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Dangerous Jails - LA Weekly


by Matthew Fleischer

A Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department whistleblower reveals to the LA Justice Report that groups of rogue deputies have flourished for years inside the nation’s largest jail system while the LASD command staff looked the other way.

What happens inside jails and prisons does not stay inside jails and prisons. It comes home with prisoners after they are released and with corrections officers at the end of each day’s shift. When people live and work in facilities that are unsafe, unhealthy, unproductive, or inhumane, they carry the effects home with them. We must create safe and productive conditions of confinement not only because it is the right thing to do, but because it influences the safety, health, and prosperity of us all. —2006 report by the Commission on Safety and Abuse in America’s Prisons, Vera Institute of Justice


Juan Pablo Reyes says he was just doing his job on the afternoon of Friday, December 10, 2010, when he picked up a letter he found lying on the ground steps away from a deputy station on the third floor of Los Angeles County’s Men’s Central Jail at the northeast end of downtown Los Angeles. An inmate inside CJ, as Men’s Central Jail is called, Reyes, 30, was sweeping the floor as part of his daily duties as a trustee—a job that grants select inmates special privileges and work details. Trustees are chosen by sheriff’s deputies, and the position is reserved for inmates who are considered reliable.
The Los Angeles County jail system is made up of seven facilities housing an estimated 18,000 to 19,000 inmates on any given day, making it the nation’s largest jail complex. With a daily population of about 4,350, CJ is the largest of the seven. (Jails are operated by the county and primarily hold people awaiting trial plus those sentenced to short-term incarceration. Prisons are long-term lock-ups run by the state or federal government.)
Reyes was in CJ for a 360-day term on a domestic abuse conviction arising from a custody dispute—for making criminal threats against the mother of his child. Not exactly a saint. But at 5-foot-9 with a medium build, he’s an unimposing man, with no tattoos and no gang affiliation. This was his first arrest and he did everything he could to steer clear of trouble inside the jail.

It was around 1:30 p.m. when Reyes discovered the errant letter and immediately walked it to the nearest deputy. It never occurred to Reyes that his action would be viewed as out of the ordinary. For months he’d been performing similar duties, sweeping and cleaning and tidying the deputies’ desks and bathroom, with no problems.

But this particular deputy, whose full name Reyes doesn’t know, had a reputation among inmates as being especially unfair, quick to rile, and even violent. The deputy accused Reyes of stealing the letter—a charge Reyes vehemently denied. If he had stolen it, why was he handing it over willingly now? But the deputy’s shift was nearly over and he seemed anxious to leave, so he dismissed Reyes. “We’ll deal with this on Sunday,” said the deputy.

The deputy made good on his threat. Around 11 on Sunday morning, the deputy who accused Reyes of stealing the note came to Reyes’ cell on the 3700 module with another guard in tow. The deputies told Reyes to change into his standard blues, the garb that county jail inmates are issued for daily wear. The inmate did as he was told. The deputies then cornered the inmate and told him if he fingered other inmates for drug possession—“coke or crystal”—they would forget he stole the letter the previous Friday. Reyes says he told deputies he “knew nothing.”

Unsatisfied with Reyes’ answer, they told Reyes to exit his cell and put his hands on the hallway wall. As Reyes complied, he says he watched as the deputies put on plastic gloves. Moments later, the beating began. According to Reyes, they hit him in the face with their fists, fracturing the orbital bone in his left eye socket, and continued hitting him behind his head, kicking him in the ribs when he fell to the ground. The deputies eventually relented, but they were far from finished with Reyes.

Reyes says deputies then took him out of his cell and moved him to the laundry room of the 3600 module. Once inside the room, deputies told Reyes to strip. He did as he was told, and deputies immediately took him out of the room and paraded him naked across the 3600 hallway for the other inmates to see. “Aqui va un maricon caminando!” Reyes says the deputies shouted over the intercom for all the other inmates to hear—“Here’s a faggot walking.” When they finished, deputies shoved him in a cell that was not his own. If Reyes was relieved to be free of his deputy tormentors, that feeling was short lived. The new cell contained three inmates. Two were Latino men with tattoos indicating they were Southside gang members. The other was African-American; Reyes didn’t know whether he was in a gang.

According to Reyes, this was a breach of a major unwritten rule inside CJ, one that all deputies are aware of. Reyes describes himself as a paisa, someone born in Mexico with no gang affiliation.

“A paisa is not supposed to be placed with Sureños [Southern California gang members],” says Reyes. “The deputies knew what was going to happen to me.”
For the next eight hours, Reyes says the two Southsiders punched and kicked him mercilessly, while the African-American inmate kept watch. But as bad as the beating was, the pain was nothing compared to what happened when the lights went out at 10:30 p.m. Under cover of darkness, Reyes says, the two Southsiders took turns raping him, pausing only to humiliate him further by holding him upside down and flushing his head in the toilet. Reyes says he passed out several times from lack of oxygen. Deputies, whose job is to patrol the line every hour to prevent such abuses, appeared to notice nothing was amiss. Whenever they made their rounds for “cell scans,” the African-American inmate flushed the toilet repeatedly to drown out Reyes’ screams for help.
Flushes or no, Reyes believes the deputies knew exactly what was going on. “Even if they saw something, they saw nothing,” he says.
At 7 a.m., several doors on the 3600 cellblock slid open for a “pill call”—when inmates are given their meds. Reyes saw a chance to escape. When his own cell door opened, he dove into the hallway, yelling for help. He ran to the laundry room, where, he says, a Christian aid worker saw him and demanded he receive treatment for his injuries.
Reyes had a fractured orbital bone and possibly a broken rib. His face was a discolored and badly swollen mess and he had difficulty walking due to his brutal sexual assault. On December 26, two weeks after the alleged beating, he was taken to Los Angeles County+USC Hospital, where doctors confirmed the orbital fracture and said he would require surgery to repair his eye. He spent four days in the hospital, but on December 30 he was released directly from the jail ward of County+USC, more than a month before his sentence was up. He has yet to receive the surgery he needs.

Reyes says jail authorities interviewed him about his beating while he was still in CJ, but kept his mouth shut about deputy involvement in his injuries for fear of retribution. He says one of deputies who beat him was present for the interview.

“This type of thing happens all the time [inside CJ],” he says. “No one talks.”


Reyes’ story sounds like the script for an episode of HBO’s violence-haunted prison series, Oz—a nightmare so perverse only Hollywood could conceive of it. Yet veteran civil rights attorney David McLane became convinced Reyes was telling the truth and agreed to take his case.

“Guards have a constitutional duty to keep inmates safe,” says McLane. “Based on my experience, inmates typically do not make up stories about sexual abuse.”

LASD spokesman Steve Whitmore “respectfully decided not to comment” regarding Reyes’ story and a list of other questions put to him by the LA Justice Report.

But Reyes is only one of many former CJ inmates alleging abuse. For years the Southern California ACLU, various civil rights lawyers and other advocates have been documenting cases of inmate abuse by deputies inside CJ. They tell of rogue groups of deputies who perpetrate these abuses virtually unchecked, and of the pressure put on inmates and the majority of law-abiding deputies to stay silent.

“I have investigated violence in big prison and jail systems all around the country,” says Margaret Winter, who, as the associate director of the ACLU’s National Prison Project has investigated and challenged violations of prisoners’ rights in jails and prisons all over the United States. “I have seen what’s happening in places like Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. But I have never seen anything that begins to parallel what is happening in the LA County Jails in terms of viciousness and the brazenness with which it’s perpetrated.”

The FBI is investigating the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which runs all LA County Jails, over an incident in which deputies allegedly knocked an inmate unconscious and then beat him for several minutes in the Twin Towers jail last January. Deputies evidently tried to cover up the abuse but, as luck would have it, this time ACLU jails monitor Esther Lim was visiting with another inmate in an adjoining room from where the incident occurred—and thus witnessed close up as the deputies allegedly beat and Tasered the inmate, whom Lim described as “limp … like a mannequin” while he was being pummeled.

Yet for all the reports and the lawsuits, in the past there has been only sporadic news coverage of the issue, and little or no public pressure on the Sheriff’s Department to investigate the patterns of abuse. Despite the work of the ACLU and others, the Sheriff’s Department has been able to deflect charges like Reyes’ with a simple refrain: “Prisoners lie.”

In cases where tales of abuse were more difficult to deny—where there may have been witnesses or physical evidence like broken bones or, in extreme cases, a death—the department has conceded there may be problems in CJ, but that the lack of video cameras inside the facility makes it difficult to tell who is really at fault.

“We’ve got to start aggressively pursuing getting cameras in there,” LASD spokesman Whitmore told the LA Weekly in May in response to the story of a man who was allegedly beaten up by deputies while visiting his brother in CJ.

In the same Weekly story, Michael Gennaco, chief attorney in the Office of Independent Review, the civilian oversight group created in 2001 to monitor the LA County Sheriff’s Department, agreed with Whitmore. “Cameras tend to be tiebreakers” in deciding who is at fault in he said/she said incidents between inmates and deputies, he said.

Sheriff’s Department officials have also repeatedly argued that the problem is with the jail itself, that CJ is old and outdated and needs to be torn down and rebuilt to ensure the safety of those inside. “The jail is the oldest in our system,” Baca told the LA Times in November 2007. “It has outlived its time.”

A six-month investigation by the LA Justice Report, however, has uncovered new information from a source well placed inside the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, a whistleblower who is intimately familiar with the workings of Men’s Central Jail, who informed us that rogue cultures have been allowed to flourish for years inside the facility. Our source maintains that Sheriff’s Department officials at the highest levels have known since at least 2005 that there were serious problems with groups of deputies who operate inside Men’s Central Jail almost like street gangs, complete with distinguishing tattoos and handshakes.

According to our whistleblower, who agreed to speak with us on the condition of anonymity, the problem of inmate abuse in LA County Jails, often led by such groups, has been ongoing for the better part of a decade. As far back as 2006, top-ranking Sheriff’s Department officials ignored the advice of their on-the-ground commanding officer inside CJ, who wanted to break up the deputy gangs he saw as a serious problem. And a multimillion-dollar plan to install cameras inside CJ was abandoned in the same year, 2006, despite widespread reports of abuse inside the jail.

Our whistleblower told us that Juan Pablo Reyes’ story is not an aberration, nor was his alleged abuse a problem of architecture or lack of video cameras. Incidents like the brutality that Reyes describes are the result of years of neglect and mismanagement from the highest levels of the Sheriff’s Department.


Significant cracks in the Sheriff’s Department “prisoners lie” excuse began to surface last fall, when news broke that a deputy gang calling itself the 3000 Boys was operating on the third floor of CJ—the same floor on which Juan Pablo Reyes claims he was beaten. Although those working inside CJ knew about the gang for years, the 3000 Boys gained public notice in the aftermath of a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Christmas party in Montebello on the night of December 9, 2010, two days before Reyes says he was assaulted. Near the end of the party, nearly a dozen 3000 Boys allegedly ganged up on two deputies not in the third-floor gang, leaving the outnumbered pair badly beaten.

“This was not a fight,” says Gregory Yates, the lawyer representing the two deputies in a lawsuit against the county. “It was a beatdown.”

When news broke more than three months after the alleged brawl that the LASD had taken the nearly unprecedented step of firing six of the deputies said to be involved in the fight, information began to leak out about the exploits of the most aggressive of the brawlers. The group, it seemed, had matching tattoos, threw gang signs, and for years allegedly ran the third floor of CJ by intimidating inmates and even fellow deputies who stood in their way.

Last spring, KTLA documented the case of third-floor CJ inmate Evans Tutt, who spent 11 days in the hospital after what he says was a beating with fists and flashlights at the hands of the 3000 Boys. The story described the 3000 Boys as “exhibiting the same ganglike behavior and criminal activity as the jailed inmates they’re guarding.”

In the fallout of the 3000 Boys revelations, the Sheriff’s Department has attempted to deflect attention away from its own culpability in failing to stop gangs of deputies from operating inside its jails. In an interview with KTLA, LA Sheriff Lee Baca wrote off the Christmas fight as a boys-will-be-boys case of drunkenness and dismissed talk of larger problems inside his jail system.

“If you don’t know how to deal with someone who is threatening you, who is also wearing a badge, then why are you a cop?” Baca said in the KTLA interview, addressing deputies who complained about mistreatment at the hands of the 3000 Boys. “I think [these deputies] need to man up and say, listen, I’m not a wimp.”

But contrary to Sheriff Baca’s statements to KTLA, the LA Justice Report has discovered that in the past few months, the Sheriff’s Department has quietly taken action to strip deputy gangs of their clout inside the jails. In May, Men’s County Jail began instituting a rotating assignment policy inside the jail. For instance, deputies who would typically spend most of their time working on the 3000 floor are now being rotated to other parts of the jail—2000, visitation, the library, etc.—thereby physically separating the guards in the hope of limiting the influence of the abusive cliques.

The strategy is, of course, important and commendable. But in 2006, long before the current media firestorm forced the department into action, that same policy was ordered by Captain John Clark, who was then the commanding officer in charge of Men’s Central Jail. At that time, levels of deputy-on-inmate force were extremely high inside the jail, and it was known at the highest levels of Sheriff’s Department management that deputy gangs played a significant role in that violence. The 3000 Boys were already in operation in 2006, however, according to our whistleblower, and they may not have even been the worst deputy gang operating inside the jail.

“There were 3000 Boys, 5000 Boys and especially 2000 Boys,” says the whistleblower. “Back then, things were almost as bad on 2000 as they were on 3000. They might have even been worse.”

Documents obtained from a Public Records Act request support our whistleblower’s contention: In 2006 there were 144 deputy-on-inmate force incidents—or “use-of-force incidents”—on the 2000 floor of CJ, compared with 110 on the now-infamous 3000 floor.

According to our whistleblower, Clark traced the problem back to entrenched deputy gangs and devised shift rotations as a means of correcting it. Many deputies—in particular the members of the jail’s various deputy gangs—were not pleased with Clark’s decision and sent then-Assistant Sheriff Paul Tanaka, now undersheriff, hundreds of emails in protest of proposed shift rotations.

Clark assumed that Tanaka would back him and would have at least experimented with shift rotation given the high rates of violence inside the jail, the potential for lawsuits, what our whistleblower describes as the full knowledge of problematic deputy gangs by Sheriff’s Department upper management, and the fact that Clark was dealing with CJ’s operations day to day thus had the best grasp on the facility’s problems.

Tanaka did not back Clark.

Instead, Tanaka spiked the shift rotation idea and Clark was removed from his position as commander of CJ and transferred out of the Custody Division. He now works in the transportation wing of the Sheriff’s Department.

“The result,” says our whistleblower, “was the authority of the [jail’s] captain was completely gutted.”

Captain Clark did not dispute the whistleblower’s claims when he spoke with the LA Justice Report, but offered no additional comment, citing an “ongoing investigation.”
Incidentally, a 2007 LA Times story describes a tattoo on Tanaka from the infamous early-’90s LA County Sheriff’s gang the Vikings. That gang was accused of targeting minorities in the street and was labeled a “neo-Nazi white supremacist gang” by a federal judge.

Undersheriff Tanaka did not respond to repeated calls for comment for this story.
In the years that followed Clark’s transfer, uses of force remained higher inside Men’s Central Jail than in any of the county’s other jail facilities—especially on the second and third floors. In 2007 there were 90 and 100 use-of-force incidents on the second and third floors, respectively, out of 367 incidents at the facility. That same year there were only 83 total use-of-force incidents at the North County Correctional Facility, which has the second-largest inmate population in the LA County system after CJ.

And even when use of force appeared to dip, incidents of “significant” force (involving head strikes, broken bones, hospitalizations and inmate complaints of injury) shot up, according to internal Sheriff’s Department documents obtained by the LA Justice Report. In 2006 there were 440 total use-of-force incidents inside CJ, and 182 individual uses of significant force by deputies against inmates. (Note: According to LASD math, if there are three deputies hitting an inmate, this counts as three individual uses of significant force.) By 2007, the use-of-force number had dropped to 367 in CJ; but there were 219 incidents of individual significant force. In 2008, the total use-of-force count was down to 273, but the individual uses of significant force jumped to 282, suggesting that a large percentage of that year’s force incidents involved more severe levels of violence and had multiple deputies joining in.

The documents also show that the vast majority of this force was “nondirected,” meaning a sergeant or superior officer was not present to authorize its use. For instance, only 10 percent of all incidents in 2008 were “directed”—despite the fact that protocol dictates a sergeant should be notified the moment force appears to be inevitable.

In the three years after the decision to abandon shift rotation, Sheriff’s Department Internal Affairs involvement inside the jail tripled—from four investigations per year in 2006 to 12 in 2009. Internal Affairs is called in to investigate only the most serious force incidents—broken bones, head strikes, severe hospitalizations or death. A rise in the number of IA investigations is good indicator of problems inside the jails, Mike Gennaco told the LA Justice Report.

The culture that created the 3000 Boys extends well beyond the six deputies who were fired for allegedly beating their brethren—and it remains alive and well inside Men’s Central Jail.


In the past few months, the Sheriff’s Department has tried to assuage concerns over alleged abuse at CJ by announcing plans to install a $7.2 million camera system inside the jail, which the County Board of Supervisors has approved and appropriated. But the LA Justice Report has discovered that in 2006, a $12 million plan for a closed-circuit surveillance system was designed for CJ—only to be abandoned.

The plan was devised in the wake of the November 2005 death of Chadwick Shane Cochran—a mentally ill inmate who was stomped to death inside CJ by gang members. LA County wound up settling with Cochran’s family for $1 million after it was determined deputies had been negligent in supervising the inmates.

To prevent such incidents from happening again, on November 22, 2005, the County Board of Supervisors put out a board paper requesting the Sheriff’s Department to explore the possibility of expanding camera surveillance inside CJ. The Sheriff’s Department came back several months later with a detailed plan to install
1,200 cameras inside CJ at a cost of $10,000 per camera.

However, that plan was never enacted. On August 26, 2006, it was marked “received and filed” by the Supes—which is a bureaucratic way of saying “thanks but no thanks.”
Why the LA County Board of Supervisors spent time and resources commissioning a detailed plan only to ignore it when it arrived at its doorstep is unclear. But though the board deserves its share of the blame for the lack of cameras inside CJ, Sheriff Baca is at least equally responsible for the plan going nowhere. We spoke with a longtime Board of Supervisors insider who told us that if Baca really wanted the plan, he would have pushed much harder for it.

“He would have pressed it. He would have revisited it in different ways and even played the media card.”

Baca did none of those things. Instead, he took to the media several months later—not to ask for cameras, but to ask for a new jail. Our whistleblower, who saw the detailed camera plans back in 2006, says that the Sheriff’s Department was never really behind the plan for cameras. CJ was going to be torn down, went the thinking, so why waste $12 million on a system that would be scrapped along with the jail in a few years?

CJ, of course, was not torn down. Now, five years and multiple deaths, beatings and lawsuits later, the Sheriff’s Department has announced that it is doing everything it can to get cameras installed ASAP.

But while cameras have the potential to help improve accountability for abuses inside CJ, they are not a cure-all.

CJ already has some video surveillance within its walls. For instance, there are multiple cameras in the hallway of the fifth floor. And though there are not as many use-of-force incidents on that floor as there are on floors two or three, where there are no cameras, incidents still occur there.

Our public records request indicates there were 37 use-of-force incidents on the fifth floor in 2008—compared to 72 on 2000 and 70 on 3000. The Sheriff’s Department will not release information describing the exact nature of these incidents, but according to our whistleblower and other sources, a great many of them constituted abuse—even with the cameras.


In one 2009 incident that occurred in the hallway of the fifth floor, directly in front of cameras, a deputy called for the strip search of an inmate who had approached him without permission.

“This is often a necessary procedure,” says our whistleblower, when asked about the incident. “You’d be amazed at the things these guys can hide in their butts: shivs, knives, blunt instruments.”

But while the strip search itself was not problematic, the manner in which it was carried out was. Strip searches are supposed to be conducted in private, with the consent and presence of a supervisor. But the deputy neither called for backup nor took the inmate aside. He conducted the search without the proper signoff by a supervisor, on the wall in the middle of the hallway, in full view of dozens of other inmates.

“That’s a violation of an inmate’s dignity,” says the whistleblower. “These are often very bad men we deal with, but you just can’t do anything you want to them.”

Things escalated from there. The officer put the inmate on the wall, made him strip and squat and told him to cough. No contraband was found. But instead of finishing the search promptly, the officer took his time—keeping the inmate naked and squatting on the wall for more than a minute.

“This procedure can and should be completed in about 15 seconds,” our informer says.
The officer presumably would have kept the inmate squatting longer, but the inmate eventually stood up without permission in protest. The deputy took the inmate to the ground and the fight was on from there.

“It should have never gotten to that point,” insists our whistleblower.
The 2009 incident pales when compared with more extreme beatings by deputies and inmate-on-inmate violence and sexual assault that deputies allegedly either facilitated or ignored. The ACLU has filed sworn declarations from more than 28 inmates alleging similar and far worse abuse than the strip-search episode in the past 18 months. Additionally, the LA Justice Report spoke with a longtime volunteer inside CJ who told us he witnesses comparable abuses “all the time.” (The volunteer asked not to be named so he could continue doing his work inside the jail system.)

In one such incident, our source remembers seeing an inmate hit in the back of the head with a flashlight by deputies and then, after he collapsed, beaten on the ground—for improperly putting his hands in his pockets. Our source describes this kind of brutal deputy response to a seemingly minor infraction as “business as usual.”

Our source also reported seeing “dozens” of instances of sexual humiliation in the form of public strip searches: “[Deputies] always conduct those in the hallway in front of everyone,” says our source. Keep in mind this source is civilian—someone around whom deputies would presumably exercise more caution.

If deputies are already getting away with this kind of sexual humiliation in full view of hallway cameras and civilians inside the jail, is it reasonable to believe that a more extensive network of cameras alone would eradicate CJ’s entrenched culture of abuse?
“You could build a brand-new jail and install a $100 million camera system—none of that would matter,” says our whistleblower. “If you don’t change the culture of these facilities, nothing is going to change. And it all starts at the top.”

“This isn’t happening in East Overshoe, Mississippi,” says the ACLU’s Winter. “This is happening downtown in a major international city.”

* * *


A retired LASD Commander tells how Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka turned away from detailed warnings that something was terribly wrong in the County’s largest jail.

by Matthew Fleischer

It’s been more than three months since investigations into the violent treatment of inmates by sheriff’s deputies inside the LA County Jail system by the LA Justice Report, the ACLU, the LA Times, and other media outlets—and by the FBI—have drawn national scrutiny and calls for reform. Both the LA County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have initiated investigations into the jails abuse scandal. Yet, despite all the commotion, thus far the highest-ranking member of the department to be put on leave in relationship to the scandal was former Men’s Central Jail commanding officer, Captain Dan Cruz.

As we reported at the time he was put on leave, Cruz deserves a share of the blame for violence inside the jail. Sources told us Cruz was “too buddy-buddy” with the deputies under his command—which allowed an already problematic culture of gang-like deputy cliques to flourish inside the jail, with little or no accountability for abusive deputy actions.

In addition, Cruz was one of two captains present when the now infamous fight between deputies broke out during a Christmas Party at the Quiet Cannon banquet hall in Montebello that left two deputies severely beaten and led to the firing of 6 others. When the Montebello police got the call that there was a fight at the Quiet Cannon and went to investigate, it was Cruz who told the Montebello cops that it was a “Code 4,” no big deal, nothing to see here, and that the sheriffs would handle it.

But it was a big deal. The deputies who were beaten by their brethren returned two days later to press criminal charges.

“He’s a Sheriff’s Department captain,” Lt. Michael Bergman of the Montebello PD said of Cruz. “So when our sergeant saw no obvious victims, and the supervising officer says, ‘We’ve got a handle on this,’ we took his word for it.”

That kind of let-boys-be-boys refusal to correct out-of-control deputies is in keeping with what sources say was Cruz’s administrative style inside Men’s Central Jail.

But despite the undeniable problems inside Men’s Central Jail under Cruz’s watch, sources with intimate knowledge of the department’s inner workings, say blame for the violence in the jails lies much higher up the food chain than Dan Cruz.

One of those knowledgeable sources is retired LASD Commander Bob Olmsted, who was Cruz’s commanding officer inside CJ (as Men’s Central Jail is known). In a series of interviews with the LA Justice Report, Olmsted acknowledged that while Dan Cruz is culpable for the recent violence at CJ, “the real problem is how departmental leadership allowed this jail situation to occur.

“The problems inside the jail were ignored by the Sheriff’s command staff. I went to [Custody Chief Dennis] Burns, [Undersheriff Paul] Tanaka. And I went to Lee Baca. I told them I needed help trying to corral this situation and I was ignored.”

The story of how Dan Cruz came to run Men’s Central Jail is nearly as disquieting as the incidents of abuse that took place under his watch.


In Fall of 2006, Olmsted inherited the difficult task of captainship of Men’s Central Jail. As we reported in September, the jail’s previous captain, John Clark, had been shipped out of CJ for attempting to contain the spread of street gang-like cliques of deputies inside the jail with names like the 3000 Boys. These groups allegedly shared matching tattoos, threw gang signs and were responsible for escalating levels of deputy on inmate violence. Clark proposed a corrective called “shift rotation,” which would have required deputies to be assigned to multiple sections of the jail—instead of simply staying put on the same floor–thus breaking up the cliques.

That effort at reform, however, was stopped by then-Assistant Sheriff, now Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, who was already, according to sources, the most powerful figure in the department, aside from the Sheriff himself, and whose influence was felt on most of the LASD’s day-to-day operations. After fielding calls and emails from 2nd and 3rd floor deputies who didn’t want to be rotated away from their clique members, Tanaka overruled his captain’s reform attempts, and transferred Clark out of custody altogether.
To replace Clark, Tanaka brought in Olmsted.. Sheriff Baca has said recently that Olmsted was brought in to oversee the renovation of the jail’s aging interior, which had been criticized by the ACLU and others as being “Dickensian” and dangerous.

Sources also say they think Tanaka thought that Olmsted—who had just spent several years running Lee Baca’s pet project the Deputy Leadership Institute, a training seminar for deputies looking to advance in the ranks—would do a solid job without resorting to more drastic reforms that would upset the deputies under Tanaka’s umbrella. As it happens, Tanaka got not only a good leader but also something of a change agent.
Colleagues both inside and outside the department describe Olmsted as a straight-shooter and a reformer.

“He’s impeccable,” says retired LASD Chief Ronnie Williams, a 34-year vet of the department, who once personally tried to land Olmsted as a captain in his own division. “Bobby has consistently gone into places that have had low morale and personnel problems and turned things around.”

Another LASD supervisor who completed Olmsted’s training course and worked with him in the jails agrees. “If you could pick a model for how you’d expect a captain to run his jail, that would be Olmsted,” he says. “Everything he does is by the book.”
The ACLU too respected Olmsted’s efforts to clean up the jails.

“Bob Olmsted was responsive to a number of our concerns and issues inside the jail in a way that other captains we have worked with were not, including the treatment of inmates,” says the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg. Although he cautioned that deputy on inmate violence was still a major concern during Olmsted’s tenure.

Although the problems plaguing Men’s Central Jail—including deputy on inmate violence—did not magically vanish overnight under the new captain, Olmsted’s efforts did begin to pay measurable dividends. In both 2007 and 2008, force numbers dropped inside CJ—especially on the troublesome second and third floors. Between 2006 and 2007, force incidents dropped from 144 to 90 on the second floor alone. They dropped further to 72 in 2008. Overall, force incidents dropped from 440 to 273 inside CJ between 2006 and 2008.

Olmsted also expected the officers under him to follow department rules. In 2007, Olmsted was able to get rid of a problem deputy who was reputed to be a 3000 Boy ringleader. While on a disciplinary leave, the 3000 Boy was involved in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend. That wasn’t enough to warrant dismissal from the force. But in the police report for the incident the deputy’s girlfriend claimed he was a steroid abuser. Olmsted had the deputy tested for steroids—and his positive test forced the department’s hand in removing him from duty.

Still Tanaka was pleased enough with Olmsted that, in April of 2008, Olmsted was promoted to custody commander with oversight over CJ, Twin Towers and Century Regional Detention Facility. To replace, Olmsted, Paul Tanaka then promoted and installed CJ operations lieutenant Daniel Cruz as the next captain of Men’s Central Jail.


Cruz arrived at the job with a decidedly spotted record. Earlier, when he was a lieutenant at Lennox Station in Inglewood, Cruz’s boss, Commander Ralph Martin and his boss, LASD Division 2 Chief Ronnie Williams, pushed hard to get Cruz transferred out of their area because of his failure to investigate citizen complaints (called “watch commander service comment reports” or SCR’s) against the station. Cruz was as much as 18 months behind in responding to what sources describe as “at least three massive boxes of complaints” cluttering his desk.

“Complaints and force packages have a year time clock on them,” explained a former LASD higher up, who was one of those who verified that Cruz let the paperwork languish. “So if you sit on force packages, and the year runs out, we can’t do anything about investigating those complaints even if we want to.” In other words, while Cruz was at Lennox, if deputies misbehaved, chances were good they would not be sanctioned.
Cruz eventually was transferred to the Facility Services Bureau, an unglamorous posting that, coming from a high profile station like Lennox, is universally acknowledged as a “dead end” job inside the department. In other words, it was a punishment. And yet, less than a year later, in fall of 2006, he was inexplicably pulled from obscurity by Paul Tanaka and installed as operations lieutenant of Men’s Central Jail—second in charge under Olmsted.

A department higher-up who has had several of Tanaka’s promotions forced on him, says that the Undersheriff makes a habit of rescuing deputies who are then beholden to him. “That way when they screw up, they go running to him—and he gets stays in the loop on every level of the department.”

In any case, less than two years later Dan Cruz was running Men’s Central Jail--a facility that, though improved, what was still the most troubled jail in the department, and arguably in the nation.

Olmsted was not happy about Cruz’s appointment to head CJ. But Cruz had Tanaka’s backing, which made all the difference. Although by 2008, Tanaka was no longer the assistant sheriff in charge of the department’s custody facilities. (That was now Assistant Sheriff Marvin Cavanaugh’s job.) But even as Tanaka was overseeing another part of the department, he still called the shots in terms of placements and promotions inside the jail. If he wanted Cruz to manage CJ, there was no discussion.

Problems sprang up almost immediately under Cruz’s watch. Just like at Lennox, force packages and complaints began to pile up. In 2009, after two years of steady decline, deputy on inmate forces incidents jumped from 273 to 330.

With force numbers spiking, Olmsted decided to do some serious digging into Cruz’s efforts in the jail. He found that, not only were many force packages not being investigated, the ones that were cleared were often given only cursory examination. Olmsted had one of his lieutenants pull 30 force reports at random that were in various stages of oversight. A second lieutenant, Mark McCorkle, analyzed them. All were either signed off on, or were on the verge of being cleared. Yet of that group of 30, 18 uses of force were questionable in nature and conceivably fell outside of department policy.

For example, in one such incident from 2009, an inmate was passing an officer on the fifth floor and sucked his teeth as he went by. “Sucking teeth”—a gesture involving loudly cleaning one’s upper front teeth with a sucking motion of the tongue–is considered disrespectful inside the jail walls. The officer in question took the inmate aside, put him on the wall and told him he was being disrespectful. When the inmate argued, the deputy took him to the ground and beat him “badly.”

Olmsted says he took McCorkle’s finding up the chain of command to Custody Chief Dennis Burns, Assistant Sheriff in charge of custody Marvin Cavanaugh, and to Paul Tanaka. No action was taken. (Neither Burns, Cavanaugh nor Tanaka were available for comment for this story, but Burns was interviewed by the LA Times and denied seeing the McCorkle report.)

“Dan is a nice guy,” says one LASD higher up who considers Cruz a friend. “But there’s no way he’s fit for administrative duties. Paperwork is not his thing. He’s far too buddy-buddy with the deputies.”


Cruz’s oversight of CJ was lax and incompetent enough that Olmsted planned on giving him a failing performance review—which is almost unheard of for a supervisor ranked as high as captain in the department.

Higher ups inside the Sheriff’s Department, however, refused to let that review go through. Custody Chief Dennis Burns insisted Olmsted retract his failing review and give Cruz a passing mark. Olmsted reluctantly agreed, but insisted on putting the caveat “needs improvement” on the review.

A short while later, an irritated Burns told Olmsted he wanted to transfer him to command the North County custody facilities—a sanction known as “freeway therapy” in the department.

“You get a lot of time to think about what you might have done wrong when you’re driving up to those facilities,” explained one LASD insider.

Olmsted refused and Burns didn’t push the issue. Sources close to the jail situation say Burns simply wanted the heat on Cruz to go away—because Cruz was closely connected to Paul Tanaka. To mess with one of Tanaka’s “boys” was to invite reprisal, regardless of intentions. Burns needed only to look to John Clark. So instead of transferring Olmsted, sources say, Burns simply sat on Olmsted’s “improvement needed” performance review of Cruz for months.

But Olmsted’s repeated cries for reform eventually reached the point where Tanaka was forced to intervene. Tanaka sent in a close ally in the department, then-Lieutenant Duane Harris, to figure out what was actually happening in the jails. Up until that point, despite conversations with Olmsted, the critical McCorkle report, numerous high-ticket lawsuits against the department by inmates, and other serious warning signs, Tanaka had reportedly almost exclusively been relying on Cruz’s word that everything was fine. After extensive interviews with jail personnel, Harris came back 10 days later with a brand new report that traced the blame back to Cruz.

After backing Cruz unflaggingly for years, Tanaka was finally forced to admit that Olmsted had been right. Two months later, Cruz was transferred out of custody work, and Harris took over as captain of CJ. Olmsted retired soon after, fed up with departmental politics that stymied meaningful reform in the jails.

Shortly after his retirement, however, Olmsted said he happened to run into Lee Baca at a charity food drive. It was late December of 2010, and the Quiet Cannon fight was all over the news—a stain on the reputation of the department. Olmsted approached Baca to talk about the fight.

“I told him ‘this incident didn’t need to happen. None of the incidents in the jail needed to happen. There is a serious cultural problem in the department and it’s not being addressed.’”

Baca nodded his head and thanked Olmsted, promising to chat about the jail situation later. Olmsted didn’t hear from Baca again for nearly a year. It wasn’t until last month—dogged with high profile calls for his resignation from the ACLU and LA Times columnist Steve Lopez–that Lee Baca asked Olmsted to return to the department for six months to help lead an investigation into the failures in the jail system.

Olmsted declined.

“I applaud Sheriff Baca and the department for trying to right the ship,” says Olmsted. “But there are still too many barriers in place for me to feel confident that I could have an impact on the situation. All of the stakeholders need to be addressed. That means the needs of the public, the inmates, the ACLU—not just the needs of the department. Right now that isn’t happening.”

* * *


by Matthew Fleischer

LASD insiders say that, for years, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka—not Lee Baca—has ruled the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department though a system built of favoritism, pay-to-play campaign donations, and loyalty rewarded over competence—and the jails scandal is one of the results.


Six years ago, Men’s Central Jail commanding officer Captain John Clark had had enough. Plagued by a spate of bad press over some high-profile incidents, plus calls for reform from the ACLU and the County Board of Supervisors over the dangerous conditions inside his jail, Clark sent his operations lieutenant, Casey Bald—second in command in the jail behind the captain himself—to read his supervisors the riot act. It was time to get his facility under control.

The symptoms suggesting something was going wrong with the running of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s largest and most troubled facility were becoming increasingly evident to anyone paying attention. There had been the brutal beating death of mentally ill inmate Chadwick Shane Cochran on November 16, 2005. The emotionally unstable Cochran was locked in a room with 30 other inmates, where a group of gang members mistakenly believed his red ID tag indicating mental illness meant he was a police informant—a snitch. They attacked 35-year-old Cochran with fists and food trays and then, once he was on the floor, repeatedly stomped his head until his skull shattered. The frenzied assault lasted nearly a half hour. Yet no deputies intervened, even as other inmates in the locked room repeatedly pounded on the door and called out for guards to rescue the dying man.

“[What this] suggests to me is a cascade of errors,” Merrick Bobb, the special monitor who advises county supervisors on Sheriff’s Department matters, told an AP reporter when asked about Cochran’s death. “It wasn’t just one guy messing up one thing, it was a systemic failure.”

The “systemic failure” was one of eight murders in two-and-a-half years inside CJ—as Men’s Central Jail is known.

The Office of Independent Review would release a report in November 2006 noting that inmate deaths in the County Jail system in general nearly had nearly doubled from 2004 to 2005—from 23 to 43. Yet, despite the alarming uptick in fatalities, many of the departmental investigations into the jail deaths—inquiries known as “death reviews”—languished unfinished on desks of supervisors inside the jails. According to the OIR report, 18 of the 43 death reviews took more than a year to complete. Another 13 death reviews were more than 300 days old and still incomplete. The time frames are significant because departmental investigations of wrongdoing have a one-year time limit. After a year, even if a deputy behaves with gross negligence resulting grave harm or death to an inmate, unless the DA chooses to file criminal charges (the chances of which are miniscule without a departmental investigation) the matter is procedurally dead. There will be no discipline, no consequences.

“If you sit on these reviews and the year runs out, we can’t do anything about investigating them even if we want to,” explained a former LASD higher up.

But the death reviews were only the tip of the iceberg when it came to systemic failure. Force packages—reports on deputy-on-inmate violence—were also sitting uninvestigated on supervisors’ desks for months, if not years, inside the jail.

At the same time as this systemic breakdown in the realm of paperwork was occurring, cliques of deputy gangs like the now-infamous 3000 Boys were beginning to flex their muscles inside the jail. Like the gang members they often guarded, these groups shared flashy group tattoos and threw hand signs. Clique members also had the habit of waiting for their entire crew to get off work—sometimes lingering for hours at a time—before leaving the station together en masse. Not only was this a violation of departmental policy—off-duty deputies are not supposed to mill around the jail—but it was eerie gang-like behavior, meant to intimidate both inmates and other nonmember deputies, the message being “screw with us at your own peril.”

More ominous than these showy displays, however, was the violence Clark determined the cliques were inflicting on inmates behind closed doors—which accounted for the growing piles of force reports littering his supervisors’ desks.

Inside CJ, a perfect storm of departmental dysfunction was quickening: bold groups of deputies prone to violence were being overseen by supervisors who failed to consistently hold anyone accountable. It was with these growing concerns that Clark summoned Bald and tasked him with cracking the whip on jail supervisors to finish their paperwork and stay on top of troublesome deputies. Bald immediately went to a supervisor who sources with knowledge of the situation say was one of the worst offenders, a lieutenant named Christopher Nee, who had nearly a year’s backlog of force packages piled on his desk and was seen by many as too friendly with the third-floor deputies.

Bald instructed Nee in clear terms to catch up on his paperwork and help crack down on the deputy gangs, but he did not get the response from his subordinate that he anticipated.
“I don’t work for John Clark,” Nee said. “I work for Paul Tanaka.”

In a paramilitary organization like a police force, or the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, this was an extraordinary statement. As with the military, chain of command is everything. Sergeants report to lieutenants, who report to captains, who report to commanders and so on. What Nee was saying, in essence, was that he didn’t work for his superior officer, Bald, thus did not have to do as Bald said. Nor did he have to obey Bald’s superior officer, Captain Clark, or for that matter Clark’s superior who was, at the time, Commander Dennis Conte. The only person whose orders he really had to follow was Paul Tanaka.

It was an extremely telling statement that pointed to a power struggle going on inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that would help foster patterns of misbehavior and violence into the next decade. One of the primary flash points of this struggle was CJ.


So who is Paul Tanaka? As it turns out, this is not a simple question to answer.
At the time of Nee’s statement, Tanaka was the assistant sheriff of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department in charge of custody. These days he’s the department’s undersheriff, Sheriff Lee Baca’s No. 2 in charge. Tanaka is also a man of political ambition, whom sources say Baca has been grooming for years to take over the department when the sheriff himself decides to step down. Added to that, he’s the mayor of the city of Gardena, a position he’s held since 2005. Prior to being elected mayor, he was a Gardena city council member, first elected in 1999, the same year Lee Baca became the L.A. County Sheriff.

Tanaka ascended to the powerful undersheriff position in June 2011. Yet, according to sources close to and inside the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, it is Tanaka, not Lee Baca, who has effectively been running huge portions of the day-to-day operations of the department for nearly eight years.

When the ongoing jail inmate abuse scandal heated to a boil three months ago and Sheriff Baca told the L.A. Times editorial board that he was unaware of much that was going on in his jails, that his command staff kept information from him, this was likely true. For years, Baca has showed up to his weekly Wednesday executive planning council meetings at 9:30 a.m.—one hour later than the rest of his command staff. According to sources who have attended these meetings, before Baca arrives his staff carefully decides what information they should or should not tell him. The person in charge of orchestrating these meetings and choosing what information is filtered to Baca is Paul Tanaka.

“Tanaka tells Lee only what he wants him to hear,” says a former LASD higher-up who was privy to multiple meetings. “It gives Baca plausible deniability for the department’s problems and it gives Tanaka a tremendous amount of control.”

Another former command staffer agrees. “The attitude is always that Lee has to be ‘handled.’”

With this informational control, plus control of most of the LASD departments that oversee revenue streams and resource allocation, Tanaka has obtained power in the department that often far outstrips his rank.

Our sources on these matters are all either current or former LASD members with deep internal knowledge of the department. They range from retired LASD higher-ups who worked alongside Tanaka for years to current members of the force who are fed up with the state of the department.

No matter the departmental rank, all our sources tell us the same thing: Long before Tanaka officially inherited the No. 2 spot there were already two camps inside the Sheriff’s Department—those “in the car” with Tanaka and those on the outside. Those outside the car can be “rolled up”—meaning transferred to department backwaters—if they cross Tanaka, regardless of their performance on the job. Those in the car with Tanaka are promoted quickly and insulated from performance failures. For years, Lee Baca has, with few exceptions, granted Tanaka the power to pick and choose what supervisors get promoted and where they’re placed—even in units over which Tanaka has no formal organizational control.

Furthermore, our sources allege a pay-to-play-like promotional system headed by Tanaka—whereby donors to Tanaka’s Gardena political campaigns have moved up the ranks faster than nondonors, even when the nondonors are more qualified. Campaign finance records we acquired from Tanaka’s Gardena political campaigns through Public Records Act requests, together with internal Sheriff’s Department documents obtained by the LA Justice Report, back our sources’ contentions. Tanaka campaign donors—often with troubled or mediocre service records—have found themselves in critical supervisory positions in the department in lieu of more qualified individuals. The result of this in-crowd/out-crowd system is a department beset by violence in its jails, insubordination in its ranks and multiple federal investigations into criminal misdeeds—a large part of which, argue our sources, can be traced to Paul Tanaka’s rise.


For one of the most powerful men in Los Angeles law enforcement, Paul Tanaka keeps a remarkably low public profile. He avoids the media whenever possible, preferring to operate behind the scenes. When Baca recently gave a press conference to address media reports of uncontrolled violence within the L.A. County jail system, the sheriff stood flanked by all of his command staff—except Tanaka, who was conspicuously absent, especially considering how Baca had appointed him to lead the departmental investigation into the jail situation.

(Tanaka declined to comment for this story.)

Colleagues who have worked with Tanaka describe him as a highly intelligent man with a gift for number crunching. He’s a certified public accountant who sources say has been doing Lee Baca’s taxes for years. In 1992, ten years after joining the LASD, he scored top in his class on the department’s lieutenant’s exam. But then, because of some early clouds over his service record, under former sheriff Sherman Block, his career appeared to get stuck. Under Lee Baca, by contrast, his rise has been nothing short of meteoric.
“Baca plucked him up from obscurity,” says a source who is a contemporary of Tanaka’s in the department. “He was going nowhere under Sheriff Block.”

Tanaka’s career reportedly stalled under Block largely because of his involvement in the 1988 shooting death of Korean immigrant Hong Pyo Lee. Tanaka was one of five deputies who shot the 21-year-old 15 times after a car chase left Hong cornered at a dead-end street.

A Long Beach police officer who witnessed the shooting told investigators he “just observed the sheriffs execute somebody.”

L.A. County paid out $999,999 in a settlement with Hong’s family. Tanaka and his fellow deputies were cleared of all charges. But Block had to do major community damage control—especially after it was revealed that Tanaka had a Viking tattoo, the insignia of a controversial deputy clique that a federal judge once labeled a “neo-Nazi white supremacist gang.”

Despite the shooting and the Vikings membership, Tanaka made lieutenant thanks to his high-scoring exam. But, sources say, Tanaka’s career was dead in terms of further promotions as long as Sheriff Block was in charge.

All that changed in 1998, when Block died days before the sheriff’s election, suddenly leaving dark horse candidate Baca the winner. Tanaka had jumped on Baca’s initial long-shot campaign for sheriff early. (Sources say he managed—and continues to manage—Baca’s campaign funds.) Baca rewarded him by making him one of his top aides shortly after the election.

Within four years of Baca becoming sheriff in 1998, Tanaka went from lieutenant to chief of the Administrative Services Division—effectively running the department’s 2.4 billion dollar budget. By 2005 he was an assistant sheriff—the third most powerful position in the department.

Baca’s ascendancy to sheriff happened to correspond with Tanaka’s own political ambitions. In 1999 he was elected to the Gardena City Council—mainly with the support of the regional Asian-American community. By 2002, however, when Tanaka became a department chief, his campaign finance reports show a marked influx of donations by LASD deputies. By 2004, when he was made assistant sheriff, Tanaka had dozens of deputies and supervisors—and in some cases, their family members—on his donor rolls, helping him raise more than $100,000. He was elected mayor of Gardena in 2005.

But despite his intelligence and political acumen, sources say, Tanaka has a fondness for vulgarity and tough-guy swagger. “Everything with Paul is ‘fuck this’ or ‘fuck that,” says a former LASD higher up. “The guy has an extremely short fuse.”

Tanaka is known for telling deputies to “work in the gray”—a phrase that essentially translates to “do whatever it takes” to hook ’em and book ’em.

“If we know there are drugs in a house, but we don’t have a warrant,” explains one deputy who worked under Tanaka, “‘working the gray’ would mean manufacturing a reason to search the house. We could say we were responding to a complaint of a domestic disturbance, or that we personally heard a disturbance. Whatever it takes to get inside that house and get the job done.”

Tanaka has repeated this advice even at the department’s most troubled stations. In 2005, Century Station was struggling with violence stemming from the resurgence of a deputy gang known as the Regulators. As supervisors struggled to deal with the rogue deputies, Tanaka visited the station and gave his “work the gray” speech. He then went on to tell the assembled deputies—“I don’t think much of Internal Affairs.”

“That is not the kind of thing a supervisor should tell a station like Century,” says a former supervisor with knowledge of the situation. “For their own protection, these deputies need to be taught to respect IA.”

Interestingly, despite his cowboy attitude, most people we interviewed described Tanaka as “deputy five”—a supervisor who talks a tough game but doesn’t have the track record to back it up. Tanaka did his patrol time at Carson Station—not considered a hotbed of action.

Tanaka did work at Lennox—a renowned tough-guy station—as a lieutenant. But, says one retired supervisor who worked under Tanaka for years: “He was behind a desk. He’s spent almost his whole career at headquarters. I’ve never seen a guy rise as far as he has in the department without moving around.”

His insulation from the day-to-day realities of deputy work failed to strip him of his cowboy notions about how the job needs to be done.

“He lives vicariously through his deputies,” says a supervisor. “He never got the chance to work a serious patrol. So he has no idea what constitutes good police work.”


In a back courtyard of the COPS Bureau at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department headquarters building in Monterey Park sits a quiet area reserved for LASD personnel. (COPS oversees federally funded community policing teams and other specialized units.) Technically you could call the area a smoking patio, but the space is not your typical civil servant’s break room. The patio is tented and climate controlled, complete with a refrigerator, a sink, a barbeque island and an elaborate cigar-smoking section. Sources say its construction cost upward of $25,000.

But there’s a catch. Not all members of the Sheriff’s Department are allowed access to this pleasantly appointed enclave. Since its construction sometime in 2008, the patio has reportedly been reserved exclusively for friends and allies of Paul Tanaka.

“I would classify the patio as an executive meeting space,” says LASD spokesman Captain Mike Parker. “Can any member of the department hang out at the patio? No. But they wouldn’t have access to an executive meeting room either.”

But there’s more to the patio than simple executive privilege. There’s only one entrance to the smoking patio—directly through the COPS Bureau captain’s personal office. To use the facility, sheriff’s deputies need a unique coin—known as a “challenge coin”—or someone with a coin must accompany the deputy. Each of these coins is presented to the bearer by Tanaka himself. The LA Justice Report has obtained photographs of the smoking club coins from two different sources. The front bears the emblem of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, bracketed by the words “Ramona Blvd. Smoking Patio.” The back features a picture of a cigar wrapped in a leaf, encircled by the names of various LASD divisions.

Tanaka gives out these coins to only a selected few, and each coin is serially numbered, in part, so no forgeries can be made, but mostly to emphasize the special nature of the talismans. They are earned, say sources, through loyalty to Paul Tanaka.

“I can’t prove it, but from what I’ve observed, there are two ways to get ahead in this department,” says retired LASD commander Bob Olmsted. “The official way is the civil service way of solid performance reviews, expected performance and various forms of testing. The real way is to become a ‘Tanaka boy’—by volunteering and donating to his campaign and smoking cigars with his inner circle.”

The LA Justice Report sat down with one LASD supervisor who donated and was among roughly 40 volunteers working on one of Tanaka’s Gardena political campaigns at the behest of a friend in the department. (Our source asked we not mention the year he volunteered, nor his name or rank, for fear of being identified. But we were able confirm his name among the political donor rolls for the year in question.)

“Tanaka was a rising star in the department,” says the supervisor. “It was understood that volunteering would be good for our careers.”

Although there is no airtight pattern of cause and effect, the supervisor, his friend and several other campaign contributors were given choice assignments within the department within a year of their donations.

The LA Justice Report has obtained Paul Tanaka’s campaign finance statements dating back to his early days as a Gardena city councilman in 1999. They reveal a number of disturbing trends. For instance, in 2004, in the run-up to his first mayoral election, Tanaka had a banner year in fundraising—pulling in more than $42,500 from members of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department. Since that time, the majority of those donors have been promoted or given plum positions, like that of the Sheriff Baca’s driver, a Tanaka-controlled post that brings with it substantial monetary rewards in overtime pay, and is considered a surefire springboard to better things. Several of the larger donors have seen particularly dramatic rises in their careers.

Christopher Nee, the lieutenant who told Casey Bald “I work for Paul Tanaka,” has been donating generously to Tanaka’s campaign since June 2002—when he gave $500 as a deputy. Two years later he was a sergeant—and donated $900. He made lieutenant soon after and was placed inside CJ.

Sources say Nee was never punished for his 2006 insubordination against Bald. In fact, in the months that followed, Paul Tanaka himself visited the jail to speak with Clark and Bald.

“Leave these deputies alone,” Tanaka explicitly told them, in reference to the deputy cliques whose growing influence—and violence—Clark was attempting to stifle. When Bald attempted to justify the need for a crackdown, citing the obvious violations of code, Tanaka reportedly shouted him down. Clark and Bald were transferred out of the jail to lesser assignments soon after. Nee, meanwhile, was allowed to stay on inside CJ, and worked under Clark’s replacement, then-Captain Bob Olmsted (now retired). Nee was later transferred as a lieutenant to the personnel department—a powerful position that makes one extremely useful to higher ups, because of the ease of obtaining information from various divisions throughout the department. He was recently promoted to captain.
Bald, meanwhile, who has never donated to Tanaka’s campaign, languishes as a lieutenant in the court services division.

Loyalty is more important to Tanaka than competence, says a retired LASD higher-up, thus Tanaka acolytes are often placed in positions for which they are unsuited. “That way they come to him when they run into problems, and he gets to micromanage every situation in the department.”

The effect of this leadership style, the source tells us, has been amplified in recent years as Tanaka has effectively taken control of nearly all major promotions within the department.

“The chiefs have no input at all [in promotions]. These days, qualified is the last thing on the board. Paul has the first and final say-so. … That creates a morale problem, because the deputies know what’s going on. They know their division chiefs have no juice.

“You never used to see deputies involved in department politics,” the source continues. “Now, as soon as guys get on the force they start asking, ‘How do I get in Tanaka’s car?’”


Nee is certainly not the only member of the department with a less-than-perfect track record who has seen his pay grade boosted in the wake of a campaign donation—and has been insulated from the standard repercussions of poor job performance. Former CJ captain Dan Cruz, who, thus far, has been the highest-ranking member of the department to be put on leave in relation to the recent jails scandal, is among Tanaka’s campaign donors and someone whose promotions the undersheriff has shepherded.

As the LA Justice Report previously reported, Tanaka promoted Cruz and then installed him as captain of CJ in April 2008. He arrived at the job with a troubled supervisory past. As a lieutenant at Lennox Station in Inglewood several years earlier, Cruz’s boss, Commander Ralph Martin, and Martin’s boss, LASD field operations Region II Chief Ronnie Williams, pushed hard to get Cruz transferred out of their area because he was as much as 18 months behind in investigating citizen complaints (called “watch commander service comment reports” or SCR’s) against the station. A source describes “at least three massive boxes of complaints” piled on his desk.

Cruz was transferred to what was universally known as a “dead end” job inside the department at the Facility Services Bureau. Coming from a high-profile station like Lennox, this was a major punishment. And yet, less than a year later, in fall 2006, he was rescued by Paul Tanaka and installed as operations lieutenant of Men’s Central Jail—second in charge under Olmsted.

Less than two years later, Dan Cruz was running Men’s Central Jail.

“When we saw Cruz made captain,” says a former supervisor who knew Cruz from his Lennox days and was surprised by his sudden sprint up the promotional ladder, “all of us thought the same thing—it sure must be nice riding in Tanaka’s car.”

Just as at Lennox, problems arose almost immediately under Cruz’s watch. In 2009, after two years of steady decline, deputy-on-inmate force incidents jumped from 273 to 330. Force packages and complaints again started to pile up.

The troubling rise in violence inside CJ prompted an investigation by Cruz’s supervising officer, Bob Olmsted, by then the Custody Division commander—who had a lieutenant pull 30 force reports at random that were in various stages of oversight. A second lieutenant, Mark McCorkle, analyzed them. Of that group of 30, 18 uses of force were questionable in nature and conceivably fell outside department policy. And yet, all were either signed off on or were on the verge of being cleared.

Olmsted says he took McCorkle’s findings up the chain of command to Custody Chief Dennis Burns, Assistant Sheriff in charge of custody Marvin Cavanaugh, and Paul Tanaka. No action was taken.

In fact, sources say, Cruz only became more emboldened. When one of Cruz’s lieutenants came to Cruz relaying directions from Olmsted, the captain allegedly recited his own version of Christopher Nee’s message: “I don’t work for fucking Olmsted, I work for Paul Tanaka.”

As it happens, public records show, right around the time Olmsted began to ramp up his criticism of Cruz, the CJ captain made two very timely donations to Paul Tanaka’s political campaign—on December 18, 2008, and on January 6, 2009.

Could these donations have been a contributing factor to why Cruz was never reprimanded by Tanaka for his performance inside CJ? Sources claim that they were. As evidence, they point to the way Cruz’s exit from the jail was handled.

In the fall of 2010, Olmsted’s insistence that CJ was out of control under Dan Cruz finally forced Tanaka to investigate what was happening. Up until that time Tanaka had been relying almost exclusively on Cruz’s word that all was well at the facility. Tanaka sent his close ally and longtime campaign donor, Duane Harris, into the jail to lead an investigation. Harris came back 10 days later with a report that found Cruz culpable for the escalating violence in the jail—which, in turn, forced Tanaka’s hand in transferring the captain from his post.

Bob Olmsted says he met with Tanaka to plan Dan Cruz’s exit strategy from CJ. Olmsted says he was surprised to find that the plan was not to punish Cruz for his inaction and incompetence, but to transfer and then reward him. Cruz would be made a commander.
“Tanaka told me Cruz was ‘the only viable candidate’ he was willing to promote to commander,” says Olmsted. “And this was after he had received Harris’ report that Cruz was 100 percent at fault for what was happening in the jail. The plan was for Harris to come in as the operations lieutenant, I would be his commander, and together we’d sandwich Cruz and turn him into a viable candidate.”

Olmsted says Tanaka then ticked off a list of three candidates for commander that, for reasons he did not specify, he was unwilling to promote, under any circumstances: Ralph Webb, Joaquin Herran and Ray Leyva.


As it happens, both Leyva, who ran Men’s Central Jail in 2003 and 2004, and Herran are suing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for what they allege is discrimination and unfair practices in its promotional system.

“Based on our investigation,” says Herran and Leyva’s lawyer, Bradley Gage, “it appears that Tanaka is at the heart of most Sheriff’s Department actions. Officially, Baca runs this department. Unofficially it’s Tanaka. And he appears heavily involved in the retaliation against the plaintiffs.”

Both Leyva and Herran are still active members of the force and, due to the pending lawsuit, are not authorized to speak to the media. But Gage told the LA Justice Report that in 2004 it was Leyva who, even prior to Clark, proposed the concepts of shift and assignment rotations as antidotes to the growing problem of violent deputy cliques inside the jail. In response to his reform efforts, Gage says, Leyva was summarily “rolled up” and transferred to the Pitchess Detention Center—a major demotion—where he has remained ever since.

In 2006, when John Clark followed up on Leyva’s recommendations for reform and instituted assignment rotation, Tanaka reversed his strategies and Clark too was “rolled up.”

Gage says that Leyva has been passed over for promotion 58 times since his transfer to Pitchess—the most in the department.

“In a normal situation, you’d really have to be incompetent to be passed over that many times for promotion,” says a former LASD higher-up with knowledge of Leyva’s situation. “That’s not Ray Leyva. He’s being punished.”

Indeed, as Bob Olmsted’s conversation with Tanaka suggests, Leyva is on a blacklist. The question is why.

Sources point to the fact that Leyva ran for sheriff against Baca in the last election.
“You have a constitutional right to run for office,” says one LASD insider. “But not in the sheriff’s department. You run against the sheriff, that’s the kiss of death.”

Gage agrees that the election may be a factor: “There’s always the possibility that Baca wants to punish those who exercise their constitutional democratic rights.” But he had more to say about the LA Justice Report’s findings that there is an in-crowd/out-crowd dynamic in the Sheriff’s Department—centered on Paul Tanaka.

“I have seen some documents of certain people who were promoted over the years who have contributed money. Other people who have not contributed have been passed over. That does raise concerns that a pay-to-play scenario is going on.

“You take that,” says Gage, “and then you include the coin to get in the smoking club—which has become a private fiefdom for Tanaka and his cohorts. It sends the wrong message.”

Gage’s legal complaint cites ten captains who were promoted to commander ahead of Leyva and Herran in 2009 and 2010. Of that ten, the LA Justice Report has identified six who have donated to Tanaka’s various campaigns: Jaques La Berge, Buddy Goldman, Jack Jordan, Thomas Martin, Eric Parra and Daryl Evans.

As yet a more striking example, sources point to the case of James Lopez, chief of field operations Region II.

In 2009, Lopez was Paul Tanaka’s most generous campaign donor—giving $1,000 on February 2, which is the maximum allowed by Gardena city law. He was transferred to a choice position inside Sheriff’s Headquarters and promoted to chief shortly thereafter—despite an underwhelming supervisory performance record that sources say rivals Dan Cruz’s.

In 2004, Lopez was the captain of the Century Station in Lynwood, which was struggling to get a handle on a troublesome Viking-like gang of deputies who called themselves the Regulators.

“The whole point of the Regulators was to find supervisors who were weak and walk all over them,” says a retired LASD supervisor with experience at Century Station.

As had happened inside CJ, force packages and watch commander service reports were not being investigated in a timely fashion while Lopez led Century. Internal sheriff’s documents obtained by the LA Justice Report show that, in 2004, of the 40 closed investigations into deputy misconduct at Century under Lopez’s watch, eight had been allowed to sit for more than a year. Included among those eight were one allegation of excessive force and another complaint that a deputy had lied on the witness stand during a trial.

“If you lie under oath, that’s a violation of the Brady Law,” says a retired LASD supervisor with knowledge of the problems at Century. “You’re never allowed to testify again. And if you can’t testify, you can’t be in law enforcement. This deputy got a free pass.”

In a legal deposition taken from Lopez in 2006, obtained by the LA Justice Report, Lopez admitted to being lax on completing SCRs. In one case, Lopez left a pile of SCRs in his car for weeks or months, making it impossible for one of his subordinates to complete them in a timely fashion.

When asked in the deposition if he had taken too long to sign off on SCRs at Century, creating a backlog that reflected poorly on his subordinates, Lopez answered, “Probably in retrospect, too long on my behalf, on my action.”

When Ronnie Williams was made chief of field operations Region II, the swath of LASD territory that includes Century Station, he told all the station heads under his umbrella that captains who let internal investigations sit for more than a year would be disciplined. Williams was good to his word. In November 2004, Lopez was given a written reprimand over his stalled SCRs, a sanction that was later deemed “founded.”

LASD spokesman Parker confirms that late SCRs are a serious business. “For a person in management with supervision over employees,” says Parker, “it is the minimum expectation that an investigation will be completed in under a year. It’s a reasonable expectation of the public that we manage this department well, and that’s one of the expectations.”

In March 2005, however, Lopez made yet another glaring supervisory error in judgment. Sources who worked Century at the time say that Lopez allowed members of the Regulators deputy gang to use the station to throw a fundraiser for a deputy who had been put on 20-day administrative leave for a laundry list of infractions—including sexual harassment, inappropriate conduct and misuse of electronic communication equipment.
“They raised more money for [this deputy] from that fundraiser than he would have made if he had been working,” says one source. “That’s not punishment. That’s a vacation. And Lopez let it happen on county property.”

Those we spoke with in the department say this is not the kind of track record that warrants fast-track promotion—especially with seasoned captains like Ray Leyva waiting in the wings. But on March 3, 2004, Lopez donated $500 to Tanaka’s mayoral campaign. Less than a year later, Lopez was promoted to commander, with full supervisory oversight over Century. He has since taken over his old boss Ronnie Williams’ job as chief of field operations Region II.


The question remains as to why, with the controversy surrounding the LASD, with so many of his rank-and-file pointing fingers in his undersheriff’s direction, Lee Baca has allowed Tanaka to gain—and retain—so much control in the department.

Some believe that Baca enjoys shepherding his progressive projects, like the Education-Based Incarceration program, plus his frequent trips out of the country as “Sheriff to the World”—but that he no longer wants to deal with the daily operation of running the department.

“When Baca was first elected sheriff,” explains an LASD veteran, “he would constantly hold meetings at the various stations across the department, asking what we needed. And he would make those things happen.

“But after a few years of that he seemed more interested in taking trips to the Middle East and bolstering his political career. He thinks he’s going to be governor or something.”
Others suggest that Tanaka, with his skill in financial matters, used his budget-crunching acumen to rescue the sheriff in crucial instances when a countywide budget crisis meant that the department faced huge cash-flow shortfalls, and that Baca was grateful ever after.
Still others mutter darkly that Tanaka must “have something” on the sheriff, although they offer no specifics.

In the end, no one seems able to explain definitively why Lee Baca continues to allow Paul Tanaka to control so much of the department that he was elected to lead.

Attempts to reach Baca for comment were unsuccessful as he is currently in Abu Dhabi.
Removing an LASD captain from his or her duty is such a rare occurrence that most sources we spoke with cannot remember it ever happening. In the past several months, however, two Tanaka-appointed captains have been relieved of duty: Dan Cruz and Bernice Abram.

Cruz was, of course, removed while he was being investigated in connection with the jail abuse scandal. Abram, the head of Carson Station and a close ally of Tanaka who has contributed to his campaign since 2004, was relieved of duty in August after federal investigators notified sheriff’s officials that Abram’s voice may have been heard on a narcotics wiretap relating to an investigation of a Compton drug ring.

So what does all this suggest about the departmental reform—particularly of the custody division—that LASD watchers agree is so urgently needed?

LASD spokesman Parker says our sources’ concerns are overblown. “This is a department with 18,000 employees,” he says. “I’m a captain and I have never donated to Paul Tanaka’s campaign. I earned my position through hard work.”

To be sure, most of those in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department are dedicated, hard working men and women who are deserving of their promotions—likely including many of those who are part of Paul Tanaka’s inner circle. Yet, the perception—and evidence— that in crucial areas of the department one man’s power and influence supersedes all else, to the LASD’s detriment, is difficult to ignore.

Three months ago, in the wake of investigations into the violent treatment of inmates by sheriff’s deputies inside the L.A. County jail system by the LA Justice Report, the ACLU, the L.A. Times and other media outlets, and by the FBI, Lee Baca promised to appoint an internal LASD investigatory panel to look into the dangerous state of the county’s jails. Baca made good on his word. On October 9 he announced that he had convened a “Special Jail Investigations Task Force” with a staff of 35 full-time deputies to get to the bottom of what was happening in his jails.

The man Baca selected to head that task force? Paul Tanaka.

Underneath Tanaka on the task force is Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo—who is Tanaka’s oldest friend in the department. The two were once deputy squad car partners. Rhambo has been generously donating to Tanaka’s campaign since 1998. Filling out the task force are commanders Eric Parra, Joseph Fennel, Christy Guyovich and James Hellmold—all of whom are longtime Tanaka campaign contributors; and all but Parra are reportedly Tanaka’s closest allies in the department.

Says one LASD supervisor of the new Tanaka-led investigative group: “It’s like sending the wolves in to figure out what happened to the henhouse.”


by Matthew Fleischer

LASD insiders say that, for years, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka—not Lee Baca—has ruled the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department though a system built of favoritism, pay-to-play campaign donations, and loyalty rewarded over competence.
Now he has assumed command of the department’s two internal investigative units—Internal Affairs and the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau—a move that many close to the department view as a hostile takeover.

On May 15, 2011, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department quietly made a series of small, seemingly innocuous changes to its command structure. The Internal Affairs unit, which investigates violations of departmental policy, and the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which looks into criminal acts that may have been committed by department personnel, were taken out from under the oversight of the Leadership and Training Division—where the twin divisions have been for nearly two decades—-and were placed under the control of the then-Assistant Sheriff, soon-to-be- Undersheriff, Paul Tanaka. In practical terms, this meant that, instead of the heads of the two bureaus reporting to Leadership and Training’s Chief, Roberta Abner, Tanaka appointed a brand new captain and commander from his own inner circle to head IA and report to him. At the same time, he selected a new captain to run ICIB, also reporting to him. Abner was taken out of the loop altogether, and a commander position overseeing ICIB was eliminated. Two levels of oversight and accountability in the system with which the department investigated itself vanished overnight.

To the casual observer, the moves might appear to be little more than the bureaucratic shuffling of departmental chess pieces. But to those inside the sheriff’s department, the sudden switch in oversight was alarming. As one former IA investigator explained, “To have a commander and a captain reporting directly to the Undersheriff…there’s no precedent for that.”

In order to check, the LA Justice Report called around to five law enforcement agencies across California—San Diego Sheriff’s Department; Orange County Sheriff’s Department; San Francisco Sheriff’s Department; Los Angeles Police Department; and the San Francisco Police Department–and found that only the SFSD has its “investigative services” unit report directly to someone as high up as the undersheriff without intervening layers. “We’re much smaller than LASD,” explained an SFSD spokesperson, “we only have about 850 employees. So it makes things more manageable.”

In a department of 18,000, like the LASD, the layered chain of command existed for good reason, according to our IA source (and validated by other department insiders with IA knowledge). “Personnel investigations are extremely in-depth. IA is a relatively large unit, with 35-40 people in it. You have to have time to oversee and manage them. But the undersheriff has constantly got an 800 pound gorilla banging on his head.”

So why the change?

LASD spokesman Captain Mike Parker explained in an email that the move was simply so the Sheriff could keep a better eye on the two bureaus. “All reorganization changes within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department are done at the direction of Sheriff Baca…Recent changes have been made to the oversight of Internal Affairs Bureau and Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau to increase accountability and efficiency, and to streamline the process.”

However, sources inside the department say the move had little to do with increased accountability, but rather was a realignment that allowed the undersheriff to protect any of his insiders that needed protecting.

As The LA Justice Report has previously reported, Tanaka has a history of rescuing, promoting and protecting supervisors with less-than-spectacular and often downright troubled performance records, people who then become his most loyal supporters.
There was, for example, Dan Cruz, the highest ranking member of the Sheriff’s Department to be put on leave for his role in the recent jail abuse scandal—and also a Tanaka appointee and loyal donor to the undersheriff’s political campaign in Gardena. Cruz arrived at CJ as an operations lieutenant with a checkered supervisory record. Nonetheless, he was promoted to captain and put in charge of the already troubled Men’s Central Jail. Deputy-on-inmate force incidents spiked almost immediately under his watch. The situation was desperate enough that Cruz’s direct supervisor, Commander Bob Olmsted, told Tanaka directly of problems inside the jail under Cruz—and told Lee Baca as well. Olmsted says he was ignored.

If supervisors like Olmsted came to Tanaka with reports of uncontrolled violence and were waved away, how will the undersheriff respond to critical IA and ICIB investigations into favored people and groups his department?

“I think we should be concerned,” says the ACLU’s Peter Eliasberg. “The reality is that one of the key components in dealing with deputy use of force on inmates is a system that provides for appropriate discipline of deputies. If you have someone at the top overseeing that system who’s not aggressively committed to policing what deputies are doing, that’s a very bad thing.”


Part of the problem with the undersheriff’s takeover of the two bureaus, sources tell the LA Justice Report, is the fact that Tanaka has openly, and vociferously, expressed his contempt for IA throughout his career.

In early 2007, LASD Internal Affairs Sergeant Larry Landreth was named the lead investigator of an extremely sensitive case. An LASD deputy trainee had been caught on a wiretap allegedly giving information to the Mexican Mafia. The incident had the makings of a huge scandal for the department, and the brass were all over Landreth to look into this case as quickly and as thoroughly as possible.

Shortly before the investigation began, Paul Tanaka—who was then the assistant sheriff–called Landreth into his office for a closed-door meeting. The meeting began in a normal manner. Tanaka stressed the importance of the case, and gave Landreth his blessing to investigate aggressively.

Tanaka then said something Landreth wasn’t expecting. “He looked at me straight-faced,” Landreth, now retired, tells the LA Justice Report, “and said ‘This is the only time you’re going to see me be an advocate of IA, because I hate you fuckers.’

Startled by the outburst, Landreth scanned Tanaka’s face for a trace of humor but found none.

“You take pride in your job,” says Landreth, “and to be called a ‘fucker’ to my face out of nowhere.... It was an affront.”

He asked Tanaka what, exactly, his problem was with Internal Affairs? Landreth and his colleagues had noticed that Tanaka seemed unwilling to promote out of IA–despite the unit being among the most important in the department, and traditionally considered a career enhancing stepping stone in the LASD.

Landreth says he reminded Tanaka that the purpose of IA was far more than proving wrongdoing. It was also bureau in the department with the power to protect innocent deputies who get falsely accused of misbehavior—which happens, says Landreth “all the time.” It is IA’s job to launch the investigations that clear these deputies’ names.

“It is just as important to free the innocent as it is to punish the guilty,” says Landreth.
But Tanaka wouldn’t hear any of it. Pressed by Landreth, Tanaka muttered vaguely that he’d had some bad run-ins with IA back in the 80’s–and that soured him on the unit. He referenced an incident at Men’s Central Jail early in his career, but provided no details.


Tanaka’s worst “run-in” with IA in the 1980s is well known. In 1988 he was the senior officer on the scene when five Sheriff’s deputies shot and killed an unarmed Korean immigrant named Hong Pyo Lee after a car chase found Lee cornered at a dead-end street. The group of deputies fired fifteen rounds at 21-year-old Lee, hitting him 9 times in the back and neck. Tanaka and the other four deputies claimed they shot because Lee was attempting to hit them with his car. However, Long Beach police officer Richard R. Boatwright, who witnessed the shooting, said in a sworn deposition that Lee’s car was moving away from deputies when the shooting began. “We just observed the sheriffs execute somebody,” Boatwright said he told his partner. LA County paid Lee’s family $1 short of a $1 million in a settlement after the shooting.

Then in 1993, sources tell us, Tanaka was reportedly shipped to West Hollywood station as a disciplinary measure for using harsh and inappropriate language to berate a female deputy at Century station, where Tanaka was a lieutenant.

“He’s been carrying a grudge around for more than 20 years,” says Landreth. “That should not be the position of any department head.” And certainly not the man leading the department’s two internal investigative units.

The encounter with Landreth is one of a number of occasions in which Tanaka reportedly badmouthed IA in front of other department personnel. In 2005, Tanaka called a “deputies only” meeting at Century Station in Inglewood, which was, at the time, struggling with violence stemming from a deputy gang called The Regulators—who, like the better known deputy gang of the 1980s to 1990’s era, the Vikings, were notorious for finding weak supervisors they could gang up on and control. Tanaka’s message to this troublesome group: “I never liked IA. Never liked the way they do business.”

“He signs off on discipline,” says a department source familiar with Century Station and the Regulators, “he can’t say that.”

Century’s captain at the time, Steve Roller, agreed—and wrote a memo critical of Tanaka’s statements that he sent up the chain of command. The memo was harsh enough, sources say, that Lee Baca himself visited Century to do damage control.

A few months later, Roller was unexpectedly transferred out of Century while away on an Alaskan cruise. Several sources tell The LA Justice Report that it was the captain’s aggressive, by-the-books ways that got him ”rolled up”—as it was a supervisory style that clashed with Paul Tanaka’s vision for how to run a high profile station like Century.
As we reported in Dangerous Jails, Part 3, department sources cite multiple incidents in which Undersheriff Tanaka has told deputies in the department to “work in they grey”—a skate the edge style of policing that essentially translates to “do whatever it takes.”

The LA Justice Report spoke with three former IA investigators who each made clear that “working in the grey” policing, and aggressive internal affairs monitoring of departmental wrongdoing are irreconcilable. Robust internal affairs and deputies told by their undersheriff to push the boundaries of departmental policy cannot coexist. Something has to give. And by all accounts, when it comes to Paul Tanaka, it will be IA, not the deputies under his wing who are forced to cede ground.


An example of the slippery slope that comes with ceding this supervisory ground occurred in 2006, when Paul Tanaka called an impromptu meeting for all the supervisors inside Men’s Central Jail. Tanaka was then the assistant sheriff in charge of custody and the meeting was not unexpected. There had been a string of high profile violent incidents in the jail that had drawn the scrutiny of the LA County Board of Supervisors, the ACLU and the media.

As The LA Justice Report has previously reported, CJ’s then-captain John Clark traced much of the violence back to bands of deputies who were forming gang-like cliques on the second, third and fourth floors of the jail—the 3000 Boys, et al. Modeled after the law-suit producing deputy cliques of the previous decades, like the Vikings, these cliques featured special tattoos, threw gang-like hand signs and, in some cases, refused to socialize with “rival” cliques within the department. In the case of the 3000 Boys and the matching group from the 2nd floor, the 2000 Boys, the cliques had also recently started waiting for their entire crew to get off work—sometimes lingering for hours at a time—before leaving the station together en masse. This was not only a violation of departmental policy, but it was eerie gang-like behavior intended to intimidate—to show both inmates and supervisors alike who really ran the jail.

“You had guys taking off one or two hours early so they could leave with their crew,” says one former CJ supervisor (who asked that we not give his rank for fear of being identified). “This is what gangs do.”

It was in this climate, that Paul Tanaka called his meeting. Our source, who was in the room that day, tells us that, instead of demanding better supervision of the increasingly out-of-control deputies—whose actions have now been reported by The LA Justice report here, along with the ACLU, the LA Weekly, KTLA and the LA Times, not to mention an ongoing series of high ticket law suits, and an investigation by the FBI—Tanaka told everyone to back off.

“I want you supervisors to stay out of the way and let the deputies do their jobs,” Tanaka said. “Your type of supervision is like a dinosaur. You remind me of my father.”
Our source says Tanaka was particularly livid at the suggestion that deputies in cliques like the 3,000 Boys were acting like gangsters. “How dare any supervisor refer to a Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy as a gang member.”

Tanaka then made a cradling gesture with his hands. “This is Generation Y. You will coddle these men.”

Our source says that he and his fellow CJ supervisors were shocked at the counter-disciplinary instructions. Here was one of the most powerful men in the department essentially telling them to not do their jobs—not to provide boundaries, and guidance for these inexperienced deputies. Many of these men and women were a few months out of the Sheriff’s Academy and were not just risking doing harm to inmates, but also—if their mistakes were big enough— potentially sacrificing their careers. This is why a big law enforcement agency like the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department has structural fail safes: Just because the assistant sheriff wanted lax supervision, didn’t mean IA or ICIB couldn’t investigate these same deputies for wrongdoing, if their actions were serious and well documented.

“We weren’t trying to be autocratic,” says our source. “We’re a paramilitary organization. There are rules and regulations. We need discipline. And that discipline had broken down.

“Tanaka’s intervention put handcuffs on all of us.”

Sources tell us Tanaka’s hands-free management style is nothing new—it dates back to his days as a sergeant at Lynwood station in the late-80′s early 90′s. According to a source who worked at Lynwood, Tanaka was the supervisor of choice for deputies who were “sergeant shopping”—looking for a supervisor mostly likely to give permission or protection. This was particularly true with members of the Vikings, of whom Tanaka was, by then, a tattooed member.

Since Tanaka was just a sergeant, back then, he wouldn’t have had the “juice” to head off something as serious as an IA investigation. But in basic disciplinary battles between deputies and fellow sergeants, Tanaka nearly always sided with deputies—in the process, eroding the authority of supervision at the station.

“He was emotionally close with these guys,” explains our source. “They bonded. He was one of them. He was too immature and not intellectually aware enough to realize the inherent problems with this arrangement. Departmental standards were not being enforced.”

“They’d go running to him like Mommy,” says another LASD source from Tanaka’s Lynwood days. “Tanaka sold out his fellow supervisors to curry favor with the Vikings. It breeds arrogance on steroids. Because these guys know, even if they’re in the wrong, someone has their back. It’s the same story today with the 3,000 Boys. This is a pattern with Tanaka.”


So why does a man who has repeatedly made known to all his dislike of Internal Affairs, and aggressive supervision of deputies, suddenly wish to have power over over the unit responsible for investigating departmental misdeeds?

The three former LASD Internal Affairs investigators we spoke to all told us versions of the same thing: “It’s about control.”

These former IA investigators, as well as other sources inside the department, point to the questionable timing of Tanaka’s takeover—a few weeks after his high school friend Bernice Abraham was put on leave when federal investigators notified Sheriff’s officials that Abram’s voice may have been heard on a narcotics wiretap relating to an investigation of a Compton drug ring. Abram had been the head of Carson Station and a close ally of Tanaka. She has contributed to his Gardena political campaigns since 2004.
“Ever since Abram was relieved of duty, things changed,” says one LASD supervisor.

According to the supervisor, prior to Tanaka’s takeover of IA and ICIB, whenever someone in the department was arrested or put on leave, a departmental memo called a “confidential operational log,” which summarized the circumstances surrounding the action, would go out to LASD supervisors with the rank of captain or higher. However, a confidential operational log was never sent out about Abram, nor, according to our insider, have any others been sent since Tanaka became Undersheriff.

“People inquiring about [Abram], mostly out of concern, were quickly told to ‘mind their own business.’

“All this did was weaken trust within the department,” he says. “There was no more transparency and many felt, and feel, that there is something to hide, not only as it relates to Bernice Abram, but to others and any potential future investigations.”

“It was standard operating procedure, no big deal,” says another former LASD higher-up of the confidential operational logs, “the way business was done. Now it’s all about trying to stifle information from getting outside the organization.”


Multiple sources tell us they worry there is a standard of permissiveness for some people—namely Tanaka insiders—-that doesn’t apply to others in the department. They argue that there were instances of the Undersheriff and other LASD brass applying pressure on IA investigations even before Tanaka took direct control of the bureau. As an example, they point to an investigation into the May 9, 2005 shooting of Winston Hayes by LASD deputies. Hayes was a black motorist who, high on drugs, led Sheriff’s deputies on a low-speed pursuit through Compton. Deputies eventually pulled Hayes over, and advanced in his direction. Then, claiming he tried to run them down, deputies fired 120 shots at Hayes’ car, hitting him nine times and his vehicle 66 more times. In the crossfire, the deputies also managed to shoot one of their own officers (non-fatally), plus strafe several squad cars with 11 rounds. Another 11 bullets slammed into surrounding homes.

The incident prompted a gigantic community backlash and cost LA County $1,326,468.60 when a jury, after watching a citizen video of the incident, agreed that officers had used excessive force on Hayes, who miraculously survived the barrage. All deputies involved in the incident were given 15-day suspensions stemming from an Internal Affairs review, as was the sergeant who directed the chase over the police radio.

Yet two different sources tell us that the watch commander on the incident, a lieutenant out of Compton station, not only escaped any kind of sanctions, he was never made a subject of investigation by Internal Affairs—despite the fact that he was in the field and on the radio during the chase. According to our sources, this lieutenant upped the urgency of the chase by hopping on the radio to list Hayes’ past crimes as events were still unfolding.

“He absolutely inflamed the situation,” says one LASD insider with knowledge of the incident.

Sources say IA investigators attempted to interview the lieutenant as a subject, but were pressured by higher-ups to stay away. Landreth was one of the lead IA investigators on the Compton shooting, and he confirms our sources’ story. Departmental policy and the Policeman’s Bill of Rights prevent Landreth from discussing the case with us in detail, or naming the lieutenant in question, but other sources tell us the lieutenant was James Hellmold—one of Paul Tanaka’s leading campaign contributors and a former driver to Sheriff Lee Baca.

“Tanaka and Baca put Hellmold off in the corner and let the Sergeants take the fall,” says a former high-ranking insider with knowledge of the situation. “He absolutely should have been the subject of an IA investigation.”

Hellmold’s free pass earned him the nickname “Teflon Lieutenant” among those with knowledge of the shooting. A little more than a year after the incident, Hellmold was promoted to captain and placed in charge of Century Station. He has since risen to the rank of commander and is one of four commanders leading Baca’s panel to investigate jail violence.

However, Hellmold’s Teflon dodge happened under the old IA system–where an investigator like Landreth had the option going to his chief to try to earn the backing of a command staff ally. Under the new system, the only recourse an investigator would have would be to go straight to Paul Tanaka.

“If he’s stacking the deck with ‘his’ people in there,” says one former Internal Affairs investigator, “then I don’t have any faith in IA.”


On December 19 of 2011, the LA Justice Report submitted a series of questions to the LA Sheriff’s Department regarding Paul Tanaka’s takeover of Internal Affairs and Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau—and his notorious dislike for IA.
On January 4, 2012, two weeks after our conversation with Parker, Internal Affairs was put back under the umbrella of Chief Roberta Abner and the Leadership and Training Division. Internal Criminal Investigations remains under the control of Undersheriff Tanaka. How much or little unofficial influence over Internal Affairs that Paul Tanaka retains is unknown.

Editor’s Notes:

In 1987, the year before the Hong Pyo Lee shooting, Paul Tanaka was asked to join the Vikings, the now notorious group of deputies operating out of the Lynwood station, whose members sported numbered Viking tattoos on their ankles, threw gang signs—L for Lynwood—occasionally spray-painted Vikings tags in the Lynwood area to mark their “turf,” and bragged openly about harassing supervisors who tried to reign them in until those supervisors transferred away from Lynwood. Tanaka was one of the group’s very few non-Caucasian members.

In the early 1990’s, members of the same Lynwood Vikings were the primary defendants in a massive class action suit against the department alleging a widespread pattern of brutality against Lynwood residents.

The suit resulted in a $9 million settlement and drew unusually harsh “findings of fact” from two sets of presiding judges.

U.S. District Court Judge Terry Hatter stated that a “neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang” of deputies–the Vikings–exists at the Lynwood station with the knowledge of department officials. “Policy makers” in the department, Hatter said, “tacitly authorize deputies’ unconstitutional behavior.”

The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals agreed. These deputies, wrote the 9th Circuit of the Lynwood Vikings, “...regularly disregard the civil rights of individuals they have sworn to protect.” They engaged in misconduct “both malicious and pervasive…” Black and hispanic men were “repeatedly arrested without cause and severely beaten at the Lynwood station, the County jail, and the ‘Operations Safe Streets’ trailer.” The court described “instances where deputies placed the muzzle of a firearm in a suspect’s ear, mouth or behind his head, and threatened to pull the trigger, or actually fired the gun without discharging a bullet...” and more.

The list of court-determined “facts” went on and on.

Tanaka was already a Viking at the time the lawsuit was filed, but was not one of those named in the complaint. However, we spoke to two of the attorneys who filled the lawsuit, as well as to department insiders with direct knowledge of the Vikings, all of whom confirmed Tanaka’s involvement with the group during his Lynwood years.
“[Tanaka] was well known as a member of the Vikings and what they stand for,” said former LASD lieutenant, Roger Clark. Now retired, Clark acts an expert witness who is frequently called to testify about his knowledge of law enforcement subcultures and what he calls “peer clans,” like the Vikings and the 3000 Boys. “There’s always been a tension in the department between people who are willing to bend the rules and those who are not.” Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, said Clark, falls firmly on the rule-bending side of the equation.

DANGEROUS JAILS – Part 5: Should Punishment = Peril?

How do you know if an incarcerated family member is really in danger? With all the ominous tales coming out of LA’s Men’s Central Jail, how perilous is it really? And if you think a jailed loved one is at risk, is there anything you do about it?
Last night I got an email from a woman who was asking herself those questions. The email caught my eye because of the subject line: Urgent Case/ High Profile Inmate In Danger

The sender’s name was Patricia Vetter.

After reading the email, I called Vetter on the phone to get additional information.
A woman with alarm in her voice answered right away.

I learned Vetter was a 51 year-old medical illustrator who is married to a psychiatrist. She was worried, she said, because her 59-year old brother, who was in Men’s Central Jail, had called her collect on Thursday night, crying and terrified.

“And my brother is 6’5″ and around 270 lbs-–a retired fireman and paramedic,” Vetter said. The brother had also been an embalmer. “Which means he’s used to being around dead bodies. So not much scares him,” she said. “This was totally unlike him.”

Vetter said that her brother told her that his clothes had been taken away by staff, that he was calling her naked, and that guards had said this was the last call he would be able to make. That he was being transferred to a section of the jail for the “criminally insane,” where he would remain for the next six months and would have no more visitors and no more phone calls. “They put a suicide vest on me,” Vetter said her brother told her.

With that, the phone grew static ridden and she could hear nothing more.
She has not talked to her brother again.

Okay, time for a little background:

Vetter’s brother is not just any inmate. He is a man named Henry Reid,. the former director of UCLA’s Willed Body Parts program who was convicted of having sold some of the university’s donated cadavers for profit to a middleman, a guy named Ernest Nelson, who then went on to sell them to large research companies (including Johnson & Johnson) thereby pocketing around $1.5 million.

You probably remember the 2007 case.

As nearly as investigators could tell, Reid profited much less than Nelson, pocketing a paltry $43 grand over the various deals. But whatever. Reid—who had no previous criminal record—ripped off UCLA, tarnished and endangered the willed body parts program, and betrayed trust of those who donated the bodies of their loved ones.

In October of 2008, he pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit grand theft, and agreed to cooperate in the trial of money-making middleman, Ernest Nelson. Reid was sentenced to 4 years and 4 months in prison. Because he had no priors, he would do 2 years and 2 months.

After sentencing, Reid was transferred to Delano state prison for what is called “intake,” where, until recently, he had been awaiting a second transfer to the facility where he would serve the remainder of his time.

On May 6, however, he was brought back down to LA County jail—the Twin Towers—to testify as a possible prosecution witness in Nelson’s trial, as he had promised he would. As it turned out, the prosecutor didn’t need Reid so on Thursday morning he called his sister to say that he was going back to CJ to await transfer back to prison. That he would soon be on a bus headed back.

Then at 6:45 on Thursday night Vetter got the sobbing, naked, scary phone call.
Vetter is close to her brother. “Henry had been calling me every morning,” she said. “And when we tried to visit Saturday, the desk clerk said Henry Reid was in the 4500 module meaning he would not have any further phone or visitation privileges.”

Yet despite multiple calls by Vetter and her husband, including two to county jail psychiatrists that the husband was able to contract because of his professional connections, Vetter could find out little more than the additional fact that Reid’s custody level had been elevated to K-10.

K-10 means keep away from all other inmates..

I called the inmate information line and verified that indeed Reid was a K-10 and was in 4500, but could find out nothing else.

Later in the evening, I spoke to a friend who knows the Central Jail layout much better than I do. She said that 4500 module had tiny, one man cells with virtually nothing in them, no windows and little light. The inmates housed there had almost no human contact, not even with guards. It was solitary confinement of a very unpleasant sort, she said.

Many of the elements of Reid’s situation sounded queasily similar to the story of another inmate, John Horton, whose mother also suddenly found that she could not visit her jailed son, nor could he call her, and no one could seem to tell her why. Horton too was waiting to be transferred to prison. After repeated frantic calls and visits, a kindly watch commander told Horton’s mother he would get to the bottom of the matter.

A few days later still, Horton’s mother was told her son had killed himself. The circumstances of his death remain troubling and were the final straw that triggered the ACLU’s recent call to shut CJ altogether.

In an unpleasantly eerie coincidence, when Vetter tried to visit her brother on Saturday, she got to talking with a young woman at the jail who said she had a cousin who had been housed in 4500.

“They said he committed suicide,” said the young woman.

Vetter suddenly had a bad feeling and asked the girl for her cousin’s name.

“John Horton.”

Maybe Henry Reid is fine and his sister’s panic is over nothing. But maybe not. I have gotten alarming calls myself, of late, from jail inmates who are much, much tougher men than Vetter’s brother.

If I were in her position, I would be worried too.

And I would damned well want some better answers than Patricia Vetter is being given.

DANGEROUS JAIL – Part 6 – What Really Happened to Henry?

When we last left 59-year-old Henry Reid, (the former director of UCLA’s Willed Body Parts program who was convicted of having sold some of the university’s donated cadavers for profit) was in Men’s Central Jail, waiting to be transferred to North Kern State Prison at Delano for “reception” and then on to whichever California state prison where he would finish serving his twenty-six month sentence.

Instead, last Thursday evening, his sister, Patricia Vetter, got a call from a sobbing Henry who said he was naked, that his clothes and glasses had been taken from him, that he had been placed in a “suicide vest,” and that he was to be transferred to the section of CJ where the “criminally insane” were kept, and that he would not be permitted visits or phone calls for the next six months.

When she could not get in to see her brother, and could get no information about what in the world had happened, Vetter began to panic. Her 6′ 5″ brother had no mental problems, only high blood pressure, she said. And despite his one-time spate of admitted illegality, he was a big and gentle man who had spent most of his working life serving honorably in such professions as fireman, paramedic, embalmer, and grief counselor.
Three hours after that first call, Vetter did succeed in getting one of the jail’s watch commanders to go to check on Henry. When she spoke again to the watch commander, he confirmed that Henry was indeed naked, but the deputy said he had managed to get Reid’s clothes returned to him. So at least that was something.

Still no word on what was wrong, and why Henry Reid was being restricted from contact with his family. Maddeninly, different watch commanders told her different things. One told Vetter that her brother was in “the hole, for extreme discipline” and would not be out for months.

After four frantic days, and multiple phone calls to whomever Vetter could find—including a jail psychiatrist whom Vetter’s psychiatrist husband knew professionally—the psychiatrist called back and said he had seen Reid and he was alright. Even better, the shrink, together with Reid’s attorney, was able to pull some strings, and got Reid permission to make a phone call….at which point, some of the real story began to come out.

Henry Reid was not in the psychiatric unit, nor was he in the hole, or being disciplined. Nor was he ever. He was in a protective custody unit, where high profile prisoners are held. Or as a friend of mine who volunteered to check on Reid put it, he’s in “highest security—where OJ was.”

It appeared that a guard, or guards, had simply been tormenting him when they took away his glasses and his clothes, and allegedly told him the story about being sent for six months to a unit for “the criminally insane.”

In his phone call to his sister, Henry said that while he could not tell her everything until he was away from jail and back at prison on a non-LA-County-jail phone.

Until then, here is what Vetter said her brother told her on the phone about his jail experience on Thursday night.

Besides taking away his eye glasses and clothes, telling him that he would be locked away for a minimum of 6 months in an isolation unit for the criminally insane, at one point before he got his clothing back they had chained him up, hands behind his back and shackled him to a wall. Then they put a tray of food on the floor with no utensils, implying he would have to kneel and hunch over to the ground and eat it with his mouth like a dog. But he was chained too tightly to the wall to reach it anyway. He said he was actually really hungry but luckily he later got chained up to some other inmate who had pocketed some cookies in his shirt and fed them to Henry.

So is this true? Would a sheriff’s deputy working in the LA County jail system physically humiliate and emotionally torment some nearly 60-year-old jail inmate in this manner for no discernible reason?

I have heard a great many bad tales from this jail over the years, some worse than this one. Nearly all of them impossible to verify one way or the other.

But perhaps Henry Reid’s story is an exception.

If the incidents are exaggerated, we will all be relieved. But if Reid—a person with resources and a family unafraid of the system and determined to protect him—was still treated the way his sister describes it, we need to know. We really, really do.

This series was originally published by LA Weekly, and is reprinted with permission (

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