Two Los Angeles County sheriff's sergeants accused of lying to federal investigators secretly recorded a confrontation with an FBI agent outside the agent's home, a federal prosecutor said in court Monday.
Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox said Sheriff's Sgt. Scott Craig also left a voicemail for the agent's supervisor, saying the agent was named in a criminal complaint. Craig and Sgt. Maricella Long later went to the agent's home and told her she was going to be arrested as a result of the complaint, Fox said.
The sergeants are among seven sheriff's officials accused in an indictment of trying to stymie the FBI's probe into allegations of civil rights abuses and public corruption inside the county jail system. The indictment alleges that Craig and Long's claims to the agent that a declaration for a warrant for her arrest was underway were false.
All seven defendants face conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges. The indictment also accuses Craig and Long of making false statements to the FBI. Craig and Long, along with two other defendants, pleaded not guilty Monday. Two more entered not guilty pleas last week.
During the brief court hearing, Fox did not say how federal authorities obtained the sergeants' recording of the confrontation. Law enforcement officers, including sheriff's and FBI investigators, often covertly record interviews and interactions with witnesses or suspects.
In response to questioning by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, Fox gave new details about the origins of the alleged obstruction, which began after sheriff's officials discovered a cellphone on an inmate in August 2011. The FBI notified the Sheriff's Department that the cellphone belonged to federal investigators, but sheriff's officials were already discovering that for themselves, Fox said.
Using their contacts on federal law enforcement task forces, Fox said, sheriff's officials found out that one of the telephone numbers used by the inmate belonged to an FBI investigator. Sheriff's officials checked the recorded telephone conversations that the jails keep of inmate calls and found one in which an FBI agent told the inmate he would get his phone soon, Fox told the judge.
The inmate was moved to a high-security section of the jail, and the FBI went to visit him about two weeks after the phone was discovered, Fox said. Sheriff's officials "kicked the FBI out of the interview," then tried to hide the inmate from federal authorities, Fox told the judge. The inmate was moved to a station jail and the department's computer system was updated to falsely say that he had been released from custody, the prosecutor said.
Defense attorneys declined to comment following the hearing.
Later Monday, a judge released the seventh deputy, James Sexton, on bond but allowed him to keep two firearms for his protection after Fox said prosecutors believed it was an appropriate request.
After the hearing, Fox said other defendants in the case have not been allowed to have firearms but declined additional comment. Sexton's attorney, Thomas P. O'Brien, the former U.S. attorney for Los Angeles, declined to comment.
Sexton, the son of Chief Ted Sexton, said in a retaliation lawsuit filed against the department earlier this year that he spoke to federal investigators and testified before the grand jury.