A federal investigation into alleged abuses inside Los Angeles County jails came to a head Monday with the arrests of several current and former Sheriff's Department officials and the indictment of seven on conspiracy and obstruction-of-justice charges.
Laura Eimiller of the FBI would not provide any details of the arrests, but U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. and FBI Assistant Director in Charge Bill Lewis planned an early afternoon news conference to discuss "corruption and civil rights charges."
According to a federal indictment alleging conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements — and which was obtained by the Los Angeles Times and posted on its website — the sheriff's officials facing charges are:
- Lt. Stephen Leavins, who worked in a unit that investigates alleged wrongdoing by deputies;
- Sgt. Scott Craig, who worked in the unit;
- Sgt. Maricella Long, who also worked in the unit;
- Lt. Gregory Thompson, head of the Operation Safe Jails Program; and
- Deputies Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo and James Sexton, who all worked for Thompson.
The indictment, which is dated Nov. 20, alleges that an inmate identified only as "AB" was working as an informant for the FBI in connection with a federal probe into alleged misconduct by deputies and abuse of inmates. On Aug. 25, 2011, a federal judge ordered the inmate — who was identified earlier by The Times as Anthony Brown — to appear before a grand jury as part of the investigation, according to the indictment.
After learning of the federal probe, the defendants "knowingly conspired to corruptly influence, obstruct and impede, and endeavor to influence, obstruct and impede, the due administration of justice," the indictment alleges.
The indictment contends that after the informant's cover was blown, sheriff's officials moved him around the jail to keep him hidden from federal authorities, re-booked him using different names and even altered jail records to make it appear that he had been released.
The defendants also grilled the informant "to attempt to determine the manner and extent of the federal investigation," according to the indictment.
The indictment also alleges that Leavins, Craig and Long tried to dissuade potential witnesses from cooperating with the federal probe, unsuccessfully sought a court order to compel the FBI to provide explicit details of the jail probe and tried to intimidate an FBI agent by going to her home and threatening to arrest her.
Sheriff's department officials had no immediate comment on the arrests and indictment, but Sheriff Lee Baca has scheduled a 3:30 p.m. news conference Monday to discuss the case.
The issue of deputies' conduct in the jails has been a hot topic at the county Hall of Administration for the past two years.
Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors hired Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman to a new position of inspector general, charged with scrutinizing the Sheriff's Department and authorized to conduct investigations inside troubled jails and elsewhere
Creating the office of inspector general was one of the key recommendations last year of a blue-ribbon commission that investigated allegations of violence inside the nation's largest jail system. The commission, which included several former judges and a police chief, concluded there was a pattern of excessive force by deputies in the county jails.
The panel called for an inspector general who would report to the Board of Supervisors and provide independent oversight of the Sheriff's Department, conducting its own investigations, monitoring jail conditions and reviewing the department's audits and inspections.— City News Service