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Two embattled Los Angeles County sheriff's captains retire

January 2, 2013 | 11:38 am

Two embattled Los Angeles County sheriff’s captains have retired, including one who was caught funneling secret information to an alleged drug trafficker and another who was accused of protecting brutal and dishonest jailers, a spokesman confirmed Wednesday.

Bernice Abram, who ran the sheriff’s Carson station, was discovered on a federal wiretap talking to an alleged Compton drug trafficker. Abram, who had more than 150 deputies under her command, was overheard alerting the Original Front Hood Crip 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 using her post to help the man avoid law enforcement scrutiny.

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

Abram met the gang member, Dion Grim, after she began dating his father. Grim was since arrested by federal authorities, who have charged him and members of his alleged ring, accusing them of moving drugs cross 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 before hanging up. 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. During Cruz’s tenure at the downtown Los Angeles lockup, sheriff’s brass expressed concern in internal audits about inexperienced jailers and excessive force against inmates. Most notably, officials said an aggressive gang-like clique of deputies existed on the jail's third floor.

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

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. Despite excessive force by the deputies, the lieutenant said Cruz turned to the other jail supervisors and said: "I see nothing wrong with that use of force."

The lieutenant also testified that after jailers got into an off-duty brawl with patrons at BJ's Restaurant and Brewhouse in West Covina, Cruz told him "Don't look too hard" into what had happened.

Internal memos found that Cruz's jailers crafted narratives "dramatized to justify" force. Authorities concluded some confrontations with inmates were triggered by deputies who thought inmates had acted disrespectfully to them -- showing "contempt of cop." Other documents showed 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 the floor than in any other part of the jail.

In an interview with The Times last year, Cruz, on leave 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 was implicated in the jail abuse scandal that broke out in 2011 and has since left the department. An FBI investigation into deputy misconduct in the jails is ongoing.

Because neither Cruz nor Abram have been charged or 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."

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-- Robert Faturechi

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