Six Los Angeles county Sheriff’s employees, including two deputies, were found guilty of obstructing an FBI investigation in the local prison system.
The story begins with allegations of abuse in the Los Angeles County prison system, specifically excessive force used against inmates.
The FBI began an undercover investigation. They bribed deputy Gilbert Michel to smuggle a cell phone to informant, Anthony Brown. From there, Brown was to corroborate inmate’s stories of abuse. Gilbert Michel was found guilty of bribery in 2012 and faces up to 10 years in prison for his part in the story.
The cell phone was discovered, inside a potato chip bag. When prison officials found out Brown was an informant, deputies began an elaborate scheme to hide him from the FBI in what became informally known in the department as “Operation Pandora’s Box.”
They moved Brown, first to a high security floor that had a camera to watch him, they then moved him to the infectious disease wing. Finally, they began re-booking him using false names, such as Chris Johnson, one deputy’s fantasy football pick.
The conspiracy culminated when Sgt. Long and Sgt. Craig came to the home of the lead FBI investigator and threatened to arrest her, even saying that a warrant would be issued.
The federal court found six employees guilty of conspiracy and obstruction of justice: Deputies Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo, Sgts. Scott Craig and Maricela Long, and Lts. Stephen Leavins and Gregory Thompson.
In addition, Long and Craig were found guilty of making false statements to the federal agent, each conviction carries a maximum prison term of 5 years.
Defense attorneys argued that these officials were only following orders that were coming from then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and Sheriff Lee Baca. Although Baca is off the hook according to federal officials, Tanaka and the current department captain William “Tom” Carey are still under investigation by a grand jury.
President of the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Association said “The frustration I feel is that all these individuals were following orders from higher-ups, the real people who are responsible haven’t been held accountable.”
With the six officials now convicted, there will be a strong incentive to cooperate with prosecutors for further investigations.
And what about the initial reports of brutality in the jail system?
13 other sheriffs deputies have been charge and might be found guilty of using excessive force against inmates and other crimes.
(Image Credit: Jay L. Clendenin/LA Times)