Sheriff Lee Baca: ‘I don’t see myself as the future, I see myself as part of the past’

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces his retirement during a news conference at Los Angeles County Sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park , California January 7, 2014. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Reuters

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces his retirement during a news conference at Los Angeles County Sheriff's headquarters in Monterey Park , California January 7, 2014. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Reuters
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces his retirement during a news conference at Los Angeles County Sheriff’s headquarters in Monterey Park , California January 7, 2014. Photo: Kevork Djansezian/Reuters

Updated 3:30 pm:

Today on “All Things Considered,” KCRW’s Steve Chiotakis spoke with Celeste Fremon, a freelance journalist and blogger at WitnessLA.com, about Baca’s announced retirement. Here’s what she said about Baca’s legacy:

“He’s been known as a very progressive sheriff. The fact that he’s put in this education-based incarceration program is something that is a model, is potentially replicable. And I think his progressive point of view that has now entered the thinking in terms of law enforcement is a good legacy. But this is an extraordinary mess that he’s walking away from as well. So I don’t know, I think it’s too soon to write history, but it’s a mixed bag, I would say, at this point.”

Listen to the full interview here:

Updated 1:30 pm: 

Today on “To the Point,” Barbara Bogaev spoke with Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Faturechi, who covers the Sheriff’s Department.

Barbara Bogaev: There have been a number of scandals in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department recently. Can you run them down for us?

Robert Faturechi: Last month, after many months of investigating, the Feds came down and charged 18 current and former sheriff deputies as part of their jail abuse investigation. Beyond that, The Times reported last month that the Sheriff’s Department had knowingly hired dozens of officers who had serious misconduct in their backgrounds. Sheriff officials eventually acknowledged that they hired more than 80 officers that should have been barred form employment, but likely were not going to take any remedies to get rid of them because they knew of all the problems when they hired them.

The Sheriff, over the years, has also faced allegations of cronyism. He has been found to have launched special investigations for donors and other supporters, fast-tracking them and conducting them in other law enforcement agency’s jurisdictions. He has had a lot of problems, especially in recent years.

BB: You mentioned jail abuse. Could you go into more detail about what kind of brutality of prisoners was involved, or alleged?

RF: One of the cases that stood out to me was that of a top recruit who graduated at the highest point in his academy class, but then suddenly resigned weeks on the job from his post in the jail. It later came out that he was accusing his training officer of forcing him to beat up a mentally ill inmate and then cover it up. That training officer, along with another deputy, was among those who were charged last month.

It was a case that was indicative of some of the larger problems within the department, particularly in the jail system; instances of excessive force on inmates, and then shoddy investigations after the fact that did a poor job of holding those responsible for the misconduct responsible.

Listen to the full conversation here:
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Updated 10:00 am:

Sheriff Lee Baca announced this morning that he will not seek reelection and will retire at the end of the month, saying he’ll continue on his terms. Getting choked up, the Sheriff said serving the county has been a true “dream come true and that “it wouldn’t’ be an exaggeration to say that we love the people of this county.”

L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca has announced that he is abandoning his bid for a fifth term as the county’s top cop. Baca has reportedly told top county officials that he believes that his departure will help the department move past years of turmoil and criticism. Baca, who was first elected in 1998, has portrayed himself as an agent of change at the department, which is the fourth largest police agency in the country. But his image has been tarnished by a series of scandals, including an FBI investigation into violence and corruption by deputies inside the county jail system. Baca has also been stung by revelations that his department hired dozens of deputies who should have been denied jobs because of past misconduct.

From the LA Times: 

During his career Baca advocated education and rehabilitation programs inside the county jails and reached out to the Muslim community after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. But his tenure was also marked by periods of violence in the jails as well as overcrowding, which prompted the department to release inmates after serving only a fraction of their terms.

Recently, Baca was coping not just with the FBI probe but searing criticism of his leadership from a blue-ribbon commission appointed by the Board of Supervisors to examine allegations of jail abuse.

NBC LA writes that this leaves the race for sheriff wide open:

Baca’s retirement leaves the race for his successor wide open. Those running include Sheriff’s Cmdr. Bob Olmsted, who oversaw the troubled county jails, as well as under-Sheriff Paul Tanaka, who ran operations for the Sheriff’s Department until last Summer when he stepped down amid a bitter and public falling out with his former boss.

There have been calls for him to step down for some time after allegations of inmate abuse surfaced. Back in 2011, Which Way, LA? asked the Sheriff to respond to calls for his resignation. “The voters will have to make that decision,” he said at the time.