Victoria Kim and Cindy Chang
July 1, 2014
A jury Tuesday found six members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department guilty of attempting to impede a federal civil rights inquiry into the county jails, providing prosecutors with a decisive victory as they continue to investigate higher-level officials tied to the scandal.
The case stems from a 2011 undercover operation in which the FBI used a jail inmate as an informant to investigate brutality and other misconduct by jail guards. Prosecutors charged that sheriff’s officials discovered the inmate was working for the FBI and hid him from agents and the grand jury.
The two lieutenants, two sergeants and two deputies who were convicted in the case face up to 15 years in federal prison.
Attorneys for the six defendants argued that they were merely following orders from top sheriff’s officials. During the trial, former Sheriff Lee Baca and then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka were repeatedly mentioned as having been the driving force behind moving the informant to prevent FBI agents from talking to him.
Prosecutors disclosed at the trial that Tanaka and a current captain in the department, William “Tom” Carey, remain subjects in the ongoing grand jury investigation. Baca, who abruptly stepped down in January, has said federal officials told him he is not a target. Tanaka was forced out by Baca last year but is now running to succeed him as sheriff. Baca, Tanaka and Carey have denied any wrongdoing.
One juror interviewed after the verdict said he believed the defendants initially acted on marching orders from above, but eventually crossed the line into criminal conduct.
“At a certain point there are things you can’t do,” said the juror, a truck driver who lives in the Crenshaw district but would identify himself only as Ron.
The juror said he believed the defendants acted because they didn’t want an outside law enforcement agency investigating deputy misconduct.
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