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Two beleaguered L.A. county sheriff's captains retire

One is suspected of giving secret information to an alleged drug trafficker, and the other allegedly protected violent jailers.

January 03, 2013|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

Two embattled Los Angeles County sheriff's captains have retired, including one suspected of funneling secret information to an alleged drug trafficker and another who allegedly protected brutal and dishonest jailers.

Suspicions were sparked about Bernice Abram, who ran the sheriff's Carson station, after she was overheard on a federal narcotics wiretap talking to an alleged Compton drug trafficker. Abram, who had more than 150 deputies under her command, was overheard alerting a member of the Original Front Hood Crips to planned sheriff's operations in his area.

The district attorney's office chose not to file charges against her, saying they couldn't prove she knew the man was involved in illegal activities, but a prosecutor's memo showed Abram was using her post to help the gang member avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

In one call, after the alleged drug trafficker was arrested by a sheriff's deputy, Abram was overheard ensuring him that the case wouldn't be filed. "I told someone he'd better take care of it," she told him.

Abram met the gang member, Dion Grim, after she began dating his father. Grim has since been arrested by federal authorities, who accused him and members of his alleged ring of moving drugs across the country. Grim has pleaded not guilty.

Abram has repeatedly declined to comment to The Times, except for one instance in which she claimed she'd never heard of Grim. Though local prosecutors declined to file charges against her, an FBI spokeswoman told The Times last year that a federal probe is ongoing.

Daniel Cruz, the former captain at Men's Central Jail, also retired. He was running the downtown Los Angeles lockup when sheriff's officials said there were problems with deputy cliques and inmate abuse.

Internal memos obtained by The Times found that Cruz's jailers crafted narratives "dramatized to justify" force. Authorities concluded that some confrontations with inmates were triggered by deputies who thought inmates had acted disrespectfully to them — showing "contempt of cop." Other documents showed that the department had some of its least experienced deputies guarding its most dangerous inmates on the third floor of the Men's Central Jail, a practice the memo linked to more frequent clashes on that floor than in any other part of the jail.

During Cruz's tenure, sheriff's officials said an aggressive, gang-like clique formed on the third floor. The group's existence became public after some of its alleged members fought co-workers at a department party.

In testimony before a county commission created as a result of the jail abuse scandal, Cruz was accused of protecting violent jailers. One of his former lieutenants testified that Cruz resisted rooting out jailer misconduct and allowed force investigations to languish. The lieutenant alleged that, during a toast at a department Christmas party, the captain even joked about hitting inmates.

In another instance, the lieutenant described a roomful of supervisors watching footage of deputies beating an inmate. The video showed one jailer casually leaning against a door frame, occasionally landing knee drops into the prisoner's torso. The lieutenant said Cruz turned to the other jail supervisors and said: "I see nothing wrong with that use of force."

The lieutenant also said that after jailers got into an off-duty brawl with patrons at a brew house in West Covina, Cruz told him, "Don't look too hard" into what had happened.

In an interview with The Times last year, Cruz — on leave at the time during an internal investigation — said the allegations were untrue, but he declined to go into specifics. He accused his critics of wanting "to be in the limelight" and said he looked forward to returning to work.

But reached last month, he said he could not "confirm or deny" that he was retiring, telling a Times reporter "it's none of your business ... it's not anyone's business." Cruz's retirement marks the third top sheriff's official who has left the department after being implicated in the jail abuse scandal that broke out in 2011. An FBI investigation into deputy misconduct in the jails is ongoing.

Because neither Cruz nor Abram have been convicted of a crime, both retirees are now expected to receive their taxpayer-funded pensions. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore declined to comment on whether the captains retired because of the allegations against them.

"Both performed admirably," he said, "when you look at the entire career."

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

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