As reported in the Los Angeles Times here, “six current and former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were found guilty…of obstruction of justice and other charges for their part in an alleged scheme to stymie a federal grand jury investigation into civil rights abuses and corruption in the county’s jails.”

Beyond these six convictions, federal prosecutors “have acknowledged in court that [Paul] Tanaka (Undersheriff at the time and current candidate for Sheriff), as well as a current captain of the department, remain subjects in the still-open grand jury investigation.”

The ongoing Grand Jury investigation, and these convictions, center around actions Los Angeles Sheriff Department (LASD) jail employees took when they learned that the FBI was investigating the county’s Central Jail for “claims of widespread abuse and corruption among deputies in the jails.”

To try to collect evidence, an undercover FBI agent bribed a deputy to deliver a cell phone to an inmate in the jail. The inmate, serving as a federal informant, was to use the phone to report his observations to the FBI. Deputies in the jail discovered the phone and, when they learned its purpose, began moving the involved inmate/informant repeatedly about the LA County Jail system in order to prevent the FBI from gaining access to him for interviews.

Internally, LASD was reported to have even named these musical chair-like activities as “Operation Pandora’s Box”, an apparent reference to the Geek myth of the same name. In Greek mythology, Pandora, the first woman, owned a box, or jar, which Zeus (the chief God) had ordered her to never open. Curious about its contents, however, Pandora opened the box and, in so doing, released all of the evil and corruption that exists in the world today.

The bribe a jail deputy accepted to provide the cell phone (the deputy ultimately pled guilty to this), and the subsequent conviction of six other deputies directly involved are bad enough. To my mind, however, something even more chilling is the fact that to a person each of these deputies claimed that they were conducting these activities at the direction of both retired Sheriff Baca and retired Undersheriff Tanaka.

A non-profit organization called “Save our Six” has emerged in efforts to collect donations for the six convicted deputies, presumably to help fund the appeals to their convictions. According to the website, found here:

“With the concurrence of the Sheriff, this inmate was moved to an outlying sub-station for his safety and his name was changed to prevent anyone who may want to harm him from easily locating him.”

The website goes on to state:

“Sheriff Baca has since met with the members of the federal government involved in this case and then abruptly retired. He has basically, disappeared…Leroy Baca has chosen not to put on his big boy pants and come take responsibility for the lawful orders he gave his subordinates. He couldn’t even come and testify on their behalf and explain this mess he caused.”

As we all know, Long Beach is the second largest city in LA County. Long Beach’s current Chief of Police, Jim McDonnell, is currently running for LA County Sheriff. McDonnell’s campaign website can be found here.

Chief McDonnell has but one opponent in that race…retired Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. The same Paul Tanaka who the LA Times reports may have been instrumental in issuing orders related to “Operation Pandora’s Box” and who remains under investigation to this day. Tanaka’s campaign website can be found here.

I’ve learned over several decades in law enforcement that there is almost always more to these sorts of stories than is generally known, but, as mentioned, a federal Grand Jury has now convicted these deputies and former deputies of corruption-related charges and the investigation apparently continues into both former Sheriff Baca and former Undersheriff Tanaka.

This is the sort of challenge that I believe weak leadership in public safety can create, facilitate, and perpetuate. As many know, Under Chief McDonnell, Long Beach PD has had some of its own difficulties. Some of them have even resulted in civil court decisions against the city, the department, and some of its personnel.

None of these challenges, however, involved federal investigations into reports of institutional corruption. Likewise, none of these challenges are, in my view, the result of weak leadership under Chief McDonnell’s watch.

Concerning LASD civilian oversight, Chief McDonnell is on record, here, stating:
“The well-documented yet still-unfolding failure of leadership at the Sheriff’s Department, in particular, demands the creation of (a civilian oversight) commission at this time…”

Come November, voters in Long Beach and throughout LA County will have a choice to make for their next Sheriff. Under the circumstances, the correct choice seems abundantly clear. 

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