Six Guilty in Sheriff’s Department Corruption Trial

A federal jury has convicted six Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies of conspiring to obstruct a FBI investigation into corruption and civil rights violations at the county jails.  The verdicts came only one month after another jury had deadlocked on similar charges against Deputy James Sexton.

In this, the second trial, prosecutors won across-the board convictions against Lieutenants Stephen Leavins and Gregory Thompson, Sergeants Scott Craig and Maricela Long, and Deputies Gerard Smith and Mickey Manzo. Again, the charges centered on the deputies’ efforts to sabotage the FBI investigation by hiding an inmate-informant from his federal handlers, moving him to different facilities and booking him under false names.

According to prosecutor Maggie Carter, the six defendants schemed to “silence the witness.”  Several jurors who spoke to the press afterwards agreed with the defense’s claim that the deputies were only following orders from higher ranking Sheriff’s officials, but at some point their actions “went over the line.”    But they rejected the defense claim that the defendants were trying to protect the informant from abuse at the hands of the deputies he exposed.

Sergeants Long and Craig were also convicted of making false statements, after they went to the house of an FBI agent involved in the jail probe and, in an encounter captured on video, falsely told her that  she was a “named suspect in a felony complaint” and that Sergeant Craig was preparing to swear out an arrest warrant for her.

There are several Sheriff’s prosecutions still in the pipeline, but this victory may embolden federal prosecutors to move up the chain of command.  Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, current captain William Carey and then Undersheriff Paul Tanaka remain under federal investigation for their roles in obstructing the FBI investigation but each has denied any wrongdoing.

The win also increases the chances that the government will seek to retry James Sexton; a decision is likely next week.  Jurors in that case may have given Sexton the benefit of the doubt because he was a junior deputy who had only been on the job three years.  The defendants convicted yesterday, by contrast, were much more experienced deputies and their commanding officers.



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