A half-dozen former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were sentenced Tuesday to prison terms ranging from nearly two years to almost 3 1/2 years for attempting to derail a federal probe into deputy violence against inmates in county jails.
Stephen Leavins, Gregory Thompson, Scott Craig, Maricela Long, Mickey Manzo and Gerard Smith “endeavored to obstruct justice in a misguided attempt” to protect the sheriff’s department from outside scrutiny, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson said before imposing their sentences.
“Blind obedience to a corrupt culture has serious consequences,” Anderson told the defendants before ordering each of them to begin their prison sentences on Jan. 2.
“None of you has shown even the slightest remorse,” the judge said, adding that the department had fostered an “us-versus-them mentality” among jail guards and its own veteran investigators tasked with probing internal crimes.
The defendants declined to make statements to the court.
Former sheriff’s lieutenants Leavins and Thompson — the highest-ranking members of the conspiracy — were held to be the most culpable in the case and received terms of three years and five months and three years and one month, respectively.
Craig was sentenced to two years and nine months; Long and Manzo to two years each; and Smith to one year and nine months in federal prison.
They were each ordered to serve one year under supervised release after they are set free.
The six were found guilty July 1 of conspiracy and obstruction of justice after a Los Angeles jury determined that they conspired to transfer and rebook a jail inmate — who was working as a federal informant — in an effort to hide him from his FBI handlers when agents wanted to put him in front of a grand jury to testify about allegations of excessive force against inmates.
Defense attorneys countered that the ex-deputies were simply following orders from then-Sheriff Lee Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka in their handling of the inmate.
Anderson rebuked that argument Tuesday, saying that no evidence showed that higher-ups in the department ordered the defendants to “tamper” with the informant.
“You have embarrassed the sheriff’s department,” the judge told the defendants. “None of you showed the courage to do what’s right.”
A seventh former deputy, James Sexton, was convicted last week in a separate trial and will be sentenced in December.
Anthony Brown, the inmate at the center of the case, became an issue for jail guards when an FBI cell phone was found in his possession on Aug. 8, 2011, and sheriff’s officials realized that he was cooperating in a secret federal probe they previously knew nothing about.
After FBI agents were ordered out of the jail when they went to interview Brown, the informant was moved to various cells within the Men’s Central Jail downtown, then to a Temple City sheriff’s station, and finally to a San Dimas substation, where he was kept under 24-hour guard.
Tanaka testified that while he didn’t give the order to change Brown’s name or booking number, he didn’t object.
The phone was smuggled into the jail by a corrupt deputy in exchange for cash provided by the FBI. The deputy eventually pleaded guilty to federal charges and is awaiting sentencing.
When Craig and Long determined who at the FBI’s Los Angeles office was in charge of the cell phone operation, they embarked on a plan to frighten the agent and discover the extent of the jails investigation.
The two then-sergeants — who worked for Leavins in the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau — confronted the agent in front of her home, telling her they were planning to arrest her for her involvement in the smuggled cell phone.
“They conducted surveillance on an FBI agent they knew was involved in an authorized investigation,” an attempt to “scare and intimidate” her, Anderson said.
The case stems from July 2010, when the FBI began looking into alleged civil rights abuses committed by members of the sheriff’s department within Los Angeles county jails. As part of the investigation, the FBI interviewed prisoners, including Brown, who had been convicted and was awaiting transfer to state prison to serve a life term.
Prisoners had reported significant levels of civil rights abuses, but federal investigators had no way of verifying the reports because they had no access to either deputies or sheriff’s department documents.
Anderson said sheriff’s department culture appeared to dictate that jail guards respond to problem inmates “with such violence to send the inmate to the hospital.”
In an attempt to foil the federal probe of such deputy-on-inmate brutality, the six convicted ex-sheriff’s employees “all took actions to shield those dirty deputies from the consequences of their actions,” the judge said.
Acting U.S. Attorney Stephanie Yonekura said outside court that the defendants had “brought scandal and shame to themselves and their department. These deputies decided to impede a federal investigation, and in doing so they threw away their careers and their freedom.”
“These law enforcement officers have now been held accountable for their unlawful actions,” she said.
Thompson, 54, Craig, 50, and Leavins, 52, are no longer with the sheriff’s department. Smith, 42, was on approved leave prior to his conviction. Manzo, 34, and Long, 46, were relieved of duty without pay in December 2013, according to the department.
Thirteen other deputies charged in the jailhouse corruption probe in February are awaiting trial.
— City News Service