Judge Tosses Convicted Officer’s Civil Rights Suit Against LA County

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge on Tuesday tossed a civil rights lawsuit brought by a former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s officer who claimed she was unfairly fired after being snared in an FBI probe of corruption at the county jail.

U.S District Judge Michael Fitzgerald granted two motions to dismiss former officer Maricela Long’s lawsuit seeking to hold former sheriff Lee Baca and LA County liable for her loss of liberty and employment. Long claimed Baca and his subordinates had a duty to tell Long the things she was ordered to do “would be construed and prosecuted as interference with an FBI investigation and a violation of federal law,” according to her lawsuit.

Following her arrest in 2013, Long – a 23-year employee of the department – was convicted of obstruction of justice, conspiracy and making false statements to the FBI. She unsuccessfully appealed her conviction to the Ninth Circuit and began serving her two-year prison sentence in April 2017.

Fitzgerald dismissed Long’s case without leave to amend due to her conviction.

“If plaintiff were to succeed in this lawsuit it would necessarily imply the invalidity of her prior, Ninth Circuit-affirmed criminal conviction and is thus barred by Heck v. Humphrey and its progeny,” Fitzgerald wrote in the 12-page ruling. “No amount of tinkering with the complaint (absent filing an entirely different lawsuit) could change that, so leave to amend is unwarranted.”

In 2011, the FBI in conjunction with a federal grand jury investigated the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for alleged civil rights abuses in county jails.

Over six weeks in August and September 2011, Baca conspired with those under his command, including Long, to thwart the FBI investigation by sending officers to FBI agents’ homes threatening arrest. He also hid the FBI’s informant within the jail system.

In addition to Long, the case took down Baca, his undersheriff and several others in the department.

At a hearing on the motions to dismiss Long’s case, her attorney Chaka Okadigbo blamed Baca for setting in motion “the chain of events that ultimately led” to Long’s arrest and conviction.

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 his officers’ actions.

According to Long’s opposition to dismissal filed in April, she “conducted her investigation in reliance on her superiors not to lead her astray.”

She claimed she operated “within a rigid hierarchical chain of command environment under which she was expected to follow unquestioningly the directives of her superiors.”

Long sought compensatory damages of at least $250,000 to account for loss of employment and decreases in her retirement benefits.

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.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson sentenced Baca to three years in prison in 2017 for his role in the scheme to thwart the FBI investigation. Baca has appealed his conviction to the Ninth Circuit, which has so far upheld the convictions of everyone involved.

Baca was the tenth member of the department convicted in the scheme.

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