The six Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies were convicted today for their part in trying to obstruct a federal grand jury investigation into civil rights abuses and corruption in the jails by then-Sheriff Lee Baca. The grand jury probe remains open as no higher-ups have yet been charged in the conspiracy to hide a jail inmate from federal investigators. Sheriff candidate Paul Tanaka is a subject of the investigation, dating from when he was a top official of the department.
This is a big case for the U.S. Attorney's office, and a major hit on the corrupt culture of the sheriff's department through the decades. The convicted deputies could face many years in prison. This is how the U.S. Attorney's office in Los Angeles put it.
Six sworn officers who were working in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department were found guilty today of obstruction of justice for interfering with a federal civil rights investigation into misconduct at the Men’s Central Jail. A federal jury determined that the defendants, including two lieutenants, attempted to influence witnesses, threatened an FBI agent with arrest and concealed an FBI informant who should have been turned over to federal authorities.
All six of the defendants were convicted of participating in a broad conspiracy to obstruct justice, a plot that began in the summer of 2011 after they learned that a jail inmate was an FBI informant and was acting as a cooperator in a federal investigation into corruption and civil rights violations at the jail.
“The deputy sheriffs found guilty today participated in a scheme to thwart a federal grand jury investigation into violations of basic constitutional rights guaranteed to both prisoners and visitors to county jails,” said United States Attorney André Birotte Jr. “While an overwhelming majority of law enforcement officials serve with honor and dignity, these defendants tarnished the badge by acting on the false belief that they were above the law.”
The evidence presented at trial showed that the defendants learned that an inmate received a cellular phone from a deputy sheriff who took a bribe and that the inmate was part of a federal civil rights investigation. The deputies took affirmative steps to hide the cooperator from the FBI and the United States Marshals Service, which was attempting to bring the inmate into federal custody pursuant to an order issued by a federal judge. As part of the conspiracy, records were altered to make it appear as if the cooperator had been released, but he was re-booked under different names.
The deputies also engaged in witness tampering by attempting to influence witnesses to not cooperate with the federal grand jury investigation, including the informant and the sheriff’s deputy who had taken a bribe to smuggle the cell phone into the jail.
Over the course of several weeks, the defendants sought an order from a Los Angeles Superior Court judge that would have compelled the FBI to turn over information about its investigation to LASD. After the judge refused to issue such an order, based on a lack of jurisdiction, Craig and Long confronted an FBI special agent at her residence in an attempt to intimidate her into providing details about the investigation and to try to deter the FBI from conducting the federal investigation. The sergeants falsely told the special agent, and later her supervisor, that they were obtaining a warrant for her arrest.
In addition to the conspiracy count, all six deputies were convicted of obstruction of justice offenses. Craig and Long were also found guilty of making false statements to the FBI agent and to her supervisor about seeking a warrant for her arrest.
As a result of today’s convictions, all six defendants face statutory maximum sentences of 15 years in federal prison (with Craig and Long facing another potential five years for the false statements charges).
The deputies are Gregory Thompson, 54, a now-retired lieutenant who oversaw LASD’s Operation Safe Jails Program; Lieutenant Stephen Leavins, 52, who was assigned to the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau; Gerard Smith, 42, a deputy who was assigned to the Operation Safe Jails Program; Mickey Manzo, 34, a deputy who was assigned to the Operation Safe Jails Program; Scott Craig, 50, a sergeant who was assigned to the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau; and Maricela Long, 46, a sergeant who assigned to the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau.
Sheriff candidate Jim McDonnell, who is opposing Tanaka in the November general election, said in a statement, "This is a devastatingly sad day for our entire County. The LASD has lost the respect of too many in our community as well as the confidence of the dedicated men and women within the Department itself....I look forward to leading efforts to bring about a new day for the LASD and hope to be in a position to restore a sense of trust and enable this Department to turn the corner. "