LA County Jail (52519)

  LOS ANGELES, Calif., – A federal investigation into alleged abuses inside Los Angeles County jails came to a head today with arrests of Sheriff’s Department officials and an anticipated announcement of charges against current and former Sheriff’s Department employees.

Laura Eimiller of the FBI would not provide any details of the case, but U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. and FBI Assistant Director in Charge Bill Lewis planned an early afternoon news conference to discuss “corruption and civil rights charges.”

Citing unnamed sources, the Los Angeles Times reported on its website that FBI agents began arresting “sheriff’s officials” today as part of a federal obstruction-of-justice investigation into the handling of an FBI informant at the center of the jail probe.

At least three people — including a lieutenant, a sergeant and a deputy– were arrested, The Times reported. Sources told The Times that more than a dozen officials are expected to be arrested.

A sheriff’s spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The charges are expected to focus on Sheriff’s Department handling of inmate Anthony Brown, who was apparently acting as an FBI informant in a federal probe into alleged abuse of inmates in the jails, The Times reported.

Brown told The Times in an interview last year he had been documenting cases of excessive force by deputies and providing information and names to FBI agents who would visit him in jail.

After his cover was blown, however, sheriff’s officials allegedly broke up a meeting Brown was having in the jail with FBI agents, then moved him around the jail and changed his name to keep him hidden from federal authorities, The Times reported. Brown was also reportedly grilled by sheriff’s officials about his activities and whether he planned to testify in a federal investigation.

The issue of deputies’ conduct in the jails has been a hot topic at the county Hall of Administration for the past two years.

Last month, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors hired Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman to a new position of inspector general, charged with scrutinizing the Sheriff’s Department and authorized to conduct investigations inside troubled jails and elsewhere 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 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.