LOS ANGELES (CN) – Two sheriff deputies have sued convicted former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, claiming he framed them and pushed for false charges that they had falsified statements in an arrest report because he had a personal vendetta against a father of one of the officers.
Robert Lindsey and Charles Rodriguez filed federal civil rights complaint on Wednesday against Tanaka and sitting Superior Court Judge Kevin Stennis, a former LA County deputy district attorney.
Lindsey and Rodriguez say the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau investigated them in the summer of 2011, charging them with making a false statement in a report after the arrest of undocumented immigrant Uriel Salgado at a parking lot outside the Durango Bar in Huntington Park.
They arrested him for the possession of a baggy of cocaine. Though investigators did not dispute that Salgado was in possession of the drugs, the two deputies faced a probe for supposed discrepancies between their arrest report and surveillance video from Durango Bar and Salgado’s cellphone, their lawsuit says.
There were never any false statements in the report, they say.
According to the officers, Tanaka was behind the effort to charge them because he held a “personal grudge” against Lindsey’s father, former Cmdr. Robert Lindsey, who in the early 2000s had challenged Tanaka’s bid to promote unqualified officers to lieutenants by allegedly changing test scores on officer exams.
“Plaintiffs Lindsey and Rodriguez were singled out based on defendant Tanaka’s personal animus, when other similarly situated officers accused of falsifying police reports were not investigated or referred for prosecution,” their May 24 lawsuit states.
Tanaka later pressured the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office to file charges against the two officers, but the court dismissed the case when Salgado failed to appear in court.
At Tanaka’s bidding, Stennis entered the picture and started secret discussions with Salgado to revive the case in exchange for letting him stay in the United States, the complaint says.
“Specifically, defendant Stennis promised to assist Salgado to obtain relief from deportation as a ‘victim’ under the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act,” the 29-page lawsuit states.
Stennis knew there was no probable cause to charge Lindsey and Rodriguez, the filing says, and was only working to “achieve the political goal mandated by defendant Tanaka to prosecute plaintiffs.”
The lawsuit includes a series of emailed negotiations between Stennis and Salgado’s sister, Veronica Flores. In June 2015, a jury acquitted Lindsey and Rodriguez after Stennis’ negotiations with Flores were entered into the record.
Lindsey and Rodriguez returned to the department on Feb. 13, 2017, but say they “suffered extraordinary humiliation and emotional distress.” They seek damages, attorney fees and costs for violation of their due process and equal protection rights.
Tanaka is currently serving five years in prison for his role in a conspiracy to obstruct the FBI from investigating civil rights abuses in two county jails. This month, a federal judge sentenced former Sheriff Lee Baca to three years for his part in the scheme.
The plaintiffs are represented by Ronald Kaye of Kaye McLane Bednarski & Litt.