The LA County Sheriff's Election - An Insider's Opinion
As a 29 year veteran of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and an active Japanese American in my community, I am often asked if I support Paul Tanaka for sheriff. Paul Tanaka, a fellow Japanese American, is running against Chief Jim McDonnell from the Long Beach Police Department. They are shocked when I tell them I support McDonnell over Tanaka!!
There are many reasons why I support Jim McDonnell, but let me state why I do not support Paul Tanaka. This is, of course, just my opinion. First and foremost, I place ethics, integrity and leadership above ethnicity...always. I support Asian Americans in their pursuit of political office as I believe it is important that Asians are properly represented in government. But I cannot support one that I know has a long history of problems and quite possibly could be indicted by the federal government for interfering with a federal investigation. Seven of his subordinates were recently convicted for allegedly following Paul Tanaka's orders. But that is just the tip of the iceberg.
My reasons are much deeper than the federal investigation. Some may remember that I sued the Sheriff's Department nearly 15 years ago over a racist drawing (an Asian face with derogatory words next to it) placed inside the station). It was a little more than just a racist drawing or a racist deputy. It involved illegal wiretapping of my home, slashing my tires, following my loved ones around town, and so much more - all by management for not backing down when I insisted on an investigation. I won that lawsuit, but I was surprised that Paul Tanaka did not support me through the toughest time of my career. He was nowhere to be found as a fellow Asian American faced racism and harassment. It was worse than that. I was told from a mutual friend after I won my lawsuit that Tanaka said my career was over for breaking the code, the "Code of Silence." He told this person that I was a traitor for speaking out against the department and that he will make sure "my career was over."
Over the next decade, Tanaka personally prevented my promotion to lieutenant. When I say personally, I mean that all the department chiefs recommended my promotion on several different occasions and Tanaka personally removed my name from the selection process. On one occasion, the chiefs challenged Tanaka asking him why he was opposed to my promotion when all of them supported it. He simply told them I was NOT getting promoted. In the end, I did get promoted but it took me an additional six years. I had to take three different exams and ultimately had to get the second highest score out of over 700 applicants to force it to happen.
But my opinion is not just based on my personal experiences with Tanaka. It is based on numerous transgressions. One was his alleged insistence that Sheriff's employees made a campaign contribution to his Gardena race. It was called "pay to play." The employees had to "pay" Tanaka in order to be considered for a promotion within the Sheriff's Department. I was once told you had a 700% better chance of promoting if you made a campaign contribution. Another was his transfer of a captain in charge of promotional exams for refusing to alter the scores of Tanaka's friends so he could promote them. These individuals did not pass the civil service exams so Tanaka wanted their scores falsified so it appeared they passed their exam. The captain refused and was subsequently transferred.
Another incident involved the illegal shipping of bullet-proof vests that were smuggled to Cambodia in the trunk of a Sheriff's police car. The Cambodia check was sent to the City of Gardena since that is where the transaction took place, through an auction yard in Gardena. The Board of Supervisors recently asked for further investigation into this incident.
As a civil rights minded person, I also have issue with his telling deputies to "work in the grey area" and his encouraging jail deputies to be aggressive with inmates which led to excessive force and ultimately led to the federal investigation facing the Sheriff's Department today. We don't need thugs in uniforms! I also have issue with his shooting of an unarmed Korean kid earlier in his career and his Lynwood Viking tattoo, an exclusive tattoo given to certain deputies. A judge referred to the Lynwood Vikings as a racist deputy gang that targeted minorities.
There are so many other reasons and so many other questionable incidents involving Tanaka which is why, even though he is a fellow Japanese American, I cannot support him for Sheriff. I would hope that other Asian Americans would not just vote for him because he is Asian American. I hope they all do their research and vote for the candidate who will be the best person to run the largest Sheriff's Department in the world. A simple search on the Internet will reveal the truth about these candidates, at least the stories that have been made public. Believe me, there are many more stories! My story is just one of many.
Brian is a lieutenant with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and former president of the San Fernando Valley chapter of the JACL.
Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the author and do not reflect any official stance taken by the board of the San Fernando Valley JACL.