Paul Tanaka testifies in deputy's federal trial

Saturday, May 17, 2014
Tanaka testifies in deputy's federal trial
Former L.A. County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka testified Friday in the federal trial of sheriff's deputy James Sexton.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Former L.A. County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka testified Friday in the federal trial of sheriff's deputy James Sexton. Tanaka testified about what he knew about a secret FBI informant in the jail system.

There is no dispute that the L.A. County Sheriff's Department did deliberately conceal the whereabouts of an inmate -- the question is why did they do it, and was it a crime in defiance of a federal court order?

"I am here because I was subpoenaed to come here. And most importantly I am here to provide all of the information I know," said Tanaka outside the courtroom on Friday.

Tanaka is a current candidate for sheriff. Tanaka testified that he had oversight of the entire department, including operations at Men's Central Jail.

Under oath, Tanaka testified as a defense witness for James Sexton, a junior deputy who helped hide inmate Anthony Brown, changing Brown's name and identity in the computer system. Sexton is one of dozens of deputies ordered to bar all visitors from Brown, including the FBI, unless cleared by supervisors, including Tanaka.

Sexton is charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice, because Brown was no ordinary inmate. He was a federal informant found with a cellphone behind bars that linked him to FBI agents seeking evidence about civil rights abuse in the jails system.

Jurors heard Sexton's testimony before a grand jury, that he knew there was a federal court order to turn over Brown.

"I used the word 'kidnapping' to describe what they did to Brown," said Sexton.

Both Tanaka and Sheriff Lee Baca told Eyewitness News before the trial that their roles were limited as far as deputies' actions.

"At that point, I am basically out of the loop, because now he's communicating directly to the captain and the lieutenant of the internal criminal investigations bureau," said Tanaka.

"Mr. Tanaka is fully in the loop, in fact more in the loop than even me," said Baca.

Friday, Tanaka defended deputies' actions: "I didn't see anything inappropriate." He testified that a cellphone behind bars can be used to order a hit or plot an escape, for example. Tanaka said the informant suggested there could be other phones.

In jail vernacular, says Tanaka, Brown was a "snitch" against deputies. Keeping his whereabouts in the jail secret was for Brown's own safety.

The final question from the defense on Friday: "Mr. Tanaka, have you been indicted?" Tanaka's answer: "No sir."

Tanaka returns to the stand on Monday to face questions from the prosecution.