By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
“Carol ordered me to prepare a new memo, which would contain only the deputies‘ statements and omit my factual determinations,” he said. “I told her that would be unethical and refused to do it.” Ultimately, a version with some information crossed out was turned over. Pomona Judge David Milton, another former deputy district attorney, eventually denied the defense’s motion to dismiss the warrant. Cuskey was ultimately convicted; then Longoria accepted a plea bargain. Like Ojala, Cuskey and Longoria got a six-month sentence with the option of either doing Caltrans roadwork or reporting to the county‘s tree farm, Ceballos said.
Ceballos claims he was then demoted from calendar deputy to trial deputy, had a murder case pulled from him, was forcibly transferred to El Monte, and was denied a promotion even though he had scored in the top rank of tested deputies and received a 100 percent evaluation from Sundstedt. (Ceballos also received glowing evaluations from Sundstedt in 1998 and 1999.)
The D.A.’s Office and Captain Binkley declined comment on Ceballos‘ federal lawsuit. Sergeant Wall said he won’t comment on the specifics of Ceballos‘ allegations.
However, an L.A. County Sheriff’s Department Media Relations spokesperson said, “Upon receiving information from DDA Ceballos, about the alleged misconduct by personnel from the Industry Station, a full investigation by Internal Affairs into the actions of these deputies and supervisors was initiated.”
The Sheriff‘s Department submitted a case involving Wall, the author of the search-warrant affidavit, to the D.A.’s Special Investigations Division (SID). The case was rejected for prosecution on November 3 because of “insufficient evidence.” Deputy District Attorney Jim Cosper, who rejected the case, said he had no doubt that Ceballos was well-intentioned: “However, I reviewed the complete file and didn‘t find any evidence to suggest or prove beyond a reasonable doubt that criminal misconduct had occurred.”
Cosper also denied that there was any conflict of interest in having the D.A.’s Office review this matter since Ceballos has filed suit against the department. “That is why SID is an isolated unit,” he said. “I had no idea that Ceballos had filed suit when the case was brought to me for review. However, Mr. Ceballos is certainly free to ask the state Attorney General‘s Office to review the matter if that is a concern to him.”
An angry Sundstedt called Ceballos a “goddamn liar.”
“His lawsuit is an assault on the integrity of this office, and that of the Sheriff’s Department,” continued Sundstedt. “It‘s nothing more than a thinly veiled, politically motivated attempt to affect the outcome of the election for D.A.”
Ceballos filed his lawsuit on October 18, a month before voters ousted Gil Garcetti. Newly elected D.A. Steve Cooley, the alleged beneficiary of Ceballos’ suit, told the L.A. Weekly, “I don‘t know Ceballos. I have never talked to him about anything, and he was not a contributor to my campaign.”
Sundstedt adamantly denies that Ceballos was ever demoted, and claims that Ceballos sued only because he didn’t get his promotion.
“Ceballos was never dissuaded from testifying at the search-warrant hearing, or threatened with retaliation. Nor did he ever accuse me and Carol of ‘kowtowing’ to the Sheriff‘s Department. Those are just more of his lies,” reiterated Sundstedt.
When Ceballos gave him his first memo, said Sundstedt, he told him that his concerns would be investigated. “And that’s what we did. Ceballos was alleging these deputies had committed crimes. But no one ever elected him judge and jury.”
Najera said she was shocked and saddened by Ceballos‘ charges. “It is totally untrue that I tried to dissuade Richard from testifying at the hearing. That is just ridiculous. I never told him he would be in trouble for testifying or expressing his opinions. He’s just making things up because he didn‘t get promoted.”
Najera also insists she told Ceballos to write a second report only because she believed his first memo included work product, which the D.A.’s Office is not required to turn over to the defense. Although Najera acknowledged that Sheriff‘s personnel discussed the litigious nature of these defendants, “They never said, ’Please, please, file this case or we will get sued,‘” she said.
Ceballos’ federal lawsuit has fueled ongoing charges from defense attorneys that the D.A.‘s Office regularly withholds exculpatory evidence, in violation of the Brady decision. His misconduct allegations against Sheriff’s personnel have also focused renewed attention on another criminal case involving these same deputies.
Last June, defense attorney Luis Carrillo filed a complaint with Sundstedt, Ceballos‘ former boss, claiming that deputies Simpkins and Spitulski had falsified probable cause, conducted an illegal search and engaged in racial profiling in an April arrest of his former client Annese Ramirez on a drug charge. Ramirez ultimately accepted a plea-bargain agreement.
Carrillo said Sundstedt never responded to his complaint. “Nor did I, or the court-appointed attorney who took over the case, ever receive Ceballos’ memos, as required by federal case law,” he said.
Sundstedt acknowledged receipt of Carrillo‘s letter, but contends that his office had no obligation to turn over Ceballos’ memos. “A judge had previously rejected defense claims, in the Cuskey case, that these deputies had falsified probable cause,” Sundstedt said.