Citing the erosion of the public's trust in the justice system, a federal judge on Monday sentenced a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy to 18 months in prison for obstructing a grand jury investigation into abuses in the county jails.
James Sexton was convicted in September of obstruction and conspiracy charges for his part in a scheme with six other sheriff's officials to stymie a federal investigation into excessive force and corruption among deputies guarding the county's jails.
Sexton and others hid a federal informant from his FBI handlers, and attempted to dissuade witnesses from cooperating with the federal probe, according to evidence at trial.
"People are invested in our system of justice," U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson said at Sexton's sentencing. When law enforcement officers break the law, Anderson said, "it literally results in the erosion of the public's confidence ... and you don't have to look very far to find out that's true."
Sexton had less experience as a law enforcement office among those convicted in the case, which included two lieutenants and two sergeants. The six others received sentences ranging from 21 to 41 months in prison.
Still, Anderson said Sexton had the choice to stand up to corrupt orders from superiors but instead participated in the conspiracy in "a misguided attempt to protect the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department."
"You don't serve the public by using your position to cover up abuse in the Los Angeles County jails," the judge said.
Despite Sexton's extensive contact with federal investigators and testimony before the grand jury, during which he said he was aware his actions were breaking laws, Anderson said the deputy had been "totally unrepentant" about his part.
At two trials this year, Sexton's attorney described him as an overeager, inexperienced deputy who was simply following orders and then later exaggerated his involvement. The first ended in a mistrial after jurors hung 6-6.
Sexton's attorney, Thomas O'Brien, had asked for a six-month sentence.