Secret Recording of Inmates in L.A. Courthouse Being Probed

LOS ANGELES (CNS) - A courthouse recording that raised concerns about violations of attorney-client confidentiality was made by the Los Angeles Police Department at the request of a deputy district attorney and with the cooperation of the Sheriff's Department, it was reported today.

Craig Kleffman, the prosecutor previously assigned to a case involving three people charged with kidnapping and assault, enlisted the support of LAPD officers and a sheriff's sergeant to place recording devices in a courthouse room used by attorneys to interview their clients, according to a declaration by Stephen Gunson, the prosecutor currently assigned to the case, the Los Angeles Times reported. No employee of the district attorney's office has listened to the recordings, Gunson said.

Interim Public Defender Nicole Davis Tinkham sent a confidential email to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors this month, informing the officials that her office was investigating the recording operation. The deputy public defender who alleged that her conversations with a client had been recorded, Tiffiny Blacknell, asked the district attorney's office to hand over information related to the details of the operation.

Last week the LAPD submitted to the court two DVDs of the recordings, which will be held under seal, according to The Times.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office previously said attorney-client calls had “inadvertently” been recorded.

Between 5 and 6 a.m. on July 3, according to Gunson's declaration, a member of the LAPD placed two hidden recording devices “on the inmates' side” of the 14th-floor interview room at the Clara Shortridge Foltz Criminal Justice Center.

The 14th-floor inmate interview room was apparently selected because it was the only custodial setting in which male inmates, such as Keith Stewart and Johntae Jones, and female inmates, such as Amber Neal, could be in close proximity to one another such that they could engage in clear conversation, the filing said, referring to the plaintiffs.

The LAPD said in a statement Monday, “As a result of a kidnap investigation LAPD Detectives placed recording devices in a holding cell of the court with the intention of recording a specific inmate to inmate conversation. The action was legal and was supported by the District Attorney's office.”

The Sheriff's Department issued an apology to the public defender's office on July 20, saying the recording had been “inadvertent” and that the department was taking “immediate steps” to ensure it would not happen again.

A spokeswoman for the district attorney's office said the matter has been referred to its Justice System Integrity Division for review.

Photo: Getty Images

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