High-ranking L.A. prosecutor booked on felony charges, released on $50,000 bond

District Attorney George Gascon at a press conference
Diana Teran, masked at right, is a top advisor to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón, foreground. Teran was charged with illegal use of confidential law enforcement records. (Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles prosecutor accused last week of improperly using confidential records about sheriff’s deputies turned herself in to local police Saturday morning and was released on $50,000 bond.

Diana Teran, one of L.A. County Dist. Atty. George Gascón’s top advisors, was booked on 11 felony charges days after Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta alleged that she downloaded the records of 11 unnamed deputies in 2018 while working at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Three years later, Bonta alleged, Teran “impermissibly used” those records after joining Gascón’s office.

The attorney general’s office has not said whose records Teran allegedly took or how she used them and has released little information about the underlying facts of the case.

When the charges became public Wednesday, Teran's attorney James Spertus told The Times the case was “dead on arrival,” saying he believed the deputies’ records were public documents and that he was stunned to see the state “charging her for doing something within the scope of her employment.”

Following his client’s release on bond, Spertus reiterated that sentiment, adding that the state’s handling of the case — including the decision to ask for an arrest warrant — had taken him by surprise.

“This is a high-ranking D.A.’s office official; she’s not a flight risk,” he said. “There should never have been an arrest warrant, because normally she would receive a summons in the mail. In many cases, people who are charged with nonviolent offenses like this are summonsed into court.”

The county's 2024 felony bail schedule shows that the class of computer-related crimes with which Teran was charged typically does not require defendants to pay a bond. Spertus said it was not immediately clear why bond was set at $50,000 for his client.

Read more: Top advisor to D.A. Gascón charged with illegal use of deputies' confidential records

As of last week, Teran was supervising high-profile and sensitive cases involving police misconduct, fraud and public corruption. The district attorney's office on Thursday told The Times it did not comment on personnel matters, but Teran was no longer overseeing Ethics and Integrity Operations. The office said she was not working on cases involving the Sheriff’s Department, and there was no indication that any cases involving prosecutions of law enforcement were compromised.

Still, last week, the union representing rank-and-file deputies publicly called for a broader investigation into everything Teran has handled “during her entire tenure.” Two days later, the union representing supervisors and higher-ranking officials, the Los Angeles County Professional Peace Officers Assn., sent an email notifying members that its attorneys planned to ask Sheriff Robert Luna to launch an investigation.

“If the allegations are true, PPOA is extremely concerned about the breaches of confidential information of its members by someone whose job it was to protect the interests of the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department,” the group’s president, Steve Johnson, wrote, according to a copy of the email reviewed by The Times.

Before becoming a prosecutor, Teran — who has been a lawyer for more than three decades — served as a constitutional policing advisor to the Sheriff’s Department, then as a consultant to the Office of Inspector General, which provides oversight to the department. In 2019, she became a law enforcement accountability advisor with the L.A. County public defender’s office.

Teran joined Gascón’s administration in early 2021 as a special advisor and later began running the Justice System Integrity Division, which handles prosecutions of law enforcement officers.

According to Spertus, the investigation into his client was sparked by a complaint from former Sheriff Alex Villanueva. In a livestream Wednesday evening, Villanueva seemingly confirmed this, saying that in 2019, he alerted the FBI and the attorney general to concerns about Teran downloading information he described as a “massive data breach.”

Though the complaint does not spell out what data Teran may have illegally misused, Spertus said he believed state prosecutors were erroneously trying to charge her for uploading public documents to the district attorney’s list of officers and deputies accused or convicted of on-duty misconduct.

Under a 1963 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Brady vs. Maryland, prosecutors are required to turn over that information to defense lawyers, and many prosecutors’ offices keep databases or lists to track officer wrongdoing.

Read more: George Gascón survived the primary. Can Nathan Hochman unseat him as D.A.?

While many law enforcement personnel records are legally considered confidential in California, Spertus said he believed the documents in question were made public when they were attached to court filings by deputies who sued to get disciplinary decisions against them overturned.

“I believe every document will be located in an L.A. Superior Court case file,” he said.

For the foreseeable future, specifics about the allegations against Teran — including whose records may be involved — may remain a mystery, as Spertus said the more detailed affidavit filed last week alongside the criminal complaint has been kept secret.

“It was filed under seal,” he told The Times. “So there are charges pending, but the [attorney general's] office is being shockingly secret about what the allegedly used documents are.”

Because her first court date is “months” away, according to her lawyer, it may be some time before the state is forced to make details public.

“We want to get into court as soon as possible, and we can’t,” he said.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.