Crime & Justice

Baca trial: Former deputy describes tense standoff over jail records

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca

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A former Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy who worked at Men's Central Jail testified Tuesday about a tense standoff with colleagues in August 2011 when she refused to help them fabricate records for an inmate who was working as an FBI informant.

Tara Adams is just one of several former sheriff's deputies who has taken the stand at the trial of former L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca. Baca is charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice. Federal prosecutors say he led an effort by the sheriff's department to quash a federal investigation into brutality at the jails. 

Much of the testimony in Baca's trial thus far has revolved around a period of time in 2011 when deputies working in the jail discovered that one of their inmates, Anthony Brown, was working covertly as an FBI informant. Shortly after that discovery, Brown was moved out of his jail cell, out of the reach of FBI agents. Prosecutors say Baca ordered his deputies to hide Brown from the FBI, while Baca's attorneys say the plan was hatched by his undersheriff Paul Tanaka.

During her testimony Tuesday, Adams described the day Brown was moved from his cell. As a records deputy, she was responsible for processing paperwork when inmates were admitted and released. She said three deputies approached her asked that she release Brown. Adams testified that she denied their request and explained to them that Brown was ineligible for release because he was headed to state prison for armed robbery.

During her testimony, Adams said that inmate informants can be offered anonymity in jail. She offered to re-book Brown under the name "John Doe," so long as proper procedure was followed: he would have to be immediately fingerprinted, with his identifying information tagged to his jail records.

Adams said the deputies refused and became more agitated, and told her that they had orders from undersheriff Tanaka to release Brown.

"They said 'Are you going to tell Tanaka?'" Adams said.

One deputy moved to dial Tanaka's number on her phone, she said, adding "I was scared."

At that point, the head records clerk stepped in and released Brown. As the clerk began to sign the paper jacket that held Brown's jail records, one of the deputies took it.

"I started to forcefully tell the lieutenant, he can’t take the records jacket," Adams said, explaining that it needed to be properly scanned and archived.

"It wasn't," she said. Adams left the department in 2014.

The prosecution is expected to rest its case Thursday.