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Jail deputy accused of abusing inmate informant

Prosecutors are weighing charges after a prisoner working with federal authorities alleges that he was punched. The informant's handler says the deputy threatened him.

May 02, 2013|By Robert Faturechi, Los Angeles Times

Prosecutors are considering whether to file criminal charges against a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy accused of assaulting an inmate who was helping federal authorities investigate a suspected international drug trafficker, according to records and interviews.

The inmate accused Deputy Michael Camacho of targeting him, at least in part, because he was cooperating with detectives as an informant, internal records show.

The records indicate that in July, the inmate told his sheriff's handlers that Camacho punched him in his torso and ribs.

"You aren't anybody special," Camacho said, according to the inmate informant. "Put me in a room by myself and your [sheriff's handler] and we will see what happens."

The Sheriff's Department, which runs the nation's largest jail system, has been beleaguered by allegations that its deputies have abused inmates, often just for showing nonviolent acts of disrespect.

Records show the informant had been deemed "reliable" and was providing specifics on a drug smuggling ring's operations, including a six-figure cash drop-off, escapes from law enforcement and kilos of cocaine hidden in warehouses.

A sheriff's spokesman confirmed that the department completed an investigation into the allegations, and is waiting for the district attorney's office to decide whether to file criminal charges. In the meantime, Camacho has been reassigned to a desk job.

"We don't know if this had any effect on his ability to continue his service to the Sheriff's Department and federal authorities," spokesman Steve Whitmore said of the inmate informant.

The Times is withholding the inmate's name because publicizing his role as a law enforcement informant could endanger him. Camacho could not be reached for comment.

Camacho's attorney, Richard A. Shinee, said: "We have not had the opportunity to review all the evidence but we know from experience that of every 50 inmate complaints, there might be one that has some semblance of credibility."

The informant's concerns about the deputy were echoed by others.

A jail deputy told The Times he was behind a wall and heard an apparent physical confrontation involving Camacho and the informant that left the informant crying. The deputy, who asked for anonymity because he feared retribution from his colleagues, said that when he ran over, he saw Camacho pinning the inmate against a wall.

Sheriff's records show another inmate, Alejandro Saras, also accused Camacho of mistreatment. Saras said the deputy once elbowed him for not announcing his presence, as inmates are required to do when walking by deputies. He said later that day, the deputy returned with a stun gun and offered the inmate a deal: agree to an extra shift of jailhouse labor or "take a ride on the Taser." (That phrase, the memo explains, is "referring to a five-second cycle when the Taser is activated.")

The inmate, records show, eventually requested to be moved to another "cleaning unit" to avoid Camacho.

One of the informant's law enforcement handlers — Deputy James Sexton — recently filed a lawsuit that mentions Camacho. The complaint alleges that about a month after Sexton reported the informant's allegations against Camacho, Camacho threatened Sexton with "bodily harm." Sexton's attorney would not elaborate on the nature of the alleged threat.

At the time the inmate informant made the allegations against Camacho, he had been working with authorities on the drug case for at least several weeks.

Records show he told jailhouse intelligence deputies that Camacho was regularly abusive, saying that he and other inmates were "routinely assaulted, intimidated and threatened with violence" by the deputy. He described the deputy escorting him into a custodial closet at the Inmate Reception Center custody line, and lecturing him about "proper inmate behavior" while punching him in the ribs.

Camacho, the informant said, routinely threatened to send him back to the general population, an area informants are often kept from to protect them from retribution by other inmates.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office confirmed that the case is being reviewed but declined to comment further.

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