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LASD officer takes stand for third day

Sheriff’s lieutenant, Valencia resident maintains he was doing his job during FBI obstruction trial

Posted: June 18, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 18, 2014 2:00 a.m.

LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Internal Affairs lieutenant testified Tuesday he ran a separate investigation that focused on an FBI agent while the FBI conducted its civil rights probe at Men’s Central Jail in 2011.

Lt. Stephen Leavins, a Valencia resident, is one of six Sheriff’s Department sworn personnel facing a federal court trial on charges of obstructing the FBI in its investigation of jail wrongdoing, including allegations of bribe-taking and inmate beatings.

But during his third day of testimony in federal court in Los Angeles, Leavins continued to maintain he was doing his job investigating deputies and protecting an FBI informant — not trying to obstruct the FBI’s probe.

Under question from both the prosecution and defense Tuesday, the lieutenant testified about two meetings between then-Sheriff Lee Baca and two federal officials: U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr., and Steve Martinez, former chief of the FBI’s Los Angeles field office.

Baca, who has since retired, tried twice to get the federal officials to work with the Sheriff’s Department in itsinvestigation. But after the second meeting in September 2011, “Mr. Birotte said that would not be happening.”

Leavins, 52, left the meeting with the understanding the FBI would be continuing its investigation into alleged civil rights violations, he said, and he would continue his investigation into possible wrongdoing in deputies’ handling of Anthony Brown, an inmate turned FBI informant.

“The Sheriff (Baca) was clear that we were going to proceed,” Leavins said, “and we would continue our investigation.”

Leavins’ investigation was looking into alleged deputy wrongdoing, but it turned toward FBI Special Agent Leah Marx on reports she had illegally smuggled contraband into the jail for Brown, he said.

Six on trial

Prosecutors allege the six sworn Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officers on trial had obstructed the federal probe into jailhouse corruption and tried to hide Brown from FBI agents. 

Charges were eventually brought against 21 sheriff’s officials in connection with the FBI’s investigation. Seven were charged with obstruction of justice; one was tried earlier, and his trial ended with a hung jury.

Leavins testified Brown was moved from location to location to protect him from fellow inmates — and possibly from deputies Leavins was investigating — not to hide him from the FBI.

On Tuesday, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon D. Fox asked Leavins repeatedly about advising Brown and former Deputy Gilbert Michel — who smuggled in a cellphone for Brown — not to cooperate with the FBI. Repeatedly, Leavins said he did not.

“Did you tell Michel not to cooperate with the FBI?” Fox asked. Leavins replied, “No.”

“Did you suggest to Michel that the FBI was trying to manipulate him in order to bring down the LASD?” Fox asked. Leavins said, “No.”

Fox then turned his attention to officers under Leavins who threatened to arrest Marx.

Arrest threat

The prosecutor played a video clip recorded by Sheriff’s Department officers showing two co-accused in the trial — Scott Craig and Maricella Long — approaching Marx.

Leavins admitted having Marx under surveillance.

“You know where Special Agent Marx lived. You conducted several days of surveillance on her,” Fox said.
Leavins replied: “I didn’t, but it was done.”

“Your surveillance video even showed where she picked up her dog’s excrement,” Fox added.

On the video played for the court, Marx was heard telling the two Sheriff’s Department officers: “I would prefer you contact the FBI.”

“You met with Baca and (Undersheriff Paul) Tanaka to discuss a plan to approach Agent Marx?” Fox asked.
Leavins said, “Correct.”

“You learned the orders were coming from the top?” Fox said. Leavins said, “Yes.”

Fox asked Leavins if he discussed with Baca a threat to arrest Marx, to which Leavins replied: “Not that I recall.”
“Was it all done to scare the FBI?” Fox asked.

Leavins replied, “No.”

Testimony in the case is expected to continue into next week.


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