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D.A.'s memo details concerns about L.A. County sheriff's captain

Prosecutors recently declined to file charges against Bernice Abram, saying they could prove nothing illegal in her dealings with a Compton gang member, but an FBI investigation is continuing.

November 22, 2012|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

The trap was set. All that was left for Los Angeles County sheriff's investigators to do was wait and see if the unthinkable was true.

Suspicions had grown that one of their colleagues — a respected captain with more than 150 deputies under her command — was funneling secret information to an alleged Compton drug trafficker. So investigators sent out a phony plan as bait, according to records and interviews, detailing their intention to do surveillance on a house near the suspected trafficker's home.

A few minutes after receiving the fake plans, Capt. Bernice Abram was heard on a phone tap placing a call to Dion Grim, the suspected drug dealer.

Authorities listened in as she tipped him off about the location of the planned surveillance. Stay away, she warned.

That day, in April 2011, sheriff's officials placed Abram on leave, and for more than a year afterward her ties to Grim were investigated. Prosecutors recently declined to file charges against Abram, saying they couldn't prove the captain knew that Grim, a documented gang member, was involved in illegal activities.

But a district attorney's memo explaining that decision provides the most detailed description yet of how the Sheriff's Department came to believe one of its up-and-coming leaders was betraying the agency and shows the efforts officials pursued to prove it. The memo also documents several occasions when Abram appeared to use her authority to help Grim avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

An FBI investigation into Abram is ongoing, a spokeswoman said.

The Sheriff's Department placed Abram on leave along with her niece, a custody assistant who prosecutors said improperly accessed a law enforcement database for Grim. They remain on leave and together have collected more than an estimated $300,000 in salary as the sheriff's internal probe continues, based on posted county salaries.

Abram first met Grim after she started dating his father three years ago, prosecutors said. (According to her Sheriff's Department biography, Abram, 53, was married to another man.) She became "good friends" with Grim, 36, a member of the Original Front Hood Crips, a Compton street gang.

In 2010, FBI agents had begun investigating Grim, suspecting that he was the ringleader of a cross-county drug trafficking ring. A sheriff's detective helping with the investigation was reviewing Grim's wiretapped phone calls when he heard a woman's voice he recognized: Abram's.

In the months that followed, authorities continued to target Grim. And on several occasions, Abram interjected herself, prosecutors said. In one instance, a sheriff's deputy, Michael Haggerty, was directed by the FBI to arrest Grim after a traffic stop. In an interview with The Times, Haggerty described Grim as oddly calm for someone in the back seat of a patrol cruiser. "You'll see what happens," Grim said, according to the deputy.

The district attorney's memo details Abram's involvement in the case: Shortly after the arrest, she called the Compton station and asked for Grim to be quickly released from custody. She got his car out of impound and got the fees waived. She also picked Grim up from jail, according to the memo.

Days later, she texted another deputy at the Compton station who considered her a mentor, asking if he knew Haggerty. She told him Haggerty had issued a ticket to a family member of hers and that the court date was approaching. "Feel him out," she reportedly said.

The deputy then approached Haggerty and told him that a friend from the Carson station "who had a lot of clout asked him not to show up in court if he was issued a subpoena," according to the memo. The city attorney dismissed the case, however, so Haggerty was never subpoenaed.

Around that time, the Sheriff's Department began receiving multiple citizen complaints against Haggerty. One of the complainants, the memo states, "admitted that Abram instructed them to make complaints to get Haggerty transferred" out of Compton.

A few months later, another sheriff's deputy arrested Grim on an excessive noise violation. Again, according to the memo, Abram called the station to get Grim released. This time, she asked that he not be moved to the jail and instead be kept at the station, where she picked him up. She was heard later on the wiretap assuring Grim the case wouldn't be filed. "I told someone he'd better take care of it," she said.

The month after that, a deputy at Abram's station ticketed Grim's sister on a traffic violation. Abram approached the deputy and "asked him to make the ticket 'go away,'" according to the memo. She later used her power as a captain to void the ticket.

The favors continued, according to prosecutors. In January last year, Grim called Abram to ask about police activity on his street. She called back minutes later and told him that sheriff's gang enforcement deputies had served search warrants targeting two shooting suspects and planned to serve another the next day.

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