LA County Sheriff's second-in-command Paul Tanaka retires amid federal probe over inmate abuse

Paul Tanaka Hearing

Bear Guerra/KPCC

Undersherrif Paul Tanaka prepares to testify in front of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence on Friday, July 27, 2012.

Paul Tanaka Hearing

Bear Guerra/KPCC

Undersherrif Paul Tanaka testifies in front of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence on Friday, July 27, 2012.

Paul Tanaka Hearing

Bear Guerra/KPCC

Undersherrif Paul Tanaka arrives for a hearing with the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence on Friday, July 27, 2012.


Paul Tanaka, embattled second-in-command at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who’s been strongly criticized for his handling of L.A. County jails, announced Wednesday that he’ll be retiring from the department.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said Tanaka’s retirement was unrelated to the criticism over jail violence.

"He said absolutely not. He said this had nothing to do with that," Whitmore said. “He said to me that it’s just time. Thirty-three years. It’s time for me to retire and turn my attention to my family and my three-and-a-half-year-old son.”

As for Sheriff Lee Baca's thoughts on Tanaka's retirement, “The sheriff understands when people want to move on," Whitmore said. "He’s given over three decades to this department.”

Whitmore said that Tanaka told him he wasn’t asked to leave by Baca, the Los Angeles Times reports.

An independent blue ribbon commission last year said that Tanaka and Baca failed to stop the abuse of inmates by deputies inside L.A. County jails, and that Tanaka ignored or condoned violence inside the jails. The commission's report said that Tanaka “specifically derailed efforts to address excessive force,” particularly at downtown L.A.'s Men's Central Jail. The panel included former federal judges, a police chief and a jail expert.

Attorney David Schindler testified that Tanaka “failed to uphold the values of the department” and encouraged deputies to operate in the “gray” areas between necessary and unnecessary use-of-force on inmates.

Jail critics have repeatedly called on Tanaka to resign.

Attorney Peter Eliasberg of the ACLU of Southern California said no matter what occasioned Tanaka to leave, it is a good thing for the department.

"I think it's a very positive thing, if all that testimony is true, one hopes that the department will now function more on people doing their job well instead of being someone's buddy," Eliasberg said.

Tanaka defended himself during hearings last year, saying he never knew about what the panel said was persistent jail violence — despite repeated reports of inmate abuse by deputies. The FBI opened an investigation that is ongoing.

The jail custody chief traditionally reported to Tanaka, but Baca’s latest choice for the position reports directly to the sheriff rather than Tanaka.

Tanaka’s been with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department since 1982, its first Japanese-American commander. He’s also served as mayor of Gardena, where he grew up; he was re-elected to a third term as mayor Tuesday night.

A statement from the Sheriff's Department announcing Tanaka's retirement praised him for creating a High-Impact Community-Based Policing Program that reduced crime by implementing public trust, and problem-solving strategies.

As a certified public accountant, Tanaka managed the Department’s $2.5 billion budget for the past nine years. Baca was known to be intensely loyal to Tanaka, often praising him for his help with the department’s budget problems.

The announcement was made during a 2 p.m. Sheriff's staff meeting, according to Whitmore. Tanaka's retirement is effective Aug. 1. The sheriff plans to leave the position open for now, Whitmore said.

Correction: Headline updated to clarify that he's retiring, not resigning.

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