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Allegations that deputy worked with skinhead roil jail system

August 6, 2012 | 11:15 am

The L.A. County Sheriff's Department is investigating bizarre allegations over the handling of an informant tip about a deputy who might have colluded with a skinhead behind bars at the L.A. county jail.

At noon PT, Times reporter Robert Faturechi will discuss the case as well as other issues surrounding allegations of deputy misconduct inside the jails. You can submit questions below, at Google+ or on Twitter using the hashtag #asklatimes.

Faturechi wrote about the skinhead case in Sunday's newspaper:

As part of an elite intelligence team, Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies Michael Rathbun and James Sexton turn inmates into informants, looking for tips on crimes and gang activity inside the nation's largest jail system.

Earlier this year, one of their informants offered up a bombshell: A fellow jail deputy was working as an operative for drug-smuggling, skinhead gangsters.

Following protocol, the partners detailed the allegations in a direct memo to their boss, Lt. Greg Thompson, the head of jailhouse intelligence.

But what happened next stunned them. Thompson told the deputy suspected of working with the skinheads about the memo and revealed to him the names of the confidential informant as well as those of Rathbun and Sexton, according to sources close to the case.

The informant's allegations echoed those against at least five jailers who have been convicted or fired in recent years over ties to a thriving drug trade behind bars. But the way this confidential information was handled was also part of a pattern. The Sheriff's Department has been accused in recent months of weak investigations of deputy misconduct and a corrosive code of silence that hamstrings those investigations from the start.

Even more than most tips, this one should have been handled discreetly, experts say. In the wrong hands, the information was dangerous. Inmates who cooperate with police are violently targeted by fellow inmates. Deputies who report colleagues for misconduct can be ostracized. And, if the deputy suspected of smuggling contraband got wind of the tip, catching him in the act would become nearly impossible.

The Times has found that days after the informant's cover was allegedly blown, he was moved out of protective custody and sent for at least several hours into general population housing, where he was more vulnerable to retaliation, according to internal custody records. Sheriff's officials were unable to explain why he had been moved.

The inmate was brought back into protective custody at the urgent pleading of Rathbun and Sexton, according to Rathbun's father, David — a retired sheriff's official. A short time later, Sexton was confronted late one night in the employee parking lot by another jailhouse intelligence deputy who warned that Sexton and his partner had better keep their mouths shut, David Rathbun said.

David Rathbun, who served in the department for 35 years before retiring and is now a reserve deputy, said that even he felt intimidated. On three occasions since his son was revealed as a "snitch," he said, white supremacist pamphlets have been left outside his home.

ALSO:

L.A. County jail reforms sap deputy morale, union officials say

Sheriff's official allegedly undermined probe of deputy misconduct

L.A. County sheriff's deputy charged with perjury, filing false report

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