a note asking, essentially, if it was illegal for the sheriff’s department to approach the FBI agent.

The judge answered that, essentially, it was up to the panel to determine if the approach of the agent was part of a lawful investigation or whether it was intended to obstruct justice. The jury later canceled its request to re-hear other witness testimony.

After hearing closing arguments Monday, the jury at the new federal courthouse in downtown Los Angeles spent a couple of hours in discussions before going home for the day.

baca

Baca is accused of conspiring to commit, and committing, obstruction of justice from August to September 2011. The conspiracy count carries a maximum penalty of five years in federal prison. The obstruction count carries a maximum of 10 years.

Baca faces a third count of making false statements to federal investigators in April 2013, which will be the subject of a second trial. That charge carries a maximum possible penalty of five years in federal prison.

Prosecutors contend Baca lied to the FBI about his knowledge of department efforts to subvert a federal probe into corruption and inmate abuse in the jail system.

In closing arguments, a prosecutor told jurors that Baca “authorized and condoned” the conspiracy, but the defense threw blame on Baca’s former second-in-command.

In his summation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the six-man, six-woman panel that during Baca’s 16 years as sheriff, he “abused the power given to him by the people of Los Angeles County’’ by ignoring evidence of brutality against jail inmates and working to ensure “dirty deputies’’ were not brought to justice.

“He wanted to ensure that no outside law enforcement would police the jails,” Fox said.

During nearly two weeks of trial, jurors heard accusations that the retired lawman was the “heartbeat” of the sheriff department’s response to the federal grand jury probe. Defense attorney Nathan Hochman countered that it was former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka who was to blame for the department’s actions.

The then-sheriff “was not the driving force,” Hochman said, telling jurors that Baca had no idea that Tanaka was running things. Tanaka was sentenced to five years in prison and is expected to begin serving his time next month.

Hochman told the jury that the government had “completely failed” to prove its case and had included graphic testimony of jail violence “to poison your mind” against his client.

Baca, 74, listened intently, an impassive expression on his face during about four hours of attorneys’ summations.

Prosecutors rested their case on Thursday, and the defense called a parade of witnesses Friday – including former district attorneys Ira Reiner and Steve Cooley – to speak on his behalf. Baca was not called to the stand.

The judge split the trial into two parts after he agreed to allow testimony by an expert on dementia – but only as it relates to the false-statements charge. Anderson agreed to hold a separate trial on those counts so the jury could hear the medical testimony. Baca is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

The charges against Baca focus on a period of time five years ago when sheriff’s deputies based at the Men’s Central Jail stumbled upon the FBI’s secret probe of alleged civil rights abuses and unjustified beatings of inmates within jail walls.

After guards discovered that inmate Anthony Brown was secretly working as an FBI informant, they booked him under false names and moved him to different locations in order to keep him hidden from federal investigators.

They also went to the home of an FBI agent and threatened her with arrest.

Leah Tanner, the case agent on the FBI’s civil rights investigation into excessive force and corruption among jail deputies, testified that on Sept. 26, 2011, two sheriff’s investigators confronted her in the driveway leading into her apartment and told her that they were in the process of obtaining a warrant for her arrest.

Prosecutors contend Baca so resented the federal government’s probe that he attempted to force the FBI to back down by illegally having deputies confront Tanner.

 

Lee Baca Corruption Trial Begins

December 8, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was the “heartbeat” of an internal conspiracy to thwart a federal probe into abuses in the jail system, a prosecutor told jurors Wednesday at the onset of Baca’s corruption trial, but a defense attorney threw blame squarely on the ex-lawman’s former second-in-command.

In a roughly hour-long opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the six-man, six-woman jury that county residents had “entrusted (Baca) with an important power … to bring to light any criminal acts.”

“When it was his department, Mr. Baca abused that power,” Fox said, adding that the then-sheriff tried to “sweep (the abuse of power) under the rug.”

Baca is accused of conspiring to commit and committing obstruction of justice from August to September 2011. He will be tried separately at a later date on charges of making false statements to the federal government in April 2013. Prosecutors contend Baca lied to the FBI about his knowledge of

department efforts to subvert a federal probe into corruption and inmate abuse in the jail system.

Fox said he will present jurors with “an overwhelming amount of evidence” to show that Baca was “the heartbeat, the leader of that conspiracy.”

Defense attorney Nathan Hochman countered that it was former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka who was largely to blame for the department’s actions to subvert the FBI probe. He called Tanaka a “man with his own agenda.”

“You will hear that when Baca found out (about the jails probe), he was open, transparent and direct,” Hochman said. “The FBI was his brother in arms.”

Hochman spent a large portion of his opening statement recapping Baca’s nearly half-century career with the sheriff’s department, which operates the jail system. He said prosecutors “will fail” in their effort to prove that Baca was the ringleader of the conspiracy to obstruct justice.

The first prosecution witness was a jail chaplain who told the jury that seven years ago he witnessed LASD deputies stomp a handcuffed, unresisting inmate into unconsciousness. Prosecutors hope to show jurors the sort of incident that helped spark the federal probe.

Paulino Juarez – who has worked at Men’s Central Jail since 1998 providing spiritual support to prisoners – testified that he watched unseen on the morning of Feb. 11, 2009, as deputies beat the inmate senseless, leaving the man in a puddle of blood.

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is accused of conspiring to commit and committing obstruction of justice from August to September 2011. (EGP Photo archive)

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is accused of conspiring to commit and committing obstruction of justice from August to September 2011. (EGP Photo archive)

The Catholic minister gave the same testimony in January at the trial of two former jail guards who were subsequently convicted of violating the civil rights of the inmate and then writing false use-of-force reports to cover up their actions.

Juarez said he saw the inmate, his back against the wall, and three deputies in front of him, punching him. Juarez told the panel that he never saw the inmate putting up any resistance.

The chaplain filed a report at the time and was interviewed by LASD investigators. In the weeks after he filed his complaint, he said, passing deputies would swear at him and call him names.

After hearing nothing for two years, Juarez reached out to the department and was granted a meeting with then-sheriff Baca. The sheriff, Juarez said, told him he had never heard about the incident.

“This happened two years ago and I’m only finding out about it now?” Baca asked his staff, according to the chaplain.

Baca looked over the file, and told the chaplain his investigators had determined that the inmate was schizophrenic. Juarez said Baca told him that deputies had to punch the inmate a couple of times to get him into the cell.

Mark Rosenbaum, a civil rights attorney who spent more than four decades with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, was called to the stand to tell the panel that the sheriff’s department mostly stonewalled decades of litigation over abuses within the county jail system.

The ACLU, he said, has been attempting to improve jail conditions for more than 30 years with little improvement. He said he has never had a “full, open, candid” discussion with Baca about the situation.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson split the trial into two parts after he agreed to allow testimony by an expert on dementia – but only as it relates to the charges of making false statements. Anderson agreed to hold a separate trial on those counts, so Baca – who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s

disease – is bring tried first on conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges, saying the former sheriff’s mental state is not relevant to those counts. The conspiracy and obstruction charges carry a possible prison sentence of up to 15 years.

A second jury will be selected at a later date to hear testimony on the false statements count, which carries a possible sentence of up to five years in prison.

The charges focus on a six-week period in August and September of 2011 when sheriff’s deputies based at Men’s Central Jail stumbled upon the FBI’s secret probe of alleged civil rights abuses and unjustified beatings of inmates within jail walls.

After guards discovered that inmate Anthony Brown was an FBI informant, they booked him under false names and moved him to different locations in order to keep him hidden from federal investigators. They also went to the home of an FBI agent in charge of the investigation and threatened her with arrest.

Baca – who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for 16 years – claims he knew nothing of the plan to impede the jails probe and that Tanaka was in charge of the operation. Ten ex-sheriff’s officials – including Tanaka – have been convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the obstruction

case, and 10 others have been convicted of various charges connected to the overall federal probe.

Tanaka, who alleges that Baca initiated the plan, was sentenced to five years in prison but is free pending appeal.

Baca, 74, previously backed out of a plea deal on the lying count – which called for him to serve no more than six months in prison – after the judge rejected the agreement as too lenient. If Baca had not withdrawn from the plea, he could have been handed a sentence of five years behind bars. He was subsequently indicted on the three felony counts he now faces.

Although Baca admitted in court to lying to investigators, that and other previous admissions cannot be used against him in the current case.

Baca retired in 2014 at the height of the federal probe. He had been sheriff since December 1998.

A federal appellate panel upheld the convictions of seven former sheriff’s department officials convicted in the conspiracy.

Both sides stipulate that Baca is competent to stand trial.

The trial – which resumes Thursday – is expected to last two to three weeks.

L.A. County Establish Civilian Oversight of Sheriff’s Department

November 3, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday formally established a civilian panel to oversee the Sheriff’s Department, appointing nine commissioners and an executive director.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, an early champion of public oversight, said creating the Civilian Oversight Commission is “one more step in the movement for reform, a very important step” that has been years in the making.

The Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence issued its final report more than four years ago and the board voted to establish a permanent civilian oversight panel in December 2014. Earlier efforts toward such a panel failed to pass until Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis joined the board.

Mark-Anthony Johnson of the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence voiced concerns about the composition of the commission, including the fact that some members previously worked in law enforcement.

The choices “(raise) concerns about how far we will go” to bring the community to the table, Johnson said, telling the board his coalition was “celebratory today, but also with a clear eye and a sober eye.”

Ridley-Thomas hailed the “stellar group of individuals” who are “diverse” by way of gender, discipline, age and geography, while some activists said it does not include enough people of color.

The Los Angeles Times editorial board noted that the board includes only one Latino commissioner, Hernan Vera, and no Asian members.

“The commissioners-to-be are impressive and capable, but taken together the panel perpetuates the county’s continuing failure to give adequate voice to crucial portions of the population directly affected by law enforcement, crime, incarceration and lack of mental health and reentry services,” according to an LAT editorial published Tuesday.

In addition to Vera, former Public Counsel CEO, the panel includes:

– Robert Bonner, a former prosecutor and judge who also served on the CCJV;

– pastor Xavier Thompson, president of the Baptists Ministers Conference;

– former Deputy District Attorney Lael Rubin;

– Sean Kennedy, former federal public defender and director of Loyola Law School’s Center for Juvenile Law and Policy;

– Priscilla Ocen, associate professor at Loyola Law School;

– Rabbi Heather Miller;

– Patti Giggans, executive director of Peace Over Violence, which works to prevent domestic and sexual violence; and

– J.P. Harris, a former LASD lieutenant.

Johnson praised the inclusion of Ocen and Miller.

The board also formally appointed the commission’s executive director, Brian Williams, who served as deputy mayor for transportation in James Hahn’s administration. His resume also includes a stint as the chief law enforcement liaison for the City Attorney’s Office, and he was formerly in private practice as a criminal defense and civil rights lawyer.

Williams will be a paid county employee at a salary of $190,284. The commissioners are not employees, but will receive a “reasonable monetary allowance” of up to $5,000 per meeting.

Williams told the board he hoped to see the Sheriff’s Department become a model law enforcement agency.

That may also take time, according to Inspector General Max Huntsman.

Since 2012, when Sheriff Lee Baca was still in office, there has been “a steady increase in the amount of violence in jails,” Huntsman told the board. That includes inmate-versus-inmate violence, where the increase has been most dramatic, as well as attacks on staff by prisoners.

Sheriff’s officials have largely attributed increases in the use of force against inmates to greater reporting of incidents in an environment of reform. Huntsman noted that despite increases, the use of force was typically less extreme.

“Very few of them result in injuries, so we’re talking about low-level force,” Huntsman said.

Deputy-involved shootings are down roughly 25 percent since the changeover in senior level management at the LASD, the inspector general said. Between 2010 and 2013, there were an average of 43 such shootings per year. In 2014, there were 33, in 2015 there were 34 and there have been 21 shootings through Sept. 30, with 19 hitting someone and 11 people killed.

The inspector general said he had been granted exceptional access to records and information by the sheriff’s department in investigating those shootings and other matters and downplayed the fact that the Civilian Oversight Commission will not have subpoena power.

“Subpoena power… would not get you past the various confidentiality requirements” imposed by law, Huntsman said.

Civil rights advocates have long argued for subpoena power, though the board does not have the authority to grant it without changing its charter and pushing for legislative changes at the state level.

Kuehl urged the commission to “demand information, demand the truth,” and to err on the side of disclosure when it comes to bringing matters to the attention of the board, adding, “Tell us, we need to know.”

The board’s vote was unanimous.

Following the vote, Sheriff Jim McDonnell issued a statement, counting himself among the early and vocal supporters of an oversight commission.

“The Board of Supervisors’ commitment to the advisory panel is a vote of confidence in the work already underway,” McDonnell said. “Los Angeles County elected us to lead, and together we shall. However, the burden is ours to demonstrate collaboration, willingness to learn and to not succumb to divisiveness. We start with a partnership built on trust, but a trust that must be earned every day.”

Judge Orders Mental Exam for Lee Baca

September 1, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

A federal judge has ordered a psychological examination of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to determine if he suffers from any mental impairment that would prevent him from understanding the corruption charges against him or assisting in his own defense, according to court papers obtained Monday.

In his order for a Nov. 21 hearing, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson ruled that a mental competency exam — conducted by a licensed, court-approved doctor — must take place no later than Sept. 30, followed by the preparation of a report describing whether Baca is suffering from a mental issue and, if so, its history, current symptoms and diagnosis or prognosis.

The tests should signal whether Baca is “mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense,” Anderson wrote in the Friday order.

In a separate court filing last week, government prosecutors asked Anderson to determine whether Baca is fit to stand trial. The motion came after Baca’s attorney indicated he would employ a “mental defect” defense based on a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox wrote that while he believes Baca is competent, he wants a definitive ruling to alleviate any doubt prior to the December trial.

Baca is charged with conspiring to obstruct justice, obstructing justice and lying to the federal government, stemming from his alleged response in 2011 to a covert FBI investigation into corruption and brutality by guards at Men’s Central Jail.

Defense attorney Nathan Hochman says the 74-year-old ex-lawman is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and was impaired by the illness at the time of the charged offenses five years ago.

Hochman told the judge last week he planned to introduce evidence of a mental defect long plaguing his client. Anderson responded: “You mean to say people who suffer from Alzheimer’s don’t know right from wrong?”

Hochman also said he may make an attempt to have the trial moved out of Los Angeles County, asserting that widespread publicity tainted the jury pool.

In addition, the attorney said Baca’s earlier guilty plea — which was withdrawn — to a false statements charge was a “unique fact” that was also widely publicized to the detriment of his client.

At his Aug. 12 arraignment, Baca told Anderson he suffered from periods of “cloudiness in my brain” due to Alzheimer’s disease, but the judge found him capable of entering a plea.

The ex-sheriff backed out of the earlier plea deal on the lying count, which called for Baca to serve no more than six months in prison, after Anderson rejected the agreement as too lenient. If Baca had not withdrawn from the plea, he could have been sentenced to up to five years behind bars.

He was subsequently indicted on the new charges, and he could face up to 20 years in federal prison if convicted of all counts, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Although Baca admitted in court to lying to investigators, that and other previous admissions cannot be used against him in the current case.

Baca — who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for 16 years — is accused of participating in a wide-ranging conspiracy to derail the FBI’s probe of corruption and brutality in county jails.

After jail guards discovered that an inmate, Anthony Brown, was an FBI informant, they booked him under false names and moved him to different locations in order to keep him hidden from federal investigators. They also went to the home of an FBI agent and threatened her with arrest.

Baca claims he knew nothing of the plan and that his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, was in charge of the sheriff department’s response.

Ten ex-sheriff’s officials — including Tanaka — have been convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the obstruction case.

Tanaka, who alleges his former boss ordered the response to the discovery of the jails probe, was sentenced by Anderson to five years in prison, but is free until Oct. 3 pending appeal.

Baca had initially pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to investigators about his knowledge of the plan to threaten the FBI agent. That false statements count is one of the three counts Baca is now facing.

Baca retired in 2014 at the height of the federal probe. He had been sheriff since December 1998.
A federal appellate panel recently upheld the convictions of seven former sheriff’s department officials convicted in the conspiracy.

Former Sheriff Lee Baca Indicted, Facing 20 Years in Federal Prison

August 5, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Four days after he withdrew from a plea agreement with federal prosecutors, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was indicted Friday on charges of conspiring to obstruct justice, obstructing justice  and lying to the federal government.

If convicted of all charges, Baca – who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease – could face up to 20 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

On Monday, Baca backed out of a plea deal he reached with prosecutors earlier this year. The deal had called for Baca, 74, to serve no more than six months behind bars on a single count of lying to the FBI, but U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson balked at the plea agreement, saying the sentence was too lenient considering the retired lawman’s role in obstructing an FBI investigation into Los Angeles County jails.

Rather than face a sentence of up to five years in prison, Baca opted to withdraw his guilty plea – opening him up to a more wide-ranging indictment.

“I made this decision due to untruthful comments about my actions made by the court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that are contradicted by evidence in this case,” Baca said. “While my future and my ability to defend myself depends on my Alzheimer’s disease, I need to set the record straight about me and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on misleading aspects of the federal investigation while I’m 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.”

The indictment handed up Friday by a federal grand jury charges Baca with single counts of conspiracy to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

An arraignment date on the new indictment has not yet been set.

Coming Together at National Night Out

August 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Dozens of block parties were held across the Southland Tuesday night, drawing thousands of residents to join with local police officers, sheriff’s deputies and elected officials as part of the annual National Night Out crime-prevention event.

As many as 38 million people across the country were expected to take part in National Night Out activities, which annually takes place on the first Tuesday in August. Chief among its goals is to promote a partnership between the police and the community, which this year has been under greater strain due to some controversial police-involved-shootings and the ambush-style deadly assaults on police officers in recent weeks.

In Boyle Heights, the National Night observance included a peace march denouncing crime and violence.

LAPD National Night Out Santiago

(Office of Assemblymember Miguel Santiago)

Some cities, like Commerce, hosted BBQ-style block parties while other cities like Bell Gardens and Montebello held larger events at local parks that featured demonstrations from K-9 units, information booths and displays of public safety vehicles, to the delight of many children.

Started in 1984, National Night Out is billed as “America’s night out against crime.” It is sponsored by the National Association of Town Watch and co-sponsored by local municipalities and law enforcement agencies nationwide.

(City of Bell Gardens)

(City of Bell Gardens)

The event initially began as a call for people to hold small public gatherings in a take-back-the-streets show of community pride.

Over the years, the event has grown to include block parties, parades, movie screenings and picnics.

(City of Commerce)

(City of Commerce)

During the event, residents are encouraged to lock their doors, turn on their front house lights and join with neighbors, law enforcement and Neighborhood Watch leaders at local neighborhood events. Activities vary by event but generally include free food, police and fire displays, live entertainment and a chance to interact with city officials and local police officers.

Information from City news Service used in this report.

 

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