Feds to interview Baca about jail abuse, Operation Pandora’s Box

Sheriff Lee Baca
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Federal prosecutors examining jail abuse and other problems in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are expected to interview Sheriff Lee Baca on Friday.

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.

In an interview this week with The Times’ editorial board, Baca said he’s been assured that he’s not a target of the investigation. Federal officials have declined to discuss details of the case.


Baca’s spokesman has said Brown was moved not to hide him from the FBI but to protect him from deputies because he was “snitching” on them.

FULL COVERAGE: Jails under scrutiny

Some Sheriff’s Department officials offered different accounts of 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 protecting 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.

Baca was vague in responding to questions about his involvement. “I’m not a hands-on person,” he said. He acknowledged being consulted about decisions regarding Brown’s “status” after they had been made. “You have to trust what your people are doing,” he said.

But he emphasized that Brown’s safety was the highest priority. “He was actually afraid of everybody, including the FBI,” Baca said.

Baca’s interview with federal prosecutors Friday marks an important moment in an investigation that has spanned more than 18 months. Federal authorities have interviewed inmates, jailers and high-ranking sheriff’s managers.

Sources familiar with the investigation say that at least two federal grand juries have taken testimony.


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