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New L.A. County sheriff watchdog role is filled

L.A. County supervisors select Max Huntsman, a lead prosecutor in the Bell corruption case, as inspector general.

November 26, 2013|By Jack Leonard
  • As prosecutor, Max Huntsman delivers his opening statement in the trial of Angela Spaccia, former assistant city manager of Bell who is charged with misappropriation of public funds and other counts.
As prosecutor, Max Huntsman delivers his opening statement in the trial… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )

A corruption-tackling prosecutor has been selected to head a new agency that will scrutinize the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, with the power to conduct investigations inside the troubled jails and elsewhere.

After months of searching, the Board of Supervisors offered the job Tuesday to Deputy Dist. Atty. Max Huntsman, a supervisor in the district attorney's public corruption division who has been among the lead prosecutors in the trial of Bell city officials, according to county sources familiar with the decision.

Huntsman, 48, accepted the job of inspector general, and an announcement is expected Wednesday. Huntsman declined to comment.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas confirmed the selection, saying that Huntsman had shown himself willing to take on cases despite the possibility of political blow-back.

"He has a reputation for standing up even when it's uncomfortable or unpopular," Ridley-Thomas said.

Creating the office of inspector general was one of the key recommendations last year of a blue-ribbon commission that investigated allegations of violence inside the nation's largest jail system.

The commission, which included several former judges and a police chief, concluded that there was a pattern of excessive force by deputies in the county jails.

The panel called for an inspector general who would report to the Board of Supervisors and provide independent oversight of the Sheriff's Department, conducting its own investigations, monitoring jail conditions and reviewing the department's audits and inspections.

Currently, three civilian agencies oversee at least some aspects of the department's operations: Attorney Merrick Bobb serves as special counsel to the Board of Supervisors and issues regular reports on the department; the Office of Independent Review, headed by former federal prosecutor Michael Gennaco, monitors sheriff discipline; and the county ombudsman office handles citizen complaints

In turning to Huntsman, a Yale Law School graduate, the board chose a veteran prosecutor who has experience in handling public corruption as well as police misconduct cases.

County sources said Huntsman's experience in reviewing force incidents for the district attorney's office was one of the factors that made him an attractive candidate to oversee the Sheriff's Department. Among Huntsman's previous assignments was a stint in the Justice System Integrity Division, where he prosecuted police officers and worked with D.A. investigators to probe officer-involved shootings and in-custody deaths.

One of his most high-profile cases in the division ended in the failure to convict an Inglewood police officer caught on camera picking up a 16-year-old boy and slamming him onto the hood of a police cruiser. Huntsman helped try the case twice, but two juries deadlocked on assault charges against Officer Jeremy Morse. The district attorney's office decided against a third trial.

In the office's Public Integrity Division, however, Huntsman has claimed several high-profile victories. Among them were the convictions of former Los Angeles city commissioner Leland Wong, accused of accepting bribes; former Vernon Mayor Leonis Malburg, who was charged with voter fraud for living outside the city; and Patrick T. Lynch, former general manager of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, one of six men charged in a sweeping corruption scandal.

Huntsman is currently prosecuting Bell's former assistant city manager, Angela Spaccia.

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