Corruption Trial of Sheriff's Deputies Begins

The deputies are among 20 facing federal charges stemming from FBI civil rights probe

By Gordon Tokumatsu and Kelly Goff
|  Wednesday, May 28, 2014  |  Updated 10:45 AM PDT
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Opening statements were heard by a jury Tuesday in the trial against six Los Angeles sheriff's deputies accused of obstructing a federal investigation into alleged abuse of the LA County jail system. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. from outside the courthouse Tuesday, May 27, 2014.

Gordon Tokumatsu, Scott Spiro

Opening statements were heard by a jury Tuesday in the trial against six Los Angeles sheriff's deputies accused of obstructing a federal investigation into alleged abuse of the LA County jail system. Gordon Tokumatsu reports for NBC4 News at 5 p.m. from outside the courthouse Tuesday, May 27, 2014.

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The trial of six former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies accused of corruption continues Wednesday in a downtown Los Angeles courthouse.

Each stand accused of corruption and obstruction of justice stemming from an alleged scheme to hide an inmate-turned-FBI-informant from his handlers during a federal investigation into civil rights abuses at the hands of jailers.

Prosecutors argued during opening statements Tuesday that when inmate Anthony Brown was discovered in 2011 with a cell phone planted by FBI agents, the deputies participated in an operation to keep him hidden while interrogating him about what he might have disclosed to investigators.

An indictment against the six deputies - Gregory Thompson, Stephen Leavins, Gerard Smith, Mickey Manzo, Scott Craig and Maricella Long - says two even went so far as to show up at the home of a federal prosecutor in an attempt to intimidate her.

"She was told a criminal complaint would be issued, that she would be arrested. I don't think we heard from the defense attorneys anything to contradict that," said Miriam Krinsky, executive director of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, after the opening statements.

Defense attorneys have argued the deputies were simply following orders from superiors.

Attorneys also said during opening statements that the discovery of a cell phone inside a jail is a serious matter, and the deputies were concerned for the safety of fellow deputies and other inmates.

“A cell phone in the hands of my teen daughter presents many problems for me, as a parent,” said Angel Navarro, an attorney for Long.

Each of the deputies could face up to 15 years in federal prison if convicted.

The deputies are part of a larger corruption probe that could include leaders within the department.

Twenty deputies have been indicted so far in the broad investigation.

Last week, the trial of another deputy, James Sexton, ended in mistrial when the jury said it was hopelessly deadlocked. 

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