Sheriff’s Department used jail duty to punish deputies
Enrique Munoz’s record included allegations of fraud, loan sharking and threatening to kill somebody when he was sent to Los Angeles County Jail for three years.
But he wasn’t there as an inmate. He was assigned to work there as a jail deputy, part of his Sheriff’s Department-sanctioned punishment for assorted misconduct.
For years, the department transferred problem deputies to the system’s lockups as a way of keeping them from the public. Other deputies were allowed to remain working in the jails after being convicted of crimes or found guilty of serious misconduct, according to confidential documents obtained by The Times.
Among them was a deputy who beat a firefighter bloody and unconscious during an off-duty incident, and another who authorities said threatened to stab a bar bouncer.
The backgrounds and conduct of deputies working in the jails have come under increased scrutiny in recent weeks amid revelations that some employees have beaten inmates, smuggled in contraband and falsified reports.
Although The Times found no evidence that the punished deputies took part in such misconduct, the cases offer a window into how the Sheriff’s Department has managed its jails. They also offer more ammunition to critics who have called on Sheriff Lee Baca to use more experienced, better qualified deputies in the jails.
“This is shocking and a total aberration for the profession,” said David Bennett, a criminal justice consultant who has been hired by jails around the country. “What we have aspired to do is make corrections a profession in and of itself — not a dumping ground.... It’s an insult to the profession.”
After The Times recently began inquiring about the transfers, the Sheriff’s Department drafted a policy to ban moving deputies into the jails as a form of punishment.
The department’s watchdog, Michael Gennaco, first raised the issue two years ago, criticizing “disciplinary transfers” in a report that said it allowed problem deputies to influence younger deputies, who start their careers in the jails. Gennaco said he believes that the department heeded his advice but did not begin to adopt a formal policy against the practice until now.
In an interview, Baca acknowledged that the department moved disciplined deputies to the jail to keep them from the public and assign them less challenging jobs than patrol. He said he ordered an end to the transfers, telling captains to take responsibility for their own problem employees.
Baca blamed the county’s Civil Service Commission in some cases for reinstating deputies the department tried to fire. Other employees were given second chances, he said, particularly for off-duty misconduct.
“Some of these people have rather good records of on-duty behavior,” Baca said.
It is unclear how many deputies are working in the jails after having committed serious misconduct or crimes. Disciplinary records for law enforcement officers are confidential under state law. The Times learned the details of several cases in criminal court files and confidential internal documents.
Richard A. Shinee, general counsel for the deputies’ union, said such transfers were rare but sometimes appropriate because deputies receive more intense supervision in jail than on patrol. “A single incident ought not to define an employee’s career,” he said. He declined to comment on individual deputies’ cases.
Brian Richards and Joshua Titel were custody deputies in June 2007 when they beat another man while off-duty, according to confidential disciplinary records.
The men had been drinking at the homes of two sheriff’s supervisors one Saturday when they headed to the San Dimas residence of Titel’s girlfriend, records show. When the deputies arrived, they discovered another man, Stephen Paige, who had dated Titel’s girlfriend and was the father of her daughter.
Paige told a sheriff’s investigator that the deputies ran at him and slammed his head so hard against his truck that it made a dent in the vehicle. He was repeatedly struck and kicked while lying motionless until he lost consciousness, the disciplinary report said.
An emergency room doctor told the grand jury that heard the case that Paige was covered in blood with injuries to his face, knees and chest. The attack forced Paige, a La Verne firefighter, to miss about six weeks of work, the report stated.
The deputies initially alleged that Paige threw the first punch, but Titel later admitted that he lied about acting in self-defense, the report stated.
The grand jury indicted Richards and Titel, both 34, on a felony charge of assault. In April 2009, the two men pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges — Richards to battery and Titel to assault. They were placed on three years’ probation.
The Sheriff’s Department tried to fire both but eventually agreed to a settlement. Richards was suspended for 30 days and kept his job; Titel was demoted to custody assistant but will have the chance to reapply to become a deputy. Richards is working in patrol.
The department dealt in a similar fashion with another deputy, David Ortega, after he was charged with assaulting a bar security guard. In 2008, Ortega was at the Slidebar in Fullerton when the bouncer told him and another off-duty deputy that the bar was closing.
Ortega yelled profanities, grabbed the bouncer’s shirt and spat in his face, according to the Orange County district attorney’s office. Ortega then threatened to stab the bouncer.
Ortega was charged with misdemeanor counts of assault, battery, attempting to make a criminal threat and disturbing the peace. In April 2009, he pleaded no contest to disturbing the peace by fighting and was placed on probation.
Ortega, 29, was demoted to custody assistant.
In Munoz’s case, the department had tried to fire him on three occasions for misconduct. Each time, he successfully appealed his termination. At least two of those times, the department resorted to transferring him to jail duty as part of his punishment, records show.
In one case, Munoz was caught using a confidential law enforcement database to check the status of his cousin’s car, which had been impounded by another deputy. Munoz then signed a fake name to get the car released. In that case, he was moved to Men’s Central Jail, according to records.
Years later, he was accused of making death threats against an aspiring singer who refused to repay a loan. The woman alleged that he wanted $12,000 interest on a $10,000 loan. When she refused, she said, Munoz offered to forgive the interest in exchange for sex, according to a police report.
After she refused, she told police that Munoz warned her, “Watch your back, I’m going to kill you unless you pay.” The investigation into her allegations, however, fell through when she stopped cooperating and he was never charged with a crime.
In another case, sheriff’s officials suspected that Munoz, who was home with a shoulder injury, was committing workers’ compensation fraud. They put him under surveillance and discovered he was operating a mobile tamale-selling business — Enrique’s Tamales. Munoz, who said he was too injured to work a desk job, was seen carrying a large tub of hot, foil-wrapped tamales into a local beauty salon while he was supposed to be at home recuperating.
After he was caught, Munoz allegedly told another deputy to spread a rumor that Munoz had “dirt” on sheriff’s executives, in hopes that they would drop his case.
The department moved to fire Munoz for insubordination but he again was able to successfully appeal. He was suspended instead, and assigned three years of jail duty, according to records.
Reached by The Times, Munoz called the department’s practice of sending problem deputies to the jail “fair” and a good way to help deputies who have strayed. He denied making death threats, offering predatory loans or trying to blackmail his bosses.
Even after his mandated three years on jail duty, Munoz said, he chose to stay in custody work. He said he’s become a mentor to rookie deputies, who call him the “O.G. deputy,” short for “Original Gangster.”
“I’ve been a very good influence,” he said.