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Deputy Is Found Not Guilty of Faking Drug Case

The 14-year veteran had been charged with filing a false report, perjury and false imprisonment.

January 29, 2003|Errin Haines | Times Staff Writer

A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was acquitted Tuesday of charges that he fabricated a drug case against a Compton man, who was later wrongly imprisoned.

Sean Patrick O'Donoghue, 36, was found not guilty of seven charges of filing a false police report, perjury and false imprisonment. Both a fellow deputy and an informant in the drug case testified against O'Donoghue, who did not take the witness stand.

"The facts presented in the case were that there was no evidence to support the D.A. at all," O'Donoghue said, surrounded by family and friends after the verdict.

Deputy Dist. Atty. Dan Baker declined to comment.

"We're disappointed in the verdict," said Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Steve Cooley. "We felt that we presented the best case that we could. We felt the evidence was sufficient. The jury didn't."

The jury deliberated for four days after hearing four days of testimony.

"There was a lot of interesting evidence being introduced, but the district attorney didn't prove any of the actual charges against him," said juror Erik Fleming.

Vicki Podberesky, O'Donoghue's attorney, described her client as "a real hard-working deputy."

"It's been tremendously stressful for him and financially ruinous for his family," she said. "He just wants to get back to work."

O'Donoghue, a 14-year veteran with 10 commendations, was suspended without pay in April.

He was accused of covering up for a female informant who had tossed a bag of drugs onto a rooftop while he and several deputies conducted a drug raid. The crimes were punishable by three years and eight months in prison.

Led by O'Donoghue, deputies on June 26, 2001, raided two residences in the 12800 block of Harris Avenue.

Leticia Villa, an informant for O'Donoghue, testified that she tossed a plastic bag containing rock cocaine, heroin and powder cocaine onto the roof of one of the homes in a panic.

Villa testified in May before a grand jury that O'Donoghue asked her to ensure that drugs would be present during the raid, which was aimed at arresting a drug dealer who lived there.

O'Donoghue's police report indicated that Reyes Cardenas, a resident of the house, had thrown the bag of drugs. Prosecutors argued that O'Donoghue falsified the report and knew that it was Villa, not Cardenas, who discarded the drugs.

Podberesky argued that Villa and Cardenas both tossed drugs during the raid, but that O'Donoghue did not see Villa and therefore did not arrest her or put the incident into his report.

Podberesky said jurors didn't believe that O'Donoghue understood during the confusion of that raid what Deputy April Carter testified: that she told O'Donoghue she had witnessed Villa's actions.

Cardenas was arrested and pleaded no contest to possession of heroin. He was sentenced to four years in prison but was released last May after prosecutors dismissed his case following a sheriff's investigation.

The Sheriff's Department began an inquiry after a woman living in one of the raided homes asked about $3,000 she said was in a backpack that had been confiscated during the raid.

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