FBI arrests sheriff's officials in L.A. County jails probe

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FBI agents began arresting Los Angeles County sheriff's officials Monday as part of a wide-ranging investigation into allegations of abuse and misconduct inside the county's jails, according to sources familiar with the arrests.

At least three people — including a lieutenant, a sergeant and a deputy — were taken into custody as part of a federal obstruction of justice probe into how sheriff's officials handled an FBI informant at the center of the jail investigation, one source familiar with the probe said.

More than a dozen officials are expected to be arrested, sources said.

FULL COVERAGE: Jails under scrutiny

The arrests followed grand jury hearings into whether sheriff's officials hid inmate Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers. At least one witness testified that sheriff's officials moved the inmate and changed his name in an attempt to hide him from federal agents, and that top officials in the department played a role in the plan, according to another source familiar with the grand jury testimony.

Sheriff's officials insist they were not hiding Brown from the FBI but protecting him from other deputies.

It is unclear whether Monday's arrests included deputies accused of using excessive force against inmates.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department did not have an immediate response to the arrests. "You have to talk to the FBI," he said. 

Sheriff's officials discovered the informant's identity after jail deputies found his phone during a cell search in August 2011. The phone included calls to the FBI. In an interview with The Times last year, the informant said he had been using his phone to take photos and document excessive force inside Men's Central Jail. Brown said FBI agents regularly visited him in court and at the jail, where he supplied them with the names of corrupt and abusive deputies.

Brown said FBI agents rushed into the jail to visit him soon after they learned his cover had been blown. But as the meeting began, Brown said, a sheriff's investigator came in and ended it. "This … visit is over," the official said, according to Brown.

Brown said sheriff's officials moved him, changed his name several times and grilled him about what he knew and whether he would testify in the federal investigation.

"I didn't know it then, but they were hiding me from the feds," said Brown, who is serving 423 years to life in prison for armed robbery.

Sheriff's officials have publicly disputed Brown's account of the FBI visit, saying it never happened. Federal agents, a department spokesman previously said, never asked to visit Brown and would have been given access to the inmate had they requested it.

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robert.faturechi@latimes.com

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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