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Los Angeles Jail Undersheriff Steps Down

PLN's March 2013 cover story detailed a long-standing pattern of abuse and corruption in the nation’s largest jail system, operated by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). Some of that misconduct was attributed to LASD Undersheriff Paul K. Tanaka, the right-hand man of Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca.

In fact, in its final report released in September 2012, the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence stated that Tanaka, who has a tattoo representing a deputy “gang” called the Vikings, had “engaged in conduct that undermined supervision of aggressive deputies and promoted an environment of lax and untimely discipline of deputy misconduct.”

“The troubling role of Undersheriff Tanaka cannot be ignored,” the report added. “Not only did he fail to identify and correct problems in the jails, he exacerbated them. The Commission learned about his ill-advised statements and decisions from a wide array of witnesses and sources. Over the course of several years, the Undersheriff encouraged deputies to push the legal boundaries of law enforcement activities and created an environment that discouraged accountability for misconduct. His repeated statements that deputies should work in an undefined ‘grey’ area contributed to a perception by some deputies that they could use excessive force in the jails and that their aggressive behavior would not result in discipline.”

Additionally, Undersheriff Tanaka was reportedly named in an investigation into efforts by LASD staff to transfer an incarcerated FBI informant to different jail facilities under different names, to conceal him from federal agents.

In his response to criticisms by the Commission, Sheriff Baca indicated that Tanaka would no longer have supervision over LASD jail operations. However, on March 6, 2013, to the shock of many LASD insiders who had known and worked under Tanaka for decades, Sheriff’s Department officials announced that Tanaka was retiring effective August 1. He had served with the LASD for 33 years.

He has also served as the mayor of the City of Gardena, and was re-elected to a third term just days before announcing his retirement. Until recently, following the release of the Commission’s report, both Tanaka and Baca had received campaign contributions from LASD employees, which had been criticized as a means of currying favor and political patronage, and creating conflicts of interest.

Tanaka said his departure from the Sheriff’s Department was voluntary, though it was reportedly in conjunction with an “uneasy rift” with Sheriff Baca. LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore stated Tanaka’s decision to step down was not related to violence and abuse by deputies in the county’s jail system.

The Undersheriff will be missed – not by the prisoners and former prisoners who were brutalized by deputies under his command, but by LASD administrative officials who relied on Tanaka to manage the department’s $2.5 billion annual budget.

Sources:, Los Angeles Times,

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