Sheriff Baca: Can He Survive? - KMSP-TV

Sheriff Baca: Can He Survive?

Posted: Updated:

From Phil Shuman:

The future of LA County Sheriff Lee Baca is very much in doubt. Or is it  ?  A lot of people (led by the LA Times Editorial page ) are raising serious questions about whether Sheriff Baca should be re-elected next year in the wake of 18 indictments of members of his department over allegations of abuse inside his County Jails. 

The allegations are not new, the indictments are and even though Sheriff Baca claims he's made reforms and progress, how much is too much? Already, County Supervisor Gloria Molina is calling on people to vote him out.  

An interview I did today with a well known civil rights attorney Sonia Mercado, which airs today at 5pm and probably again at 10pm, lays out her argument that he should be rejected by voters. Others say that he has a tough job, that jails are full of dangerous people, deputies have a difficult job, and the vast majority of 'em do an honorable job. All that is true, but again, how much teflon coating can one person have ?

To his credit, Baca is hanging tough and saying he's not going anywhere, and there's no 'perfect' law enforcement agency anywhere, but too many reports are piling up that place blame on him for a lack of accountability and action.  He's already had four terms. Maybe it's time for someone new, but there are no guarantees a potential replacement would be better .

 


 

Has anything changed? 

The allegations aren't necessarily surprising, but they're still shocking. The U.S. Attorney's office Monday charged 18 Los Angeles County Sheriff's officials -- up to the rank of lieutenant -- with abusing not just inmates in the Mens' Central Jail and Twin Towers, but also visitors. 

We're talking broken bones and other allegations of excessive force. What's more, when the FBI tried to investigate deputies allegedly lied, covered up, fabricated stories to justify use of force and obstructed those trying to find the truth.  At least three of those indicted were from the Internal Affairs-type unit that's responsible for investigating potential crimes by deputies. Ouch. U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte said this was an ‘‘institutionalized'' problem. He said the attitude was that the deputies were ‘‘above the law'. L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca, in a packed afternoon news conference, said this was a ‘‘sad day''.

He didn't' really deny the allegations, but did object to the notion this was an institutionalized problem, noting the changes he's instituted in the jails, including jail-based education programs. Baca said the actions of the deputies and other higher-ups charged shouldn't reflect on the entire department, "99.9% of whom do their jobs well".  He was smooth as always; ''teflon' is the world often used with him. (Baca's running for re-election next year by the way.) It seems like we've been reporting on allegations of abuse in the jails forever and in some ways we have.

Most of these charges are a couple of years old or older. There is some legitimacy to Baca's claims of progress and keeping almost 20,000 inmates behind bars in an orderly and peaceful manner is no doubt a huge challenge every day. Yet every allegation of excessive force and abuse not only makes the whole department look bad, they also reflect badly on all law enforcement. And it hurts us, the taxpayer, because we're the ones who shell out millions in civil verdicts when abuse victims sue and win, which they do. 

 


 

UPDATE:

LOS ANGELES (Fox 11/AP) -- Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he's troubled by the charges against 18 current and former deputies who have been arrested as part of an FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption in the nation's largest jail system.
 
Baca said at a news conference Monday that the department will continue to cooperate with the FBI and that the arrested deputies who are still employed by the department will be relieved of duty and their pay suspended.
 
Baca defended the department, pointing to reforms since allegations surfaced in 2011, and said the problem wasn't an institutional one.
 
Sixteen of the 18 defendants were arrested earlier Monday and five criminal cases were unsealed alleging unjustified beatings of jail inmates and visitors, unjustified detentions and a conspiracy to thwart the FBI's investigation into the misconduct.
 

 


 

LOS ANGELES (Fox 11/AP) -- Federal officials on Monday unsealed five criminal cases filed against 18 current and former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies as part of an FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption in the nation's largest jail system.

The charges were announced at a press conference after 16 of 18 defendants were arrested earlier in the day. They were expected to be arraigned later in U.S. District Court.

"These incidents did not take place in a vacuum -- in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized," said U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. "The pattern of activity alleged in the obstruction of justice case shows how some members of the Sheriff's Department considered themselves to be above the law."
 
Four grand jury indictments and a criminal complaint allege unjustified beatings of jail inmates and visitors at downtown Los Angeles jail facilities, unjustified detentions and a conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation into misconduct at the Men's Central Jail.
 
The FBI has been investigating allegations of excessive force and other misconduct at the county's jails since at least 2011. The official said the arrests were related to the abuse of individuals in the jail system and also allegations that sheriff's officials moved an FBI informant in the jails possibly to thwart their probe.
 
Sheriff's Department spokesman Steve Whitmore referred calls to the FBI. He said Sheriff Lee Baca would provide a comment later Monday afternoon.
 

"We've cooperated fully with the FBI in their investigation and we'll continue to do so," Whitmore said.
 
One federal indictment filed Nov. 20 named seven deputies charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice. It is unclear from the indictment whether they are currently employed by the department.
 
Among those charged with conspiracy and obstruction of justice in the 18-page indictment are two lieutenants, one of whom oversaw the department's safe jails program and another who investigated allegations of local crimes committed by sheriff's personnel, two sergeants and three deputies.
 
All seven are accused of trying to prevent the FBI from contacting or interviewing an inmate who was helping federal agents in a corruption and civil rights probe. One of the investigations involved trying to see if a deputy would accept a bribe to provide the inmate with a cell phone, court documents show.
 
The indictment alleges the inmate was moved to hide him and false entries were made in the sheriff's databases to make it appear as if he had been released.
 
In an attempt to find out more information about the investigation, one lieutenant and the two sergeants sought a court order to compel the FBI to provide documents, prosecutors said. When a state judge denied the proposed order, the two sergeants allegedly attempted to intimidate one of the lead FBI agents outside her house and falsely told her they were going to seek a warrant for her arrest, the indictment said.
 
Baca has acknowledged mistakes to a county commission reviewing reports of brutality, but he has also defended his department and distanced himself personally from the allegations.
 
He said he's made improvements including creating a database to track inmate complaints. Baca has also hired a new head of custody and rearranged his command staff.
 
Retired sheriff's Cmdr. Bob Olmsted, who is challenging Baca for the voter-elected position of sheriff in 2014, said in a statement Monday that the arrests "underscore the high level of corruption that has plagued the Sheriff's Department."
 
He said as a commander he tried "several times" to notify the sheriff and his command staff about "ongoing abuses and misconduct" in Men's Central Jail, but his "concerns fell on deaf ears."
 
 "I knew I had to act, and as a result, I notified the FBI of the department's culture and acceptance of excessive force, inmate abuse, sheriff's gangs, and corruption," Olmsted said.

The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Sheriff's Department in 2012 claiming the sheriff and his top commanders had condoned violence against inmates. The organization released a report documenting more than 70 cases of misconduct by deputies.


 

Powered by WorldNow

KMSP-TV
11358 Viking Drive
Eden Prairie, MN 55344

Phone: (952) 944-9999
Fax: (952) 942-0455

Didn't find what you were looking for?
All content © Copyright 2000 - 2014 Fox Television Stations, Inc. and Worldnow. All Rights Reserved.
Privacy Policy | New Terms of Service What's new | Ad Choices