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$1.275 Million Settlement for Los Angeles County Jail Whistleblower

by Lonnie Burton

In May 2017, a former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who worked at the L.A. County jail and helped send colleagues to prison for obstructing an FBI investigation was set to receive $1.275 million after the settlement of her federal lawsuit accusing the sheriff’s department of retaliating against her was approved by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.

Tara Jan Adams was a onetime deputy in the records department at the L.A. County jail’s Inmate Reception Center. In August 2011, she was asked by a lieutenant and three deputies to remove a prisoner by the name of Anthony Brown from the jail’s booking system and rebook him under another name. The deputies were trying to hide Brown from FBI agents investigating allegations of abuse in the jail system; Brown was their informant.

When Adams refused the request, she was told that then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka ordered it to be done. Adams still refused, but another colleague eventually erased Brown from the system and rebooked him under various aliases.

Adams would later accuse several sheriff’s department officials of threatening her and denying her promotions due to her refusal to cooperate in the conspiracy. She was later a vital witness in the federal prosecution of several sheriff’s department officials, including Sheriff Lee Baca, for obstructing the FBI’s investigation. PLN has reported extensively on abuses at the L.A. County jail. [See: PLN, March 2016, p.1; March 2013, p.1].

According to Adams’ lawsuit, she said her testimony before the grand jury led to threats, and that two deputies warned her in March 2013 to “watch her back,” have her gun on her at all times “and be prepared to use it.” Adams also said she was constructively fired from her position after she was afraid to return to work following maternity leave.

Adams “was one of the bravest deputies I’ve ever known,” said her attorney, Greg Smith. “She told the truth knowing Baca and Tanaka would wield the power of the Sheriff’s Department against her. She picked the truth over her career.”

When sentencing some of the deputies convicted in the criminal conspiracy case, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson said none of them showed the courage that Adams had. Ten sheriff’s department employees, including Baca and Tanaka, were eventually convicted or pleaded guilty in connection with the scheme to hide Brown from the FBI, which the Sheriff’s Department dubbed “Operation Pandora’s Box.”

The settlement in Adams’ case was reached in September 2016 but not approved by the County Board of Supervisors until May 2, 2017. See: Adams v. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), Case No. 2:15-cv-04501-JFW-JPR.

Tanaka was convicted of obstruction and conspiracy, and sentenced in June 2016 to five years in federal prison. [See: PLN, Aug. 2016, p.34]. Former Sheriff Baca was sentenced in May 2017 to three years in prison on charges of abuse, bribery, corruption and misconduct in connection with the FBI investigation. [See: PLN, June 2017, p.42]. 

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Related legal case

Adams v. Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department