LOCAL

Deputy to be retried in federal obstruction case over FBI informant

2 days after 6 others are found guilty of hampering probe, deputy whose jury was tied learns he's not off hook

After securing guilty verdicts this week against six Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials, federal prosecutors have decided to retry a seventh deputy charged with obstructing a federal grand jury investigation into civil rights violations in county jails, the deputy's attorney said Thursday.

A jury deadlocked 6 to 6 in late May on whether to convict Deputy James Sexton for his involvement in the handling of an inmate at Men's Central Jail. Prosecutors said Sexton was an integral part in the plot to hide inmate Anthony Brown, an FBI informant, in an effort to stymie the federal probe.

Sexton's attorney, former U.S. Atty. Thomas O'Brien, said he was notified Thursday of the decision and expected prosecutors to inform the judge at a hearing Monday, but declined to comment further. Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox declined to confirm the decision or comment on the case.

O'Brien said previously that given the even split of the jury, he didn't think "any reasonable jury would ever reach a different decision against Deputy Sexton."

The decision comes just two days after a second jury convicted six of Sexton's colleagues. Among those found guilty Tuesday and facing prison time are his supervisor at an investigative unit in the jails, Lt. Gregory Thompson, and Deputies Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, whom Sexton worked with in moving Brown around in the jails.

Also convicted were a second lieutenant, Stephen Leavins, and Sgts. Maricela Long and Scott Craig.

O'Brien had emphasized at Sexton's trial that the deputy had a mere three years on the job and had little to no say in how Brown was handled. The deputy was acting on orders from the very top levels of the department to keep Brown secure, he argued.

He asked jurors to discount most of Sexton's testimony before the grand jury, saying the young deputy was trying to puff himself up and exaggerate his role. He painted the deputy as an unwitting casualty of a "turf war" between the leaders of the Sheriff's Department and the FBI.

Prosecutors, on the other hand, put significant weight on the deputy's own words, in which he said he knew not all of his and his colleagues' actions had been legal and described their handling of Brown as "smoke and mirrors" and "kidnapping."

It was Sexton, they contended, who had knowledge of the jail's inmate tracking systems and had devised plans for how to keep Brown concealed under fake names that were changed every 48 hours.

In the second trial, which began less than a week after Sexton's case ended in a mistrial, prosecutors appeared to have retooled their case despite it being based on essentially the same facts and witnesses. They placed a far greater emphasis on what they said was rampant abuse and corruption in the jails, arguing that the FBI had a pressing need to investigate.

At Sexton's trial, O'Brien had lambasted what he said was a poorly run undercover sting by the FBI, in which they smuggled a cellphone in for Brown to corroborate inmates' claims of violence.

One of the jurors on that case said he felt Sexton had "just wanted to fit in with the boys," and had followed what he believed to be lawful orders.

"Something untoward happened higher up in the food chain," juror Marvin Padilla said in an interview after the mistrial was declared.

The six who now face up to 15 years in prison each for their convictions may also now have an incentive to cooperate with prosecutors in exchange for lesser sentences. Attorneys this week declined to discuss whether any such deals were in the works.

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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