Paul Tanaka

Paul Tanaka says he will not bow out of the race for L.A. County sheriff in the wake of a federal probe into the sheriff’s department’s efforts to allegedly hide an inmate who was working with FBI agents to uncover deputy abuses inside L.A. jails. (Photo by David Crane/Los Angeles Daily News)

By Thomas Himes, Los Angeles Daily News
Posted: 05/20/14, 11:08 AM PDT | Updated: 7 hrs ago

Sheriff’s candidate Paul Tanaka’s testimony in federal court this week set off a firestorm of criticism, as rivals called on him to bow out and some supporters remained steadfast.

Under questioning from a prosecutor, Tanaka acknowledged that he is a subject in an ongoing federal investigation.

Tanaka, a former second-in-command of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, was called to testify in defense of Deputy James Sexton — the first of seven sheriff’s officers to stand trial on charges stemming from an alleged effort to hinder an FBI probe of abuse of inmates in the county jail.

Tanaka said that he knew about the department’s efforts to hide an FBI informant and inmate inside L.A. County’s jails, but he believed the Sheriff’s Department had a duty to protect the inmate while the department investigated the inmate’s claims that a deputy and federal agent helped him smuggle a cellphone and drugs inside the jail.

“Orders that I passed on or carried out, I believed to be lawful and still do,” Tanaka said Tuesday.

Neither Tanaka or Sexton are targets of the federal investigation into brutality at the jail. In perhaps a hint that prosecutors were interested in the upper-echelons of the sheriff’s command, federal agents tried to persuade Sexton to wear a wire. It was only after the deputy indignantly refused to secretly tape record his father, who was set to become one of then-Sheriff Lee Baca’s top aides, that prosecutors charged him with obstruction of justice for his role in hiding the inmate.

Sexton testified in front of a grand jury two years ago that he knew his efforts to hide the informant, which included booking him under phony names, probably broke the law.

Tanaka testified in court this week that he eventually learned of the measures to hide the informant, he said Tuesday in an interview.

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