Plan to Station Deputies in Commerce Gets Initial Look

April 27, 2017 by · 2 Comments 

When a 9-1-1 call goes out in Commerce, deputies assigned to the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s station respond with lights flashing and sirens blaring as they cut through traffic to reach crime victims and arrest the bad guys.

Commerce pays the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department $7.5 million a year to protect its residents and businesses, but worries precious response time is being lost because deputies are stationed outside the city.

As a result, Commerce officials are now reviewing a plan that could lead to a Sheriff’s substation being built within city borders.

Interim City Administrator Matt Rodriguez says Commerce would be better served with its own Sherriff’s station, specifically on the corner of Telegraph Road and Washington Boulevard. He told EGP it would cut down the time it now takes cruisers to travel down Atlantic Boulevard, the congested corridor that connects East Los Angeles and Commerce.

Mayor Ivan Altamirano agrees. “This is a critical step for public safety,” he said in response to the proposal.

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies at a school in Commerce. (City of Commerce)

Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputies at a school in Commerce. (City of Commerce)

Commerce has contracted with the Sheriff’s department since 1962 and benefits from a number of department resources, like helicopters, high-tech equipment, special enforcement teams and homicide detectives, all of which would be financially unattainable if the city ran it’s own police department.

Nonetheless, Rodriguez estimates the city is losing $1.5 million a year in service due to the longer time it takes the Sherriff’s department to respond to calls coming from Commerce. Rodriguez estimates each deputy loses an hour and a half of each shift to travel time.

“Having our deputy sheriffs deployed out of Commerce will provide better service to our residents,” he says, adding a new station would also improve response times for neighboring Cudahy and Maywood, which also contract with the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services.

While 27 deputies currently patrol the city, only four are “city cops,” meaning they focus on community-related issues, according to Rodriguez. Two additional deputies are stationed at the Citadel Outlets and a sergeant was recently hired to oversee deputies assigned to Commerce, a move that is expected to cost the city an additional half million dollars a year.

During a presentation last week to the city council on Commerce’s preliminary budget forecast, Finance Director Vilko Domic recommended the city allocate about $2.25 million from the anticipated sale of two city-owned properties to purchase land for the proposed substation.

Like most cities across the state, Commerce is being forced to sell off property once owned by its now-defunct redevelopment agency (RDA).

The 10-acre property where the station is being proposed is an RDA-owned property being sold to a joint venture that includes The Commerce Casino and The Citadel Outlets.

Under the plan, the city would purchase 2.5-acres of the property to lease to the Sheriff’s department, while the cost of building of the facility and its ongoing maintenance would be covered by the new property owners, according to Rodriguez.

“This would be a public-private partnership,” explained Rodriguez, who also serves as the city’s public safety director.

While he assures current response times are within the thresholds required under the city contract with the Sheriff’s, he believes building a station in Commerce could only improve service and public safety.

Not only in terms of response time, but also “visibility,” Rodriguez said.

Although Commerce is seeing a decrease in violent crime, property crimes are on the rise, says Rodriguez, who attributes the recent trend in part to prison reform measures.

Rodriguez says the city is currently in discussions with County Sheriff’s over department needs and space planning.

He hopes the city council approves funding for the substation in the city’s 2017-2018 budget in June.

If approved, the proposal would go to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors for final approval.

“The substation isn’t the answer to all crime,” acknowledges Altamirano. “But it is a giant step in the path to making the city as safe as possible.”


Prosecutors Seek Two-Year Prison Term for Baca

April 27, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison term for ex-Sheriff Lee Baca for conspiring to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation into civil rights abuses and corruption within Los Angeles County jails, but the defense is asking for a sentence of home detention, court papers obtained Tuesday show.

Baca, 74, 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 he ran and of lying to the bureau.

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 right-hand man, Paul Tanaka, and eight deputies who took orders from the sheriff.

In helping derail the federal 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.

Normally, the government would recommend a prison sentence of three to four years for the convictions. But due to Baca’s age and cognitive condition, “the interests of justice will not be served by defendant spending many years behind bars in a severely impaired state,” the document states.

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

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.”

Baca – who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for more than 15 years – faces up to 20 years in federal prison when he is sentenced May 12 by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson.

The retired lawman 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 Anderso combined all three counts in the retrial. Baca did not take the stand in either trial.

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.


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.

Tanaka Faces Five Year Prison Sentence

June 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Prosecutors are seeking a five-year prison term for the former second-in-command of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, who was dubbed the “ringleader” of a multi-faceted conspiracy to thwart a federal probe of misconduct in the jails, according to court papers obtained Tuesday.

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, 57, was convicted in April of felony charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice. U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson scheduled sentencing for June 27.

“After several trials and tens of convictions of Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials, one thing is abundantly clear: defendant Paul Tanaka is responsible not only for obstructing justice, but also for fostering the culture that led to the significant problems in the Los Angeles County jails,” federal prosecutors wrote in pre-sentencing papers filed with the court.

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

Tanaka’s attorney, Jerome Haig, did not immediately reply to a request for comment. The defense sentencing position has not yet been made public.

Tanaka, who remains the mayor of Gardena despite the conviction, faces a maximum of 15 years in federal prison. Although prosecutors are seeking five years’ imprisonment, the ultimate decision is up to the judge.

Tanaka was the ninth sheriff’s official convicted of criminal conduct based on the circumstances surrounding the hiding of inmate-informer Anthony Brown, a scheme that also involved witness tampering and the threatened arrest of an FBI special agent assigned to the jails investigation.

Former Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded guilty to a federal charge of lying to investigators during the probe. Anderson has set a July 11 hearing, at which time he will either accept or reject a plea agreement that calls for a sentence ranging from probation to six months behind bars.

Another deputy, Gilbert Michel, pleaded guilty to accepting bribes and has admitted that he abused inmates while working as a guard at the Men’s Central Jail. His sentencing hearing is set for Monday.

If Tanaka is sentenced to 60 months in federal prison, it would be the longest stretch of any co-conspirator in the Brown case.
Seven former sheriff’s lieutenants, sergeants and deputies convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice received prison sentences ranging from 18 to 41 months. Their appeal is scheduled to be heard by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena on July 5.

The jury deciding Tanaka’s case deliberated for less than three hours over two days before reaching a decision.

Haig previously said he will appeal, calling the verdict “only another step in the process.”

During the trial, prosecutors argued that Tanaka directed co-conspirators in a scheme to derail the 2011 investigation into allegations of excessive force within the jail system.

The case stemmed from events five 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” – at the direction of Tanaka – and began an attempt to halt the formerly covert investigation by concealing inmate-informant Brown from federal prosecutors, who had issued a writ for his grand jury appearance.

The charges included a host of “overt acts” – including allegations of witness tampering and attempting to threaten an FBI case agent with arrest.

Defense attorneys, however, argued that much of the prosecution testimony was motivated by jealousy, delivered by retired sheriff’s officials with grudges against Tanaka.

During two days of testimony, Tanaka denied remembering details of his communications with his now-convicted colleagues.

George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, called Tanaka’s conviction the end of “the era of corruption” in the department’s upper management.

“The department can move forward now that the truth about the failed leadership of disgraced former Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka has been revealed through the judicial process,” Hofstetter said. “The Baca-Tanaka era created leadership failures that left the sheriff’s department and ALADS members with real scars from rising assaults on deputies, and emotional
scars from diminished morale as deputies struggled to perform a dangerous and difficult job under a cloud they didn’t create.”

12 Arrests Made in Commerce Checkpoint

August 20, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A DUI/Drivers License Checkpoint in Commerce led to 12 arrests including two motorists driving under the influence

Over 2,500 vehicles drove through the checkpoint and 1,748 drivers were stopped, according to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Arrests included one drivers suspected to be under the influence of drugs another suspected of being under the influence of drugs and alcohol and one illegal possession of narcotics. Other arrests included allowing an unlicensed driver to drive, 8 motorists driving with a suspended or without a license.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), checkpoints have been showsn to lower lower DUI deaths and injuries.

Los Angeles County Inspector General Backs Civilian Subpoena Power

July 30, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Los Angeles County’s inspector general Tuesday backed a recommendation for civilian subpoena power over the Sheriff’s Department, while a sheriff’s representative warned that work on a long-negotiated agreement to share information could be slowed as a result.

Inspector General Max Huntsman is part of a working group hashing out the mission and responsibilities of the yet-to-be-appointed Civilian Oversight Commission and voted as part of a 4-3 majority in favor of subpoena power.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Michael Antonovich quizzed Huntsman about why he favored granting such power even as he is negotiating an agreement with the Sheriff’s Department that would give him broader access to records.

“It’s been a year and a half and we haven’t been able to get an (agreement),” Huntsman replied.

The debate came as the working group presented its report, the result of months of debate and multiple town halls, to the Board of Supervisors.

The commission “wouldn’t enjoy the full trust and confidence of the public without (subpoena) power,” working group member and former Public Counsel CEO Hernan Vera told the board.

Subpoena power would require an amendment to the county charter, which would need to be approved by voters. Even if a ballot measure were approved, legal challenges are likely.

The inspector general has long said he is stymied in doing his job by a lack of access, while Sheriff Jim McDonnell has said he welcomes transparency but that some personnel and investigative records must be kept confidential by law.

An agreement would allow greater access, but relies on the sheriff’s goodwill and is not legally enforceable, Huntsman said.

Neal Tyler, McDonnell’s executive officer and a member of the working group, urged the board on behalf of McDonnell not to move forward with a ballot measure.

Tyler said the sheriff was anxious to start working with the commission but worried about subpoena power for “a group of nine people that he doesn’t even know yet.”

Moving ahead with a ballot measure might slow an agreement with the OIG, which might be “just weeks away,” Tyler said.

Other members of the working group had argued that the fight over a ballot measure would scuttle the chance for real cooperation between the Sheriff’s Department and the commission.

Tyler said the board should have faith in the sheriff since he has championed accountability and civilian oversight even during his campaign for the job.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said it wasn’t a personal issue or about respect for the sheriff, but a systemic problem.

“My days of deferring to a sheriff, elected or not, a chief, appointed or not, are over,” he said.

“It’s about time Los Angeles County got with the program.”

The supervisors took no action Tuesday on the working group’s report, which also included a recommendation to bar any former or current Sheriff’s Department employees from being appointed to the commission. Current law enforcement employees from any jurisdiction would also be prohibited from serving, under the group’s proposal.

Update: Man On Bike Shot, Killed In Commerce

July 1, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Sheriff Homicide detectives are investigating a shooting death early Tuesday morning in Commerce, authorities said.

The body of 19-year-old Bryan Hernandez was found near the intersection of Eastern Avenue and East 61st Street around 2:50 a.m., Los Angeles County sheriff’s Lt. Richard Westin said.

According to the preliminary investigation, Hernandez was riding a bicycle when he was shot, said coroner’s Chief Craig Harvey.

Authorities said a motive was not immediately known but they would be reviewing surveillance cameras in the area to try and identify the assailant.

Streets in the area near Eastern and Peach Street and Slauson were closed off for hours to traffic as sheriff deputies investigated the crime scene.

Anyone who might have been in the area or who has information about the crime is urged to contact the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Homicide Bureau at (323) 890-5500 or Crime Stoppers at (800) 222-TIPS.

Deputy’s Life Saved by Fellow Officer’s Gift

June 11, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were recovering after one donated part of his liver to the other in a life-saving operation late last week.

Deputy Jorge Castro, a 24-year department veteran assigned to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility, received the donation from fellow Deputy Javier Tiscareno, an 18-year department veteran, during the procedure on June 4.

Castro thought he was facing death because he couldn’t find a donated liver.

Back in January 2014, doctors told him they would place him on a waiting list, but they also warned it was difficult to find a donor and no one in his own family was a match. If he didn’t find a liver for implantation, he could be dead within a year, they said.

Soon afterward, Castro began talking to Tiscareno while at the gym. When asked how he was doing, Castro tried to say he was fine, but Tiscareno could tell something was wrong.

The treatments weren’t working, and he was getting worse, Castro said.

He ended up confiding in Tiscareno, who told Castro he was willing to see if he might be a match. As a result, both deputies underwent partial liver transplant surgery at County-USC Medical Center

“I’m not going to your funeral knowing that I could have helped,” Javier told Castro earlier this week at a news conference in Monterey Park, where the sheriff’s department maintains its headquarters.

The Tiscareno and Castro families became close as the surgery approached.

Their wives, said sheriff’s spokeswoman Nicole Nishida, “have become very close and Castro realizes he owes Tiscareno his life.”

“They are like brothers,” Nishida said. “Javier is extremely humble.

He just wants to help his friend and partner.”

Nishida said today that the surgery went well and the deputies are recovering.

They are expected to remain in the hospital for at least two weeks, and a full recovery will take months.

Judge Approves Settlement over Abuse by Guards in L.A. County Jails

April 23, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A federal judge signed off Monday on the settlement of a class-action lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that alleged a pattern of violence in county jails.

U.S. District Judge Dean D. Pregerson said the resolution of the suit, filed in January 2012 by the ACLU on behalf of inmates who claimed they were beaten by deputies, will help make county jails a safer place leading to less recidivism.

Ideally, Pregerson said, county jails will not “harden” inmates, but will make it easier for those who wish to be “productive” members of society in the future.

The atmosphere is county jails, especially for mentally ill inmates, “should be one where they are not afraid,” the judge said.

As a result of the settlement, first announced in December, the department said it would overhaul its policies and practices on the use of force against inmates.

The ACLU sued the county on behalf of Alex Rosas and Jonathan Goodwin, two pretrial detainees who were beaten by deputies. The federal suit alleged violations of the detainees’ Eighth Amendment rights to be free of cruel and unusual punishment and the rights of pretrial detainees not to be punished prior to conviction.

The ACLU alleged that then-Sheriff Lee Baca and his top staff condoned a longstanding and widespread pattern of violence and abuse against inmates.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who was sworn in on Dec. 1, said he’s “pleased that the federal district court today approved the parties’ settlement of the Rosas litigation.”

“Today’s decision enables us to continue to move forward, in partnership with stakeholders and county leaders, with ongoing efforts to improve training, accountability mechanisms, inmate grievance systems and needed staffing in our jails,” McDonnell said in a prepared statement.

“From the time I served on the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence and saw first-hand the challenges facing our county’s jails and the concerns regarding how we house and treat those in our charge, I have been deeply to this process of change,” he said.

“With new leadership of our department’s custody division and new resources provided by our Board of Supervisors, we have made great strides since the CCJV report issued. While more work remains to be done to implement all of the reforms our commission recommended, I am deeply committed to implementing and institutionalizing meaningful and lasting change.”

McDonnell said that under the terms of the agreement, and with the investment of county resources, “we will continue to ensure that our jails are a safe, humane and appropriate place for those we incarcerate as well as the dedicated men and women who work there.”

In 2011, the ACLU released a report that found deputies regularly used excessive force on detainees, including those with mental illnesses, resulting in serious injuries and even death.

The report prompted the Board of Supervisors in 2012 to convene the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, which developed a series of recommendations that are reflected in the settlement, according to the ACLU.

The settlement is also subject to federal court oversight and enforcement.

“For decades, the sheriff’s department has run the jails without any accountability or transparency,” Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, said after a previous hearing. “This agreement addresses those problems by establishing clear policies and practices the department must implement, and creating an enforcement mechanism to ensure it

does. Put simply, the sheriff’s department must now follow the law or risk court intervention.”

According to the ACLU, the agreement mandates:

– the implementation of policies to prevent abuse of detainees with mental illness. A 2008 ACLU report concluded that use of force by deputies was disproportionately directed at detainees with mental illness, and ex-Sheriff Lee Baca confirmed that the conclusion still held in 2012;

– greatly enhanced training in use of force for all deputies, veterans as well as new hires. The jail violence commission found that training for custody by the LASD is “far below both industry best practices and training standards in other corrections systems,” according to the ACLU; and

– enhanced methods for tracking and reviewing use-of-force incidents and detainees’ complaints and grievances.

Sitting on the panel monitoring compliance will be Richard Drooyan, a former assistant U.S. attorney who has monitored implementation of recommendations by the CCJV and served on the Los Angeles Police Commission; corrections expert Jeffrey Schwartz; and Robert Houston, retired director of Nebraska’s prison system.

Seven former sheriff’s deputies have been convicted and sentenced to federal prison as a result of their attempt to derail a federal probe into inmate abuse at the Men’s Central Jail.

Cost to Defend County Near $100 Million

February 5, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

Legal claims against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department accounted for more than 40 percent of the $95.6 million spent on the county’s legal battles during the last fiscal year, according to an annual report released Tuesday.

From July 1, 2013, to June 30, 2014, county lawyers settled 194 cases, disposed of another 266 claims without paying anything to the plaintiffs and lost 10 cases when they went to trial.

Two big losses amounted to nearly 80 percent of the total paid out to satisfy court judgments. The county paid $2.45 million after a jury found that deputies used excessive force while arresting a Palmdale apartment manager.

In another case, $2.1 million in damages was paid to the family of Efrain Gutierrez, a 31-year-old burglary suspect armed with a nine-inch knife who was fatally shot by a deputy. An autopsy showed that Gutierrez was shot in the back and toxicology reports showed methamphetamine use.

The county won 52 percent of its cases at trial and 83 percent of cases on appeal.

When choosing to settle cases out of court — typically citing the risks of litigation even when county workers insist they are not at fault — the county paid out more than $1 million each on seven separate claims. These big settlements made up more than half of the total settlements paid.

The largest — $7.5 million — was to settle a medical malpractice case involving an infant deprived of oxygen when his mother’s uterus ruptured shortly before his birth at County-USC Medical Center. The infant suffered brain damage.

Two of the seven largest settlements involved accusations of excessive force by sheriff’s deputies. In the first, a 40-year-old schizophrenic woman wielding a hammer at a mental health clinic was fatally shot by deputies who said they were threatened by the 4-foot, 9-inch woman. The county paid $1.8 million to settle that lawsuit. In the other, a 26-year-old man visiting his brother at the Men’s Central Jail said he was beaten by deputies for carrying a cell phone against jail rules. The man was paid $1.2 million.

The Department of Health Services was second on the list of departments with the highest litigation costs, responsible for just over 20 percent of the total county tab. The Public Works, Fire and Children and Family Services departments each spent between $4-6 million in legal costs. No other department spent more than $3 million.

Over the last three years, the number of new cases has dropped by 10 percent, according to the annual report.

More than half of the $95.6 million was spent on legal fees and expenses, including payments to in-house counsel and outside attorneys hired to represent the county’s interests.

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