Feds plan to retry LA County sheriff's deputy accused of helping hide FBI informant

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Federal prosecutors have decided to retry L.A. County sheriff's deputy James Sexton for allegedly helping to obstruct an FBI investigation into jail violence.

Sexton's Attorney Tom O'Brien said he was informed Thursday that prosecutors intend to inform a federal judge of their plans at a hearing Monday. 

A jury split six to six on Sexton's guilt in May, resulting in a mistrial. Attorneys repeatedly delayed deciding on a retrial while six of Sexton's colleagues--Stephen Leavins, Gregory Thompson, Scott Craig, Maricella Long, Mickey Manzo, and Gerard Smith--went on trial in June for their roles in the same alleged plot. On Tuesday, that jury convicted all six defendants of obstruction of justice, conspiracy, and in two cases, for making false statements to a federal agent.

The allegations date back to the summer of 2011, when the FBI was investigating corrupt deputies and allegations of inmate beatings in L.A.'s county jails, which are run by the sheriff's department. A group of deputies discovered an inmate was working as an FBI informant and using a cell phone that the FBI helped smuggle into the jail to communicate with his handlers. The group proceeded to hide the informant from the FBI, moving him from jail to jail under aliases. Two members of the group then went to the home of an FBI agent and threatened to arrest her.

In Sexton's first trial, O'Brien argued the group was following perfectly legal orders from higher ups in the department to investigate the FBI's actions in the jails. He also painted the episode as a power struggle between two competing law enforcement agencies, with his client as collateral damage.

Those arguments resonated with Sexton's jury--but similar arguments made before the jury in the second case apparently didn't hold sway.

A juror in the trial, who would identify himself only as Ron, told KPCC that the group may have been following orders, but that didn't excuse their behavior.

"It went over the line when they started when they knew the investigation went as far as the FBI and when they started to hide" the informant, Ron said, "and they began to do things that were outside the law."

Miriam Krinsky, a former federal prosecutor and executive director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, watched much of the trial and said the two trials had significant differences.

"First of all, Mr. Sexton was as low down in the totem pole as one could find," Krisnky said. "He didn't do that much and as importantly, he immediately cooperated with the government."

In the second case, with six defendants, "we saw a lot more evidence in regard to brutality that was going on in the jails, individuals that had been beaten, coverups of those beatings that had occurred, and really as the government put it, 'an out of control climate,'" Krinsky said.

The convictions also open the door for further prosecutions, especially considering convicted defendants may decide to cooperate before they're sentenced in September.

It's "going to provide momentum for the government and the possibility of moving further up the chain and returning with even further indictments as the investigation moves along," Krinsky said.

Prosecutors have said that other current and former members of the sheriff's department--including current sheriff's candidate Paul Tanaka--are subjects of their investigation.

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