The former undersheriff and a current captain of the L.A. County Sheriff's Department are subjects in an ongoing federal grand jury investigation into excessive force and corruption in the county's jails, a federal prosecutor said Monday.
The revelations about Paul Tanaka, formerly the department's second-in-command and a candidate for sheriff, and Capt. William "Tom" Carey came at the trial of Deputy James Sexton, who is the first of the more than 20 charged thus far in the jails probe to stand trial. Tanaka and Carey were both called to the witness stand by an attorney representing Sexton.
Sheriff's Department: An article in the June 7 LATExtra section about the obstruction of justice trial of six Los Angeles Sheriff's Department officials misspelled the first name of one of the defendants, Maricela Long, as Maricella. The misspelling also occurred in articles Dec. 10, Dec. 17, May 20, May 28 and June 5.
Monday's comments by Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox mark the first indication that the investigation could potentially lead to charges against high-ranking leaders of the Sheriff's Department. So far, the highest rank among those charged is lieutenant.
"You are aware that you are the subject of an on-going investigation into obstruction of justice?" Fox asked Tanaka, who retired from the department last year.
"Yes," he responded.
Tanaka and Carey are "subjects," rather than "targets," of the investigation. Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, a former federal prosecutor, said a "target" is someone who prosecutors have already decided they intend to indict, whereas a "subject" is someone whose conduct is under investigation but for whom that determination has yet to be made.
Levenson said the prosecutor may have asked Tanaka and Carey as "a not-so-subtle reminder … they may be putting themselves at risk," and also to indicate to jurors that they are not impartial witnesses.
Tanaka is running for sheriff against six other candidates in the June 3 primary. Fox asked if admitting to obstruction would hurt his chances of being elected sheriff — Tanaka responded that it would.
He had previously testified that he had seen nothing "inappropriate" about the way inmate Anthony Brown, a federal informant, was handled by Sexton and other deputies in 2011. Sexton and six others are accused of conspiracy and obstruction of justice for allegedly hiding Brown from his federal handlers by moving him from jail to jail under bogus names, with the intent of impeding the FBI's civil rights investigation into county jails.
Tanaka said Monday he did not remember many of the details of what exactly he was made aware of at each stage of Brown being moved around the jails.
Tanaka said he was not made aware that federal authorities were looking for Brown, and that he left the details of where Brown was to be housed up to his subordinates.
Sexton's attorneys have argued to jurors that their client, who was 26 and three years out of the academy, was merely following orders from superiors.
Tanaka said he considered all the orders he and then-Sheriff Lee Baca gave to be lawful, and that he expected his subordinates to obey. Neither he nor Baca obstructed a federal investigation, he said. A spokesman for Baca said Monday that the former sheriff does not believe he is under investigation.
Carey, who followed Tanaka on the stand, was head of the department's Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau at the time sheriff's officials discovered Brown was working as a federal informant and that a phone had been smuggled into him by an undercover agent through a corrupt deputy. Three people who worked for Carey at the time — Lt. Stephen Leavins and Sgts. Scott Craig and Maricella Long — have been charged along with Sexton for their alleged role in moving Brown and for allegedly confronting the lead FBI investigator at her home and threatening her with arrest.
Carey testified that he and his staff were only working to protect Brown from other inmates who would have labeled him a snitch, as well as from deputies he was informing on. The captain said he believed both Tanaka and Baca had been briefed about the plan.
"He didn't give his objection," Carey said about whether Tanaka had signed off on the plan to move Brown around under false names. Tanaka's approval, Carey said, "was assumed." Sheriff's officials discussed the possibility that the phone had been planted by a "rogue" agent, he testified.
Fox asked Carey if he was aware that the Brown investigation had been internally dubbed "Operation Pandora's Box."
"You open the box and all the evils come out into the world, is that correct?" Fox said.
Carey said he learned of the name from a Times report but later confirmed that the label had been used.
Sexton's defense team rested its case Monday by calling an expert witness, a veteran sheriff's homicide detective, who said changing an inmate's name and moving him around the jails for his protection was a common practice.
"It's legal, it's ethical, it's safe and it's something I've done hundreds of times," Det. Mark Lillienfeld said.