LOS ANGELES (CN) – A retired Los Angeles sheriff’s captain told jurors on Friday that former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka undermined his efforts to dismantle a clique of rogue deputies called the “Regulators,” and transferred the captain from the station after a parking lot meeting with the group’s leaders.
Tanaka, 57, is standing trial on charges that he obstructed an FBI investigation into excessive force at the Men’s Central Jail in LA by conspiring to hide informant Anthony Brown within the jail system and threatened the arrest of an investigator, FBI Agent Leah Marx.
Before his retirement in 2013, Tanaka was Sheriff Leroy Baca’s second in command. Prosecutors say that Tanaka ignored jail violence and other acts of deputy misconduct.
“Instead, he fostered a corrupt culture within the jails and the department,” prosecutor Brandon Fox wrote in court papers filed this week.
In a separate case, Baca pleaded guilty earlier this year to lying to federal investigators. He faces up to five years in prison.
Attorneys made their opening arguments in U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson’s courtroom on Thursday in a criminal trial expected to last three weeks.
On Friday, officers recounted Tanaka’s disdain for Internal Affairs investigations into deputies.
In meetings when he was an assistant sheriff, Tanaka encouraged officer misconduct and was dismissive of a commander’s efforts to make a change of leadership at Men’s Central Jail where officer brutality occurred, the court heard.
At one meeting when he was assistant sheriff, Tanaka said of the 45 internal affairs officers in the department: “In my opinion that’s fucking 44 too many,” the seven men and seven women of the jury heard.
Taking the stand in the morning, retired LA County Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Roller told Fox that he had become captain of Century Station in Lynwood in 2005.
Roller said that when he arrived it became apparent that at deputy clique known as the Regulators was “running roughshod” over the station. The station had the highest number of officer-involved shootings and citizen complaints in the county, Roller testified.
He said there was evidence the clique was extorting officers and others in the community and would hold charitable fundraisers for members who had been suspended at work.
Roller said he met with Regulators’ leadership and told them that the group would have to dismantle and could only continue as a social group. He said he also moved Regulator members out of key positions at the station.
His efforts were only partially successful, he said.
“It reduced, it did not end,” Roller testified.
According to Roller, then-assistant sheriff Tanaka undermined his efforts to clean up the station at a June 28, 2007 meeting before Roller’s entire staff.
Roller says that he was already 30 minutes into the meeting when Tanaka showed up at 2:30 p.m.
“He stated he hated Internal Affairs, it had no place in the department,” Roller said, adding that Tanaka said he believed investigations ruined officers’ lives and that any captain who investigated an officer should be investigated themselves.
Tanaka told officers they should “‘tow'” the line or “‘cross it at times'” when dealing with gang members, Roller said.
“After Mr. Tanaka addressed the deputies I went back to my office and I was in shock,” Roller said.
Roller told the court that Tanaka’s statements contradicted everything else he had said at the meeting. He says that he felt compelled to write a memo about Tanaka’s remarks that reached Baca.
After he sent the memo, Roller learned while traveling in Alaska that he had been transferred out of the Lynwood station, he said.
Roller also testified that he had heard that Baca and Tanaka had met with three members of the Regulators in the station parking lot shortly before he was transferred.
Tanaka’s attorney Jerome Haig focused his cross-examination on the wording of Roller’s memo which appeared less damning.
The memo written by Roller and shown to the court read in part: “He stated that he believed that deputies and officers should function right on the edge of the line, in that deputies need to be very aggressive in their approach to deal with gang members.”
“Do you think it’s improper to be aggressive?” Haig asked.
“No. He said they should cross the line,” Roller said. “That meant violate law or policy.”
The government’s next witness was Cmdr. Pat Maxwell, a 30-year veteran of the department.
He told the court that he heard Tanaka talking about going down to Century Station to potentially “put a case” on Capt. Roller.
Tanaka had made other comments that surprised Maxwell, he said.
At a meeting in the department’s old headquarters in Monterey Park, Tanaka “out of the blue” asked the officers how many Internal Affairs investigators the LAPD had, Maxwell said.
Tanaka told them that it was 100, according to Maxwell and then mentioned that the Sheriff’s Department had 45 investigators.
According to Maxwell, Tanaka said: “In my opinion that’s fucking 44 too many.”
Retired Cmdr. Robert Olmsted also testified about closed-door meetings with Tanaka.
The former undersheriff had enlisted Olmsted to take command of Men’s Central Jail because of reports of violence.
Olmsted said he realized the enormity of the task ahead of him when he walked through the jail during his first visit to the facility in 2006.
He said that when he arrived on one floor with a reputation for jail violence he was circled by 9 to 10 officers. One of the officers asked the captain what he was doing “on our floor.”
“Right then and there, I knew I had a problem,” Olmsted testified.
He said he concluded that the captain of Men’s Central Jail, Capt. Dan Cruz, should be replaced.
But he says that when he went to Tanaka, the official told him that Cruz would be getting a promotion rather than a transfer.
Olmsted said he approached Baca three times and told him there were major issues at the facility, but said the former sheriff was unresponsive.
At a Christmas party, Baca told Olmsted he would talk to him before the end of the event but then left before they had a chance to discuss the problems at the jail, Olmsted said.
Shortly after his retirement in 2011, Olmsted went to the FBI and blew the whistle on what he had witnessed in the jail system.
The trial will continue Tuesday at the Federal Court on Spring Street at 8:00 a.m.
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