Obstruction Convictions Uncover Recordings of LA Sheriff's Dept. Officers Threatening FBI Agents And Federal Witnesses
from the more-of-a-criminal-enterprise-than-a-law-enforcement-agency dept
Above the law? The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department seems to feel it is. Or, at least, it felt that way right up until seven of its members were convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice. The convictions — with sentences of 21-41 months — are being appealed, but the evidence collected by ABC 7 of Los Angeles paints a very disturbing picture of a law enforcement agency that would stop at nearly nothing to keep the feds from cramping its corrupt, brutalizing “style.” Almost everything obtained either originated at the hands of those convicted or was preserved via video and audio recordings
It stems from the nasty little side business the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Dept. runs: the county jails. Part of the problem was the LASD’s hiring standards: there weren’t any. Criminals, sex offenders, officers with severe misconduct on their records — all were hired by the LASD. 200 officers who were rejected by other law enforcement agencies because of past problems found a welcoming home at the L.A. county jails.
The undersheriff in charge of screening applicants blamed the extra duties dropped on the LASD by the disbanding of the Dept. of Public Safety. Then he simply said he didn’t remember any specifics and refused to answer any more questions. Finally, he and the rest of the LASD did everything they could to prevent this news from going public.
Beyond the misconduct-friendly screening process was the incredible amount of abuse occurring within the jails themselves. The ACLU filed suit on behalf of two LASD deputies, alleging routine abuse of inmates, claiming sheriff’s deputies (themselves known to be members of a racist gang) turned over control of the jails to white supremacist factions and, perhaps most shockingly, hid an FBI informant from his handlers.
For more than two years, LASD officers worked together to “keep the FBI” out of its jails. In addition to threatening whistleblowing officers, LASD personnel also worked in concert to intimidate federal investigators.
By late September 2011, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department “Special Operations Group” had FBI Agent Leah Marx under surveillance for more than two weeks. Her partner, FBI Agent David Lam, was under surveillance as well…
On September 26, 2011 Sgt. Scott Craig and Sgt. Maricela Long confronted FBI Special Agent Leah Marx outside her home; they flash[ed] their LASD badges at Marx and then threaten[ed] her with arrest.
These two LASD officers didn’t have the power to arrest the FBI agent. They also didn’t have even the slightest legal basis for the charges they threatened her with. Supposedly, the LASD was going to take the FBI agent down for smuggling a phone into its jail (to Anthony Brown, the FBI informant who was hidden from the FBI by the LASD), even though Sheriff Baca himself had been informed of this by the head of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.
The recordings obtained by ABC 7 contain even more indications that these LASD officers believed themselves untouchable. One recording catches them laughing over a panicky phone call from FBI Agent Marx’s supervisor concerning the threatened arrest. Another recording captures Lt. Steve Leavins performing a bit of tampering, hoping to turn an FBI witness into a friendly LASD voice. Further recordings capture several of the convicted officers trying to convince FBI informant Anthony Brown to give up details on the FBI’s investigation.
Judge Percy Anderson, who handed out the sentences, addressed both the audacity of the LASD’s actions…
“Perhaps it’s a symptom of the corrupt culture within the Sheriff’s Department, but one of the most striking things aside from the brazenness of threatening to arrest an FBI agent for a crime of simply doing her job and videotaping yourself doing it, is that none of you have shown even the slightest remorse.”
as well as his hopes for the future:
The court hopes that if and when other deputies are faced with decisions similar to those you face, they will remember what happened here today. They will not look the other way or obstruct an investigation; that they will recognize that blind obedience to a corrupt culture has serious consequences, that they will enforce the law rather than conspire to commit crimes, that they will do what is right rather than what is easy.
When a culture of corruption runs as deep as LASD’s apparently does, it will take a whole lot more than a few 2-4 year sentences to effect a turnaround. An agency of that size doesn’t go from feeling so far above the law that it casually threatens federal agents to walking the straight-and-narrow — at least, not because of a few convictions. It helps, but it’s not nearly as transformative as Judge Anderson hopes. A few years of federal supervision will help as well, but the most hopeful sign is the new attitude being displayed by the LASD’s Chief of Detectives, the person tasked with heading up internal investigations. Rather than shift the blame to software, policies or the public’s perceptions, he takes responsibility for the unaddressed problems within the department.
The sheriff’s department has an early warning system. “Our diagnostic systems were fine,” said the department’s Chief of Detectives, Bill McSweeney, who advised his agency on creation of the warning system. “Our managerial and supervision response was not fine. It’s that simple.”
The LASD is far from fixed. But at least some of its uglier characteristics have been dragged out of the darkness and publicly displayed.