A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy masterminded an elaborate scheme to keep an inmate from being questioned in a federal corruption probe of the county jail, a prosecutor told a jury today, but the defense countered that the lawman was merely "doing his job as he was ordered."
Deputy James Sexton, 29, has pleaded not guilty to federal conspiracy and obstruction-of-justice charges. He is the first of 20 current and former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies charged in February with corruption and civil rights offenses to face a jury trial.
In her opening statement, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Ann Rhodes said that when it became evident that a 2011 federal grand jury wanted to question inmate and FBI informant Anthony Brown about potential corruption behind the walls of the Men's Central Jail, Sexton and fellow deputies decided "it was time to break out the smoke and mirrors."
Rhodes said a cabal of deputies had to "make it so the FBI could not get to" Brown -- who had previously been sentenced to a life term and was waiting to be moved to state prison -- by calling on Sexton, who had arcane knowledge of the jail's computer system.
To keep Brown hidden within the jail system, Sexton used the computer to falsify the inmate's name and characteristics several times, never entering fingerprints for the new identities, Rhodes told the downtown jury.
Brown -- who is scheduled to testify for the prosecution in the coming days -- was also taken to a cell within a special medical ward, where he was guarded by deputies who refused the inmate-informant outside contact, Rhodes alleged.
"It could've gone on into infinity," Rhodes said of the alleged scheme, which she said also included an attempt to intimidate an FBI agent assigned to the jails probe.
Defense attorney Thomas O'Brien countered that Sexton was only following orders to "keep Anthony Brown safe" from "potential bad deputies."
According to O'Brien, a rift had developed between then-Sheriff Lee Baca and the FBI, which had opened a civil rights and corruption probe of the jail system, using Brown as an informant.
Federal investigators were trying to determine if jail guards were accepting bribes for cellphones and committing other misdeeds.
The defense attorney said there was nothing unusual about "sitting on" an inmate to keep him safe from possible problems within the jail.
"The only crime James Sexton committed was doing his job as he was ordered to do," O'Brien said in his opening statement.
The prosecutor told jurors they would come to believe "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Sexton had tried to obstruct justice by keeping Brown unavailable for federal questioning.
A half-dozen other defendants charged in the same alleged conspiracy will face trial on six counts each after Sexton's case concludes.
Sexton's case was separated from the others based on statements he made under oath implicating his co-defendants.—City News Service