Could L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca finally be turning the Sheriff's Department on its head, in an effort to save whatever scraps of reputation he has left after a year of beaten inmates, ACLU lawsuits, deputies gone rogue and a horrendously botched probe into Miramonte Elementary's alleged sex monster?
Sources familiar with the inside politics of the department tell us that Baca recently overhauled his defamed executive cabinet.
They say that Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who has been serving as a sort of "shadow leader" to Baca during this PR nightmare...
... has been demoted to a less powerful position, yet is receiving the same salary as before. There are rumors that Tanaka will be replaced by Chief William McSweeney, a hard-boiled detective and gentle, respected leader who has shown more nuanced concern, in the past, for the public's perception of the department.
(Unlike Tanaka, who seems to sugar-coat everything and spoon-feed it to Sheriff Baca for public delivery, avoiding any real address of the department's rotten core. Denial, denial, denial.)
Our sources have also gotten word that Assistant Sheriff Cecil Rhambo is being demoted, and that Assistant Sheriff Marvin Cavanaugh will be retiring. If the rumors are true, this will mean that Baca's entire three-person executive staff will be replaced.
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore denies the allegations in full.
"No, [Tanaka] hasn't been demoted," says Whitmore, sounding more furious than usual. He says there are "no plans to change" Baca's executive lineup.
When we ask the spokesman if there's a possibility he just doesn't know about the decision yet, he gets madder still. "I know everything!" he says.
"I know what you're asking," Whitmore adds. "Is Paul Tanaka in any way hurt?" And the answer to that is "No."
Insiders at the department, however, claim Tanaka has been out of the office recently, as a result of an ongoing argument between him and Baca.
Tanaka was promoted to undersheriff in June 2011 (a strange pick and complete conflict-of-interest, seeing as he's also the mayor of Gardena), directly after the LA Weekly broke a huge scandal about inmates and jail visitors being beaten bloody by gangs of sheriff's guards. From the beginning, Baca has feigned complete ingnorance in response to horrific anecdotes from behind cell walls. (We've nicknamed him the Teflon Sheriff, because bad news never seems to stick).
While Baca does the politicking, Tanaka oversees day-to-day operations at the jails. If rumors of a rift between them are true, booting Tenaka from the position of undersheriff would indicate that Baca's finally desperate for a clean slate.
One more sign the Teflon Sheriff might be trying for a makeover: Whitmore, his spokesman, confirms that Ray Leyva has been promoted to commander.
"That's significant because Ray ran against [Baca] in 2006," says Whitmore.
Leyva is the exact opposite of the current regime. He's a real cop's cop, with hard principles -- not a dodgy PR guy. When he ran for sheriff, his campaign slogan was "Back to Basics," and he promised to "restore the department's image and operational fairness to again attract deputy applicants." [Update: WitnessLA adds that Leyva "was one of the supervisors who attempted reform in Men's Central Jail, but whose efforts were blocked and/or undone by Paul Tanaka."]
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Far cry from the culture of corruption that has festered under Baca-Tanaka's Band-Aid approach. A quick refresher course from the LA Weekly archives:
- "Men's County Jail Visitor Viciously Beaten by Guards"
- "ACLU Sues Sheriff Lee Baca & Undersheriff Paul Tanaka Over Long-Standing Deputy Violence Against Inmates"
- "Heroin Burrito Allegedly Smuggled Into L.A. County Jail by Deputy Henry Marin"
- "Men's Central Jail Inmate Is Suing After Deputies Allegedly Broke His Ribs and Punctured His Lung"
- "Shawne Fletcher, L.A. County Jail Inmate, Sues Sheriff Lee Baca for Another Brutal Beating"
- "Wheelchair Hell in Men's Central Jail"
- "VIDEO: L.A. Sheriff's Deputy Punches Special-Needs Woman on Bus"
- "Lee Baca's Bad Month Gets Worse: L.A. Sheriff's Deputies 'Detained,' Investigated Following Off-Duty Shots Fired in Park After-Hours"
- "Lee Baca, L.A. County Sheriff, Pissed That FBI Smuggled Cellphone Into His Jail: Shouldn't he be Worried About Inmate Beatings?"
Update: In addition to the Leyva promotion, WitnessLA (who follows Sheriff's Department operations like a hawk) has laid out a number of subtle yet telling command shifts by Baca. The sheriff "really doesn't know who he can trust right now," one source tells the online paper. Read the full report for more insider baseball.