Wed, Jun

Jurors Took Less than Two Hours to Convict Former LA County Undersheriff Tanaka … Here’s Why


THIS IS WHAT I KNOW--Formerly the second in command at the LA County Sheriff’s Department, Paul Tanaka, now faces up to 15 years in federal prison for conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Tanaka was convicted on Wednesday on charges he tried to squash an FBI investigation of the country’s largest urban jail system.

During the two-week trial, Tanaka pointed his finger at retired Sheriff Lee Baca as the mastermind behind the plan. Baca, who previously pleaded guilty to a single felony charge as part of a plea deal, is facing a six-month prison sentence for lying to federal investigators that he was unaware that his deputies had threatened an FBI agent in 2011. The agent had been investigating allegations of corruption and civil rights violations against inmates.

According to prosecutors, the scandal hinges at least in part from the efforts of Tanaka and Baca to hide an inmate informant from the FBI in connection with an investigation into brutality and civil rights violations against inmates. Unlike cases that may involve a single or a handful of rogue cops, this conviction for a jail and obstruction scandal … reached all the way to the top echelons of the Sheriff’s Department,” wrote Joel Rubin of the LA Times.

Tanaka quickly rose through the ranks of the Sheriff’s Department and had a reputation as a tough and domineering leader. Prior to his retirement in 2013, he ran the day-to-day operations of the department and had even more power than Sheriff Baca, whom Tanaka attempted to hide behind to excuse his actions through his “but he made me do it” testimony on the stand.

The conviction will likely be appealed. To date, nine members of the Sheriff’s Department have either accepted plea agreements or been convicted in connection with the scandal.

Tanaka’s conviction and Baca’s plea are a move in the right direction. Hector Villagra, executive director of the ACLU of Southern California notes, “This trial is not about one individual, or an isolated incident of obstruction of justice by a law enforcement official. Rather, this case is about a culture of lawlessness and violence within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department that went unchecked if not abetted by the top brass.”

Villagra adds that the conviction is “one more important step in the process of effecting much needed reform, a process that includes federal prosecutions… and implementation of the reforms proposed by the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence. This trial and the plea by former Sheriff Lee Baca are important reminders that no one is above the law and those individuals entrusted to uphold the law must also obey it.”’

Tanaka’s sentencing has been set for June 20.


(Beth Cone Kramer is a successful Los Angeles writer and a columnist for CityWatch.) Prepped for CityWatch by Linda Abrams.

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