LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Former L.A. County Sheriff Leroy Baca, once one of the most powerful law enforcement officials in the nation, watched somberly in court Thursday as a former low-ranking deputy took the witness stand against him.
Baca, 74, is on trial for alleged conspiracy and obstruction of justice in connection with a 2011 scheme to block an FBI investigation into abuse and corruption inside the jails.
Former LASD Deputy Mickey Manzo was convicted and sentenced to two years in federal prison for his role in the crime. Manzo's role was limited, but prosecutors said the overall conspiracy included witness intimidation, the hiding of an inmate-turned-FBI informant, and ultimately, the threatened arrest of the lead FBI agent on the case.
Manzo, who now works at Home Depot, has remained free on bail during the appeals process, but is expected to surrender to prison in January. Manzo is now cooperating with prosecutors and told jurors he hopes his testimony will lead to less time behind bars.
Any potential reduction in prison time is ultimately up to Judge Percy Anderson, who has presided over four previous criminal trials related to the obstruction case.
In all, eight former members of the LASD have been convicted and sentenced to prison, including former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
On the witness stand, Manzo described how he and other LASD deputies learned that inmate-turned-informant Anthony Brown was working with the FBI to investigate beatings and corruption inside Men's Central Jail.
Manzo testified that he attended two key meetings with Baca, Tanaka and other high-ranking LASD officials.
Manzo's boss, Lieutenant Greg Thompson, briefed Baca and Tanaka - telling them the contraband cellphone found on Brown during a routine search was part of a "sting operation" conducted by the FBI as part of a civil rights investigation into the jails.
Manzo told jurors that Baca reacted quietly, asking open-ended questions. He was "sort of talking out loud," according to Manzo.
"Why did they do this? Why not come to us? We could have helped them," Manzo recalled Baca saying to the group.
Manzo said Baca made the decision that Brown was to remain in LASD custody, despite the fact that the recently convicted armed robber was due to be shipped to state prison the next day to begin serving a 423-year sentence.
At a second meeting with LASD executives on the following day, Manzo played recordings of the interview he and Deputy Gerard Smith conducted with Brown.
"I know you're with the Feds, dude," Deputy Smith tells Brown in the audio recording played for the jury.
Anthony Brown, a colorful New Yorker with a lengthy criminal record, admits on the recording that he got the cellphone from a corrupt deputy and offers to tell Smith and Manzo more if they can get him "cigarettes, a cheeseburger and a soda."
After listening to the recordings, Tanaka "slammed his hands on the desk and went off," Manzo testified. "F--- them," Tanaka said of the FBI, according to Manzo.
Manzo told jurors that Baca gave orders at that meeting. The investigation would be handled by ICIB Captain Tom Carey's "shop," and all of it was to be run through Tanaka. Baca wanted Brown isolated and protected, according to Manzo.
Baca and Tanaka left the room briefly. Tanaka returned alone, telling the group he'd never seen the sheriff that upset. Tanaka told them to do what Baca wanted done - and that he, Tanaka, had final approval on who could visit the inmate.
Manzo will return to the stand Friday morning for cross-examination.
Earlier in the day, retired LASD Cmdr. Bob Olmsted testified that deputy-on-inmate "use of force" was skyrocketing in the years leading up to the FBI investigation.
Outside court, Olmsted told Eyewitness News about the red flags he saw while overseeing Men's Central Jail, including several deputies with suspiciously similar injuries.
"Three broken right hands that were in casts... from hitting inmates in the head," Olmsted told Eyewitness News.
At one point, Olmsted reviewed 30 randomly pulled "use of force" incidents and found that 18 of them were out of policy. He testified that deputies were lying in their written reports.
Olmsted told jurors he repeatedly tried to warn Baca and other LASD executives, but was brushed off time and time again.
"The first two times I initiated contact (with Baca), he turned and walked away," Olmsted told Eyewitness News.
On cross-examination, Baca's attorney asked Olmsted about efforts by some LASD executives, including Tanaka, to "hide information from the Sheriff."
Olmsted testified that - yes, executives often held "pre-meetings" to discuss what they would or would not tell Baca. But, Olmsted testified, he never kept Baca in the dark about his concerns with deputy-on-inmate abuse.
"I wanted everybody to know," Olmsted told the jury.
Olmsted eventually took his concerns to the FBI and became a key whistleblower in the federal investigation.
"It's shameful. None of this stuff needed to have occurred. If Lee Baca had just taken command and control of the department," Olmsted said.
Got a tip? Email ABC7 Investigative Producer Lisa.Bartley@abc.com.