Part Three of the LA Justice Report’s investigation into the dangerous state of LA County’s jails is up and running. Yours truly was the author of the piece, which was published on Witness LA in collaboration with Spot.us. This story delves into the shady political underbelly of the Sheriff’s Department, and the role those politics have played in the wanton abuse of inmates in LA County jail by deputies over the past decade. At the heart of the problem: Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
No matter the departmental rank, all our sources tell us the same thing: Long before Tanaka officially inherited the No. 2 spot there were already two camps inside the Sheriff’s Department—those “in the car” with Tanaka and those on the outside. Those outside the car can be “rolled up”—meaning transferred to department backwaters—if they cross Tanaka, regardless of their performance on the job. Those in the car with Tanaka are promoted quickly and insulated from performance failures. For years, Lee Baca has, with few exceptions, granted Tanaka the power to pick and choose what supervisors get promoted and where they’re placed—even in units over which Tanaka has no formal organizational control.
Furthermore, our sources allege a pay-to-play-like promotional system headed by Tanaka—whereby donors to Tanaka’s Gardena political campaigns have moved up the ranks faster than nondonors, even when the nondonors are more qualified. Campaign finance records we acquired from Tanaka’s Gardena political campaigns through Public Records Act requests, together with internal Sheriff’s Department documents obtained by the LA Justice Report, back our sources’ contentions. Tanaka campaign donors—often with troubled or mediocre service records—have found themselves in critical supervisory positions in the department in lieu of more qualified individuals. The result of this in-crowd/out-crowd system is a department beset by violence in its jails, insubordination in its ranks and multiple federal investigations into criminal misdeeds—a large part of which, argue our sources, can be traced to Paul Tanaka’s rise.