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L.A. County to pay $1 million to FBI informant in jail abuse scandal

Los Angeles County jail
An FBI informant whose reports of abuse inside Los Angeles County jails set off a federal investigation that led to the convictions of nearly two dozen sheriff’s officials will get a $1-million payout from the county.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

An FBI informant whose reports of abuse inside Los Angeles County jails helped set off a federal investigation that led to the convictions of nearly two dozen sheriff’s officials will get a $1-million payout from the county.

The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted to approve the settlement agreement in a lawsuit filed by Anthony Brown, a convicted bank robber who worked as an informant for FBI agents investigating conditions in county jails. In 2011, when they discovered he was helping the FBI, sheriff’s officials attempted to hide him from agents to stop him from reporting brutality in the lockups.

Sheriff’s officials shuffled him from jail to jail under fake names, like “Robin Banks.” He filed a lawsuit alleging, among other things, cruel and unusual punishment and retaliation.

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“He was kidnapped for 18 days,” said Stuart Miller, who was among a team of attorneys representing Brown. During that time, he said, Brown was denied medical treatment and held in solitary confinement. “He thought he was going to die.”

Sheriff’s officials had assigned at least 13 deputies to watch Brown around the clock, in what they called Operation Pandora’s Box, The Times reported in 2013.

When the operation was over, the deputies received an email thanking them for helping “without asking too many questions and prying into the investigation at hand,” according to documents The Times reviewed at the time.

Brown gave FBI agents an insider’s view of a system beset by episodes of excessive force and other deputy misconduct.

In an interview with The Times in 2012, Brown said that he delivered notes about corrupt and brutal deputies during weekly visits with his FBI handler.

Brown helped with an operation in which a jailer smuggled a cellphone and other contraband into jail for him in exchange for $1,500 in cash from an undercover FBI agent who pretended to be Brown’s associate on the outside. An FBI agent testified at one deputy’s trial that a phone was discovered by deputies before Brown was able to document any incidents.

“Men’s Central Jail was run very, very poorly, and deliberately,” Miller said. “The prisoners there were subjected to random brutal beatings — it was completely out of control.”

Federal prosecutors won convictions or guilty pleas against each of the 22 deputies and higher-ranking officials who faced criminal charges — a group that included former Sheriff Lee Baca and his No. 2, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

Baca was sentenced to three years in federal prison after a jury found he oversaw the plan to interfere with the federal probe into inmate abuses in the jails and later lied to prosecutors about his role.

During the probe, sheriff’s officials showed up to the residence of an FBI agent leading the case to threaten her with arrest.

Brown is serving a prison sentence of more than 400 years for bank robbery. Miller said Brown will use the settlement money to take care of his family and children, and fight his lengthy sentence.

A federal judge had tossed out Brown’s lawsuit over its timeliness, but the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal. In a report recommending the lawsuit be settled, county attorneys said the agreement is reasonable given “the risks and uncertainties of litigation.”


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