FBI Indicts 18 in Probe of LA County Sheriff’s Department

Sheriff Lee Baca

Following a lengthy investigation into corruption in the LA County Sheriff’s Department, federal prosecutors brought the hammer down on 18 officials in the local police agency this week with indictments for allegations ranging from assault of prison inmates and visitors, obstruction of justice and fabrication of prison reports. 

The Los Angeles Times first broke the story on Monday. 

Thirteen deputies, two lieutenants and three sergeants were part of the indictment. Federal authorities allege deputies submitted false reports in attempts to defend the use of excessive force and unlawful arrests of prison visitors. One deputy also allegedly went to an FBI agent’s home and threatened to arrest her. Another deputy is accused of training rookie jail deputies to abuse a mentally ill prisoner and lie about the incident. 

News of the indictments threw Sheriff Lee Baca’s department and the nation’s largest prison system into further disarray following months of revelations alleging illegal conduct under Baca’s watch. 

Baca defended his department at a press conference on Monday, saying “99.9% of our employees are on the right track … There is no institutional problem within the Sheriff ’s Department when it comes to correcting itself,” the Times reported. 

On Monday, 16 of the officials indicted in the probe were arraigned in court downtown. Some entered pleas of “not guilty” while others will enter pleas at a later time, according to the The Times. Each of the accused was released on bond, but two have yet to surrender to authorities. 

Monday’s announcement is believed to be the largest corruption scandal to mar the Sheriff ’s Department since the 1980s when members of a drug enforcement team were charged with conspiring to steal drugs and money from dealers. More than 20 officials were eventually convicted in the case. 

In an interview with The Malibu Times on Tuesday, LA County District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said this week’s indictments are likely the first part of a larger case. 

“I’m not sure we’ve seen the end of it,” he said. “…It’s a group of people who are relatively low-level officers who are facing serious allegations. If their defense is going to be that they were ordered by someone to do it, they’re going to have to tell the world who the higher-ups were that ordered them to do it.” 

Local impact of indictments 

The City of Malibu pays $6.3 million annually to the Sheriff ’s Department for law enforcement services. On Tuesday, Malibu officials said the indictments had no bearing on the city’s relationship with the Sheriff’s Department’s Malibu/Lost Hills station. 

“Because it does look like most of these [indictments] have been related to jail misconduct, it doesn’t appear that anything in our local sheriff’s department [station] involved these local deputies,” City Manager Jim Thorsen said.

Malibu/Lost Hills station Capt. Pat Davoren said that if a Malibu local were to have a problem with treatment from local deputies or those working at the station, they are entitled to submit a complaint through the Sheriff ’s Department. The department then conducts an internal investigation. If a resident disagrees with the department’s findings, they can then challenge it with the department’s office of internal affairs, office of independent review or, ultimately, the county’s inspector general. 

“Any citizen can complain through our department,” Davoren said. 

Thorsen echoed Davoren’s comment. 

However, the City of Malibu has no direct oversight if a resident lodges a complaint against a deputy or the department in general. 

“If for some reason somebody did complain to us [the city], we would pass it on to the Sheriff ’s Department,” Thorsen said. 

If each city contracting the Sheriff ’s department were to seek out individual oversight on Sheriff’s deputies, Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said it would jeopardize overall discipline in the system. 

“In order to maintain the uni form discipline. . .al l the Sheriff ’s deputies and other officers need to be handled by a central command [discipline system],” Yaroslavsky said in an interview on Tuesday. “We have over 40 cities policed by the Sheriffs. It would be unmanageable.” 

While allegations of corruption largely shroud the county’s Central Jail in Downtown LA, Davoren addressed inmate treatment at the Malibu/Lost Hills holding cell. The station contains individual and multiperson holding cells where up to 20 inmates can be housed overnight at any given time, he said. 

“I haven’t experienced any complaints from inmates at this station since taking over,” said Davoren, who took over as captain last April. 

David Saul, chair of the city’s Public Safety Commission, said in his six years there have been very few local complaints against the department. When a resident complains, Saul said that Lts. Jim Royal or Mike Treinen are usually at commission meetings to field concerns. 

“We’ve never had anyone come to us saying their complaints have fallen on deaf ears,” Saul said.