LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge seemed skeptical on Friday of a former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy’s arguments that her superior was to blame for her imprisonment and job loss related to her obstruction of a federal investigation.
Chaka Okadigbo, an attorney for former Sheriff’s Deputy Maricela Long, told U.S District Judge Michael Fitzgerald that former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca set in motion “the chain of events that ultimately led” to Long’s violation of federal law.
In 2011, the FBI investigated the Sheriff’s Department for alleged civil rights abuses in Los Angeles County jails.
Over six weeks in August and September 2011, Baca conspired with those under his command to thwart the FBI investigation into inmate abuse at two jails by sending deputies to FBI agents’ homes threatening arrest. He also hid the FBI’s informant within the jail system.
Okadigbo said that when Baca ordered his officers to surveil FBI agents who had been investigating inmate abuse at county jails, he “was aware [of criteria] and the facts that make up a [constitutional] violation,” and was therefore liable for officers’ actions.
According to Long’s April 23 opposition to dismissal of her lawsuit against Baca and Los Angeles County, she “conducted her investigation in reliance on her superiors not to lead her astray.”
She operated “within a rigid hierarchical chain of command environment under which she was expected to follow unquestioningly the directives of her superiors,” Okadigbo said in the same filing.
Fitzgerald called Okadigbo’s argument “very lawyer-like and clever,” likening Long’s liability claim to a “Nuremberg defense” wherein lower-level officers ask to be let off the hook for actions ordered by superiors.
Okadigbo disagreed with the Nuremberg comparison.
Attorneys representing Baca moved to dismiss the case on March 20.
In previous filings, Baca’s attorneys said Long failed to establish that her constitutional rights were violated or that Baca’s actions led to her job loss and imprisonment.
But in his April 23 filing, Okadigbo pointed to Larez v. City of Los Angeles, in which the court affirmed that the jury could find a police chief liable in his individual capacity if he “set in motion a series of acts by others, or knowingly refused to terminate a series of acts by others, which he knew or reasonably should [have] known, would cause others to inflict the constitutional injury.”
Fitzgerald said he would take the arguments under submission.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson sentenced Baca to three years in prison in 2017 for obstructing a federal investigation and denied Baca’s conviction appeal later that year.
A panel of U.S Ninth Circuit Court judges voted unanimously in August 2016 to throw out appeals from seven former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies involved in the fiasco, upholding their convictions.
Baca was with the Sheriff’s Department for 48 years. He was the tenth member of the Sheriff’s Department convicted in the scheme.
Long was convicted in September 2014 on obstruction of justice charges and for making false statements to the FBI.
Long was employed by LA County as a sheriff’s deputy for over 23 years.
The Civil Service Commission terminated her employment in March 2017.