Soon after pleading guilty to bribery Tuesday, a disgraced former L.A. County sheriff’s deputy began fulfilling a key part of his deal with prosecutors: Cooperating with FBI agents investigating allegations of brutality and other misconduct by guards in the county’s jails.
Gilbert Michel and his attorney met with federal agents and prosecutors following his court appearance at which he admitted smuggling a cellphone to an inmate who promised him $20,000 in bribes. In a brief interview with The Times, Michel declined to elaborate on the type of help he intends to give authorities, but sheriff’s officials have said he implicated himself and other deputies in improper uses of force against inmates.
“I was a fall guy,” Michel said about the ongoing probe. He accused sheriff’s officials of using his case to deflect attention from other problems in the department.
“There isn’t anybody else taking responsibility for what went on,” he said.
Michel, 38, delivered the cellphone to an inmate who, unbeknownst to the deputy, was a federal informant. An undercover FBI agent gave Michel, then working in Men’s Central Jail, $1,500 before other guards discovered the cellphone in August during a search of the inmate’s belongings.
“I beat myself up every single day over all this.... I know I made a mistake,” Michel said, adding that he was “correcting my mistake and standing up and saying I was wrong.”
A sheriff’s spokesman said Michel’s criticism of the department was wrong and that his misconduct tarnished the work of law enforcement.
“He’s trying to blame everybody but himself,” said spokesman Steve Whitmore. “He’s accountable. He’s responsible. Nobody else.”
Michel, who worked as a deputy for a little more than two years until his resignation last year, declined to detail his discussions with federal authorities or other alleged misconduct by jail guards.
Discovery of the smuggled cellphone by sheriff’s officials raised tensions between the department and the FBI. Michel’s involvement in the federal sting was first reported by The Times in September and helped spark intense public scrutiny of how the Sheriff’s Department has managed the nation’s largest jail system.
Sheriff Lee Baca initially condemned the tactics of federal investigators, accusing them of breaking the law and creating a serious safety breach inside the jails. Since then, he has toned down his criticisms and agreed to cooperate with federal agents as they examine allegations of inmate abuse and other deputy misconduct inside his jails.
On the courthouse steps Tuesday morning, Michel told The Times he was not shocked when the inmate first approached him about getting a cellphone.
“The inmates ask deputies and people in custody to do things for them all the time,” he said.
He felt betrayed, he said, by sheriff’s officials who told him that “everything will turn out right” if he came clean.
“After I cooperated with them, I pretty much got a boot to the head,” Michel said. “I feel like I’m all alone.”
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson set Michel’s sentencing for March 26. After the court hearing, Michel’s attorney, Robert E. Brode, said he believed that other deputies had committed misconduct in Men’s Central Jail and that supervisors were overlooking it, but he declined to elaborate. Brode described his client as “collateral damage” in the federal investigation of excessive force claims.
“He doesn’t expect sympathy,” the lawyer said. “He knows he screwed up.”