Deputy Pleads Guilty To Drug Trafficking

Deputy Kenneth Collins, who was arrested earlier this year, pled guilty Monday to a charge of drug trafficking after being caught by the FBI offering to use his LASD badge to escort narcotics across state lines. The Los Angeles Times has the story.

He is scheduled to be sentenced in November.

Ironically, Collins met one of his co-conspirators, Grant Valencia, while Collins was an instructor in the “Emerging Leaders Academy”–a program to help criminals turn their lives around. Valencia was his student.

“Law enforcement officers are sworn to uphold the law, which is why we hold them to a higher standard of conduct… Deputy Collins didn’t just break the law, he trampled his oath by agreeing to sell his badge to assist drug traffickers,” U.S. attorney Nick Hanna said in a statement.

Collins grew up in South Central Los Angeles, served in the U.S. military, then joined the Sheriff’s Department and was assigned to Lennox Station, though LNX deputies told LASD.News they could hardly remember him and shake their heads at his actions. Collins was most recently assigned to Countywide Services Bureau, before he left the department shortly after his January arrest.

 

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Deputy Involved Shooting in East LA

East Los Angeles deputies shot and killed 21-year-old Anthony Vargas Sunday morning at approximately 2 a.m. after allegedly committing an armed robbery, running from deputies and brandishing a handgun during a fight with them.

His mother, however, says he was a good boy who had been attending a birthday party and Bible study. They claim they have already hired a lawyer to investigate or sue the county.

The incident occurred near the intersection of Mednik Avenue and Floral Drive in unincorporated East Los Angeles, a Department statement said. This area has been the site of numerous prior shootings, including deputy-involved shootings. It is also down the street from where Deputy Mohamed Ahmed was shot in the face in 2011 while contacting another armed man.

It appears what happened is deputies had responded to the area regarding an armed robbery call. Another assisting unit on the way to the call saw Vargas, who matched the suspect description. A short pursuit ensued, followed by a struggle. During the struggle, Vargas reportedly tried to “arm himself”, according to Homicide Lt. Derrick Alfred.

A handgun was recovered at the scene and one deputy suffered minor injuries during the fight.

According to radio traffic (click here and skip to 5:40 in), the initial armed robbery incident occurred at Hammel Street and Mednik Avenue. The deputy-involved shooting occurred about two blocks away. We were unable to locate radio traffic of the shooting itself, but traffic of a deputy-involved fight in East LA could be heard around 12:10 into the recording above.

 

 

LA Times Takes Aim at LASD Misconduct and Peace Officer Bill of Rights

The Los Angeles Times has published four hard-hitting articles in the last three days taking examining misconduct by Los Angeles County deputy sheriffs, taking square aim at changing California’s police officer privacy laws.

It is unclear whether the Times has made this a priority by itself or whether it is being secretly encouraged by Sheriff Jim McDonnell, who has been angling to undermine the Peace Officer Bill of Rights for years. McDonnell has been unsuccessful in his quest under existing law, so perhaps he’s going about it another way. After all, it was less than a year ago that PPOA President Brian Moriguchi called for an investigation into whether Sheriff McDonnell or his “Constitutional Policing” or media handlers intentionally and illegally leaked personnel information to the Times(Was this crime investigated?)

Here is a good legal analysis of the issues.

Then again, some of those accused of misconduct are part of McDonnell’s own command staff, who have apparently been granted grace not afforded to ordinary deputies.

On the other hand, it’s also unclear whether the Times is finally revisiting McDonnell’s absurd claim, and the Times’ prior agreement, that he has single-handedly engineered a “sea change in culture” within the LASD despite his deep unpopularity within the organization.

Here are the articles the Times has come out with since Thursday:

Thursday: An L.A. County deputy faked evidence. Here’s how his misconduct was kept secret in court for years

Thursday: You’ve been arrested by a dishonest cop. Can you win in a system set up to protect officers?

Friday: This L.A. sheriff’s deputy was a pariah in federal court. But his secrets were safe with the state

Saturday: Why do some L.A. sheriff’s deputies have matching skull tattoos? It’s a question Compton residents have been asking for years

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LASD.News’ Opinion: We don’t know whether officer privacy laws / the Peace Officer Bill of Rights needs to be changed or not. As easy as it is to get information about people these days, and with a bloody history of officers being followed or confronted at their homes, there are certainly safety reasons to preserve POBR.

While the Times has identified many cases of real or alleged misconduct it would have liked to know about, and defense attorneys would have liked to know about–we don’t think it has established that the prior misconduct was actually relevant in the subsequent cases. For example, in the first story, the Times cites many lawyers and criminal suspects who would have been glad to use the deputy’s prior misconduct to angle for a lighter sentence or dismissal, when their actual guilt and the evidence in their cases does not seem to be in doubt.

As a journalistic and opinionated outfit ourselves, we understand the Times’ desire for access to officer personnel files. (Are journalists offering up their personnel files, too? Will LASD “executives” be wearing body cams?) But we are not yet convinced that the desired transparency will benefit anyone other than reporters who want to tell interesting stories, criminals who want to get out of jail, and the defense attorneys who want to help them. We look forward to the Times’ editorial board’s big reveal as to what exactly they are proposing.

Everyone makes mistakes in their life and career. While police officers have tremendous public trust placed in them and misconduct should be dealt with, criminals and their attorneys are looking for whatever will establish reasonable doubt in the least intelligent member of a jury. Or suggest to a busy deputy district attorney that a slam-dunk case will become a hassle and should be dismissed or pled.

Allowing criminals, defense attorneys and reporters to go on fishing expeditions through officers’ past and cherry-pick tidbits that benefit their own agendas will have many consequences which should be fiercely debated.

 

Jailer Savagely Beaten By Inmate at Lakewood Station; Shot by Heroic Deputies

Update @ 08-11-18 / 0015 Hrs: Radio traffic from this incident can be found here: first clip (begins at 28 min in); incident continues in this second clip. We’re left with two thoughts: first, this sounds like an absolute Donnybrook in the station jail. Second, check out these deputies (and one in particular) taking control of the situation and handling it. THIS is the difference between LASD and LAPD. Not to pick a fight, but while LAPD is all about rank and process and systems of accountability (blah, blah, blah), LASD is about ability, taking charge and getting the job done. And that is why you hear a deputy sheriff running the response here, not various levels of sergeant, lieutenant, captain, commander, chief and assistant sheriff stepping all over themselves over who is in command. Despite everything corrupt and broken and wrong with the leadership of today’s LASD, this radio traffic gives us confidence the beating heart of the real LASD is still alive (for now). The deputy sheriff, handling business.

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A Custody Assistant at Lakewood Sheriff Station was savagely beaten by an arrestee today as the jailer was attempting to fingerprint him. 

Facts Below, But First Some Context:
While we don’t yet know enough about what happened and don’t want to jump to conclusions, it’s important to state that jail personnel and deputies are being assaulted by inmates far more often now than they were in the past. This kind of thing simply did not happen 3-4 years ago. This is because of the potentially career-ending discipline Sheriff McDonnell and his civilian/lawyer Constitutional Policing Adviser”, Diana Teran, are handing out after personnel get into uses of force. Criminals know this and it emboldens them. This is especially true given McDonnell’s campaigning for re-election on reducing use of force in the jails, however unsafe they have become for his personnel. While the jails may be safer for criminals, they are more dangerous for those wearing a badge. In fact, we understand Ms. Teran is at Lakewood Station right now–news that should come as a snake’s rattle to Lakewood personnel…

Here is what we understand to have happened from our sources and a press conference held by Homicide Lieutenant Corina:

  • The suspect had been arrested around 1300 hours for possession of a stolen car (10851 CVC).
  • After booking was completed, he was of course removed from his cell to be fingerprinted by the Custody Assistant (jailer).
  • The jailer’s partner had just left the jail to deal with some paperwork and was elsewhere in the station, so the jailer was alone. This is very common.
  • While he was being fingerprinted, the suspect (who we understand to be Pacific Islander, possibly Samoan), suddenly, without provocation and savagely beat the female jailer.
  • The jailer was able to hit a panic button, setting off an alarm. Lakewood Station dispatch personnel saw what was happening on CCTV and sent deputies to help.
  • The suspect stole the jailer’s Taser and dragged her into a cell by her hair, locking it behind him. Legally this was a kidnapping. He then essentially held her hostage in the cell.
  • Once deputies arrived, the suspect points the Taser at them through the jail screen, as well as reportedly at the jailer being held hostage. The jailer had been beat to a pulp and could have been killed, so deadly force was clearly authorized.
  • One or more deputies then shot the suspect. We understand the shooting was directed by the watch commander, though the deputies had cause to shoot without that (at least under current California law…). The suspect was hit several times but still did not immediately give up until he was subsequently Tased.
  • The suspect is in critical condition as of this article.
  • The jailer was savagely beat, with a broken orbital and nose, but should survive.

We will not release the name of the jailer or other involved personnel.

This article will be updated as we learn more information (which does not compromise the investigation).

McDonnell Throws Tantrum After Union Endorses Villanueva for Sheriff

Struggling Sheriff Jim McDonnell flashed the anger, contempt and casual relationship with the truth he is known for Wednesday in responding to LASD’s largest union endorsing his challenger, retired Lieutenant Alex Villanueva.

In a graceless statement posted to his Facebook page, McDonnell said:

I’m not surprised by the announcement made by the Board of Directors of ALADS today. By endorsing my opponent, ALADS has endorsed a candidate who has publicly opposed the reforms underway that have reduced jail violence and increased accountability. He would take the Department backwards to a time of chaos and corruption like it was under Baca and Tanaka.

I have come in and implemented accountability measures and the ALADS Board has taken issue with that, and I am not going to apologize for holding accountable those who tarnish the badge.

Thousands of individual deputies and civilian personnel have indeed worked hard to earn back the trust of the public after many years of crisis. I do not believe the ALADS Board of Directors speaks for the overwhelming number of Deputies who are active partners in moving the Department forward. Together, we have a responsibility to make Los Angeles County as safe as possible while continuing to earn the public’s trust every day.

What an astonishingly passive-aggressive, dishonest, bridge-burning, and childish bunch of nonsense. Had ALADS endorsed him, McDonnell would’ve instead been talking about how honored and humbled he was for their support and partnership.

In other words: you don’t think I’m doing awesome so you’re part of the problem.

This sort of denial and blame-shifting wouldn’t be tolerated of a deputy sheriff trainee in the academy; we absolutely shouldn’t tolerate it from the elected sheriff. He’s had four years to learn our standards. This is Phase 1 roll-up behavior.

Is it any wonder McDonnell’s community relations are so fraid? That he was absent from much of the community for the last four years until, surprised into a runoff, he’s running around hat-in-hand, begging for money from wealthy West Siders? That he views the Citizens Oversight commission as his liaison to the community rather than an actual oversight panel?

Can you imagine if this guy were your boss and you had to disagree with him? (Demoted Captain Chris Brackpool can.)

What is this, Russia?

Petulant as McDonnell’s statement is, it’s a window into how his Father Knows Best mindset reacts when a partner dares to challenge him. No wonder suck-ups and sycophants have done so well promoting under McDonnell, especially all the Tanaka-acolytes who so quickly changed their colors?

McDonnell’s statement is completely unhinged.

Here are the facts:

  • Jim McDonnell has accomplished very little in four years as sheriff. Crime is up, proactive police work is way down, morale is probably the lowest its ever been, chancing arbitrary and career-altering/ending discipline by ambitious middle-managers and self-styled “executives” is viewed as a risk of showing up for work, acting with integrity is viewed as an act of foolishness, while the executive ranks themselves are riddled with suck ups and people with extensive records of misconduct (some quite recent).
  • Alex Villanueva hasn’t opposed significant reforms because McDonnell has neither made significant reforms nor even suggested what they might be. All he talks about is implementing systems of processes of layers of paper-pushers (all wearing brass belt buckles and sewn-down epaulettes, of course; all telling him how great he is). And this is without even getting to the 300 admin staff he says he’d need to run a body cam program.
  • In fact, the only major McDonnell “reform” LASD.News can recall Villanueva opposing was releasing an informal list of deputies previously accused of having integrity issues to the District Attorney’s office (the so-called “Brady List”), including its apparently intentional and criminal leak to the media. And the reason Villanueva has given for disagreeing is not that he opposes the list in principle but because the list is not accurate–it includes people who don’t even know they’re on it or why they would be; it includes people who were bullied into accepting a punishment that without their knowledge landed them on the list rather than risk loss of pay while fighting an internal case; indeed the Los Angeles Times has itself reported that deputies have been removed from the list after someone realized they were there in error. That McDonnell is comfortable needlessly and perhaps falsely tarnishing peoples’ reputations to achieve the appearance of having achieved something says more about him than it does about anyone else.
  • Actually, Villanueva has campaigned extensively on the assertion that McDonnell’s reforms have been fake in effect, not that they’ve been wrong in intent.
  • Indeed, under McDonnell’s leadership numerous deputies have been arrested or convicted of crimes, firings have gone through the roof (as have reinstatements through the legal system and back-pay awards), including firings of “executives” McDonnell sought to defend one day and kicked out the window the next. As any deputy knows, firing is viewed internally now as a management stunt easily and often entered into to make the lawyers happy and “leaders” look good, with the understanding that the legal appellate process will do the actual managing.
  • By the way, anyone know what’s going on with Todd Rogers’ civil suit against McDonnell alleging he was retaliated against after the last election? Did the County settle that one yet?
  • And speaking of integrity issues, what does it take for McDonnell to end up on his own Brady List, with all his own false statements? Such as when he told the media last year that no uses of force had been recorded on deputies’ personally-owned body cams (which they have bought due to his refusal to distribute them)? Or his claiming above that an “overwhelming number of deputies” support him in “moving the Department forward” when, in fact, 97% of deputies voted their lack of confidence in McDonnell? Or his many false statements to reporter Annie Gilbertson in her REPEAT Podcast (especially episodes 5 and 6)? He must know what he is saying is false, but he’s saying it so his LA-establishment backers who don’t know how failed and unpopular he is, who will simply take his word for it.
  • While McDonnell claims to be a reformer, in fact he hasn’t gotten much done–other than gorging on the vain perks of his office: his $2 million luxury SUV and entourage, the hats and jackets and uniforms and brass buckles and the decals, LASD’s new theme song (which deputies can listen to when the countywide radio system crashes), the travel, and the use of county resources for campaign purposes, and the mountain retreats, to say nothing of his nearly half-million dollars in annual taxpayer-funded compensation.
  • McDonnell’s attitude–and that of his supporters–seems to be that if the unions disapprove of his performance, he must be doing something right. That’s cute, except LASD’s unions endorsed him four years ago and have complained constantly since then not about McDonnell’s policy positions but mostly about his lack of vision, understanding of the organization, and his leadership. They’ve complained about his not responding when a deputy was shot in the neck because it was late at night. They’ve complained about his ineffectiveness; about his inability to recruit, about the wave of deputies immediately lateraling to other agencies, about being $200 million over budget, about detectives being put into patrol cars to achieve minimum patrol levels. The unions are raising serious concerns about a sheriff which experience is showing is not up to the job. (See, also.) You can ignore the warning light if you like, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t going to crash into the mountain.

Maybe this frequent commenter on the LA Times article summed it up best:

“I think Jim is the biggest let-down of ANY elected official in the last 25 years,” she said. “Now even I refer to Jim as Sheriff McBuckles. Sad. So disappointing. Jim, I hate to say this b/c I was such a huge fangurl, you had your chance and choked. Time to step aside my friend.”

Indeed. And drop the patch.

ALADS Endorses Villanueva for Sheriff

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS) dropped a bombshell Wednesday when it announced it had endorsed Alex Villanueva to be the next Los Angeles County Sheriff.

The endorsement mirrors a similar situation in Riverside County, where strong support from the deputies’ union allowed Lieutenant Chad Bianco to force unpopular Sheriff Stan Sniff into a fall runoff. Like the LASD, Riverside Sheriffs are also dealing with historically low morale, a sense the department is mismanaged at every level, a lack of progressive thinking, and an inability to recruit or retain deputies headed for early retirement or greener pastures at other agencies. They, too, are a mess. And their union has taken a similarly strong stand to bring about reform.

In an email to deputies, ALADS President Ron Hernandez explained, “Alex is one of us… He has been a tireless advocate for deputies, especially during moments in the department’s history when it was necessary to speak truth to those in power. Alex’s track record demonstrates an ability to initiate reform while staying acutely connected to our needs and experiences. His impressive primary election campaign has already shown how he can raise morale, inspire and represent us.”

The endorsement comes after 97% of deputy sheriffs voted no confidence in McDonnell in a survey earlier this year. Only 34 of the over 1,400 deputies responding to the survey felt confident in McDonnell’s leadership.

“The underlying sentiments which drove responses should certainly be of concern to Sheriff McDonnell,” ALADS said at the time. “In particular, the Sheriff should take note that this vote represents a loss of confidence in him by a significant number of his deputies.”

The endorsement also comes after a primary election in which McDonnell, who won 75% of the vote less than four years ago, couldn’t muster more than 48%, despite huge name recognition, rock-solid establishment support, conventional wisdom you cannot beat an incumbent, the endorsement of the Los Angeles Times, and a half-million dollars in fundraising (mostly from wealthy West LA/Beverly Hills types–the same trough he’s going back to now in the general election).

It also comes after Villanueva pulled in over 30% of the vote, despite little name recognition, virtually no budget or campaign machine like those fielded by challenger Bob Lindsey and incumbent McDonnell. Rather, what Villanueva offered was the assertion that McDonnell’s reform was fake and impermanent and the view that it was possible to chart a progressive vision for Southern California law enforcement in a way that also supports the men and women placing themselves in harm’s way.

The early and strong endorsement is especially noteworthy given ALADS’ declining to make an endorsement in the primary election (while the deputy sheriff contract was under negotiation) and given the significant resources that will now be made available to Villanueva.

While McDonnell’s support was strongest among wealthier, white, establishment types, Villanueva found strong support among African Americans, Hispanics, and those with whom LASD’s relationship is supposedly most strained. 

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Now that ALADS has endorsed Villanueva, you can expect many other Southern California labor unions to follow suit, due to an unwritten rule that they tend to follow the lead of the largest union at each organization. The endorsement also signals that ALADS may use its significant political budget to advocate for Villanueva.

Here is ALADS’ statement in full:

Fellow Deputies,

Today we have announced our endorsement of Alex Villanueva in the November 2018 election for Los Angeles County Sheriff. He embodies the essential characteristics and values required to lead the department: integrity, honesty, tenacity, courage, and connectivity with his fellow deputies.

This decision comes after serious deliberation amongst our Board of Directors and numerous conversations with you – the members whom we represent and serve. It is our firm belief that the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department needs to be transformed and that Alex is best suited to lead that change given his background, skills, and character.

Alex is one of us. He has over three decades of experience as a deputy, has served in the United States Air Force and the California Army National Guard, and earned a Doctorate in Public Administration while studying the impact of diversity on law enforcement leadership. He has been a tireless advocate for deputies, especially during moments in the department’s history when it was necessary to speak truth to those in power.

Alex’s track record demonstrates an ability to initiate reform while staying acutely connected to our needs and experiences. His impressive primary election campaign has already shown how he can raise morale, inspire and represent us.

Please feel free to contact any of your board representatives if you have any questions or concerns.

Sincerely,
Ron Hernandez

County Drags Feet on Body Cams–But Here’s What’s Gonna Happen

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department was one of the first agencies in America to try out body cameras–and will be one of the last to adopt them. And not for good reasons.

Now, the Board of Supervisors is set to vote Tuesday on–by our count–the fourth study (possibly the fifth?) on how LASD should implement in a cam program. This is pretty dysfunctional stuff, even by the County’s standards.

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Agencies began snatching up the cameras four years ago in a mad dash to avoid being the next Ferguson. Many brands tried to capitalize on the gold rush: Vievu, Safariland, Wolfcom and, of course, Taser–which has since rebranded as Axon, bought Vievu, and seen its stock price soar from $8 or so pre-Ferguson to nearly $70 today.

The cameras, which were initially demanded by African American activists, liberal groups and the media and viewed warily by officers have now become popular with officers and deputies, with many buying their own. Meanwhile, the Movement for Black Lives (a policy-recommending group affiliated with Black Lives Matter) has called for the elimination of body cams, as part of what it views as a war on black people.

The great activist, liberal and media hope was that body cams would reveal all kinds of police misconduct and send officers to jail. Of course, they’ve mostly just vindicated officers falsely accused of misconduct, shown officers putting their lives on the line to save strangers, and revealing how little time officers have to make impossibly hard decisions.

While many agencies nationwide hopped aboard the body cam bandwagon, Sheriff Jim McDonnell waited–and wisely, we think. There were still many different brands, the technology was rapidly evolving, and there were real unknowns about performance, policies, and long-term costs. Given LASD’s size, it was smart to make a deliberate choice–and, since the cams were a political demand, understandable he dragged his feet to get the Board of Supervisors to pay for them.

But that was almost four years ago.

Of course, McDonnell also wanted to use the body cams as a Trojan Horse for hiring nearly 240 new administrative people (plus another 60 at the DA and Public Defender’s offices). That’s two entire patrol stations…just in admin. Will body cams require people to process public record requests? Pull videos, blur faces, legal stuff and subpoenas? Sure. But 240? Ridiculous.

While the sheriff and Board of Supervisors have been playing hot-potato on the cameras for years, many deputies have gone out and bought their own cams, despite uncertainty re how the Department will view their recordings or whether opportunistic/low-integrity managers will punish them for infractions on the recordings the Department never would have known about without high-integrity deputies recording themselves. What a sorry state of affairs…

Now, LASD and the Board of Supervisors is calling for YET ANOTHER study (at taxpayer expense) on how to implement body cams. This after the department’s own 2014 test, a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General in 2015, a report issued by the Citizens Oversight Committee just last month, and the experience of many large agencies nationwide…

As Celeste Fremon writes on her Southern California criminal justice blog Witness LA today, yet another study isn’t needed. Her article is great and you should check it out.

How’s all this gonna end?

  1. Someone’s gonna go to Taser (Axon) and buy like 4,000-5,000 body cams.
  2. The cams will get delivered, sit in a warehouse for a while, and it’ll take months (maybe years) to for people to get off their asses and issue them, set up the necessary docks and chargers and wifi hotspots, etc, etc, etc. (Of course, it could all get done in like a week, but that ain’t the County Way–not when making it all happen can justify entire jobs and enough overtime for a thousand trips to the river!)
  3. The department will implement policies, and require people to attend training, on how to use the cams, and acknowledge how they’ll be punished if they forget to turn them on under stress, etc.
  4. The cams will record tons of HD-quality data, which Axon will store in Amazon Web Solutions’ cloud, and the county will pay tens of millions of dollars per year for it. Many recordings (such as with uses of force) will be kept forever.
  5. From an evidentiary and PR perspective, sometimes the cameras will be helpful, sometimes they won’t.

That’s what’s going to happen. So we might as well get on with it.

What we’re really looking forward to is the sheriff and brass having to wear the cams, in all their closed-door meetings, where they talk about things deputies and the public didn’t until now have the ability to know. You know, for transparency, right?