County sheriff’s spokesman to be interviewed by feds in jail probe

Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore, right, at a 2011 news conference where Deputy Clarence Williams shows off a Rembrandt etching that had been recovered after being stolen.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Federal prosecutors examining abuse in the Los Angeles County jail and others problems in the sheriff’s department are slated to interview Sheriff Lee Baca’s chief spokesman next week

Steve Whitmore said he would be interviewed Tuesday by federal prosecutors and the FBI about the county jails.

“I will answer their questions and provide everything I know,” he said Thursday.


Whitmore said he had nothing to hide and was more than willing to provide whatever information federal authorities require.

FULL COVERAGE: Jails under scrutiny

“If I can be of service during this investigation, I am more than willing to provide whatever information I can, memory withstanding,” he said.

Whitmore said he was told he would be interviewed by an assistant U.S. attorney and FBI agents. Whitmore said he was not subpoenaed to appear before a grand jury but he was informed the interview would be recorded and, “It will most likely be played for the grand jury.”

The federal probe of the jails has gone on for more than 20 months. Federal authorities have interviewed inmates, jailers and sheriff’s managers. According to sources, at least two federal grand juries have heard testimony from witnesses.

Part of the inquiry centers on whether sheriff’s department officials obstructed an FBI investigation by holding inmate Anthony Brown under aliases and moving him.

The department has said Brown was moved not to hide him from the FBI but to protect him from deputies who believed he was “snitching” on them.

Some sheriff’s department officials offered different explanations as to why the department moved Brown and used aliases. They spoke to The Times after requesting anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media about the matter.

The officials said Operation Pandora’s Box was launched after it was learned in the summer of 2011 that the FBI had enlisted Brown, an inmate in the Men’s Central Jail, to collect information on allegedly abusive and corrupt deputies.

In an unusual move, officials responded by moving the convicted bank robber to a different jail under fake names, including Robin Banks.

They assigned at least 13 deputies to watch him around the clock, according to documents reviewed by The Times. And when the operation was over, the deputies received an internal email thanking them for helping “without asking to [sic] many questions and prying into the investigation at hand.”

Whether Pandora’s Box was intended to protect the inmate or neutralize him as an FBI informant is a key issue in the federal investigation.

Two sheriff’s department officials who spoke to The Times said the goal, at least in part, appeared to be to keep Brown and his FBI-issued cellphone from federal investigators until department officials finished their own investigation.

However, another official said the department’s only goal was to protect Brown from harm. That source said federal authorities did not return multiple calls from the sheriff’s department and never asked to take custody of Brown.


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