LOS ANGELES, California | DMN — News outlets in Southern California are reporting that Embattled Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is expected to announce Tuesday that he will not run for a fifth term as the county’s top cop and will step down from his post by the end of the month. The story is reported by The Los Angeles Times and NBC News quoting unnamed sources. Baca’s decision comes a month after federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against 18 current and former sheriff’s deputies accused of beating jail inmates and visitors, trying to intimidate an FBI agent and other crimes following an investigation of corruption inside the nation’s largest jail system.
The timing of his announcement remains unclear. But it was confirmed by multiple sources, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity. Baca won office in 1998 when his rival, incumbent Sheriff Sherman Block, died days before the election. In the next three elections, he easily won in primaries against fields of lesser-known candidates, avoiding head-to-head runoff elections. By 2010, no one bothered to challenge him. This election was going to be different, even before the indictments.
Baca already was coping not just with the FBI probe but criticism of his leadership from members of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors and a special commission on jail violence. The Times also reported that the department had hired dozens of officers in 2010 despite background investigations that found significant misconduct. NBC News reports that His decision to retire comes weeks after Andre Birotte Jr., the U.S. Attorney for California’s Central District,announced charges against 18 current and former deputies assigned to the Los Angeles County jails in connection with “a wide scope of illegal conduct,” including allegations of unjustified beating of inmates, unjustified detentions and a conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation.
Separately, the U.S. Justice Department found that deputies patrolling the Antelope Valley in northern Los Angeles County repeatedly harassed and intimidated blacks and Latinos including using racial profiling and excessive force. The only political consolation for Baca as he gears up for the June election may be that two of his rivals — former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former sheriff’s Cmdr. Bob Olmsted — also could be put on the defensive by the continuing criminal probe of alleged misconduct in the department. One source, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity, said the 71-year-old Baca, who has served 15 years as County Sheriff, made “a difficult decision,” but one that was “in the best interests of the department and people of Los Angeles County.”
“This was one of the most difficult decisions of the sheriff’s professional career,” said the source. “He made it clear that he was doing this to remove any distractions from the positive work that the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is doing on behalf of the county.” A formal announcement will be made in the morning, a source said. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors chooses an interim Sheriff with input from Baca. During his four terms in office, Baca won praise for programs that benefited the homeless and inmates. He was one of the driving forces – along with then LAPD Chief William Bratton and former District Attorney Steve Cooley — behind the new state-of-the-art crime lab that that opened at Cal State Los Angeles.
The department grew from 14,000 to 19,000 employees under Baca as crime fell to the lowest levels in a generation. In addition, it absorbed the troubled Compton Police Department, drastically reducing crime in that city. Baca also created the Office of Independent Review, headed by former federal prosecutor Michael Gennaco, to oversee the department’s internal investigations. Early in his tenure, Baca had a knack for getting ahead of public controversies including a spate of murders in the Los Angeles County Jail, a contagious fire incident in Compton when deputies unloaded 120 rounds at a car-chase suspect in a residential neighborhood; an uproar about early release of inmates and even a decision to release socialite Paris Hilton early from jail.