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UPDATE: Baca to retire at end of month

County’s top cop says he wants to avoid campaign marred with ‘negative, contentious politicking’

Posted: January 7, 2014 10:05 a.m.
Updated: January 7, 2014 7:16 p.m.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

SANTA CLARITA - Amid controversy over federal probes that led to the indictment of 18 sworn officers, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced Tuesday he is retiring.

In a surprise news conference called Tuesday at 10 a.m. at the Monterey Park Sheriff’s Department headquarters, the county’s top cop and 48-year Sheriff’s Department veteran said January will be his last month on the force.

First elected sheriff in 1998 when his incumbent opponent, Sherman Block, died days before the vote, Baca said Tuesday the proudest title he ever held was sheriff’s deputy.

Baca said he would step down at the end of the month and wouldn’t seek re-election because he was concerned about the “negative perception” the upcoming campaign would create concerning the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

“I didn’t want to have to enter a campaign that would be full of negative, contentious politicking,” said Baca, 71, in an emotional statement outside sheriff’s headquarters.

Last month he had said he would stand for re-election in June. On Tuesday he said he had changed his mind within the past three days.

Baca’s abrupt announcement comes on the heels of recent high-profile corruption probes that resulted in the arrest and indictment of 18 officers.

On Dec. 9, federal officials unsealed five criminal cases filed against 18 current and former Los Angeles County sheriff’s sworn personnel as part of an FBI investigation into allegations of civil rights abuses and corruption in the nation’s largest jail system.

“These incidents did not take place in a vacuum — in fact, they demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized,” U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said at the time. “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.

Lt. Stephen Leavins of Valencia was among the 18 named in the probe. Leavins was assigned to the LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which scrutinizes the conduct of LASD deputies.

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

A federal jury in October found Baca personally liable for $100,000 for failing to stop inmate abuse by deputies in Men’s Central Jail in a case brought by a man who said he was severely beaten while awaiting trial.

Last year a Justice Department investigation found deputies made unconstitutional stops, searches and seizures, and used excessive force against blacks and Latinos in the Antelope Valley. Baca disputed the findings but said he had instituted reforms.

Because Baca is not serving out his term, the five-member Board of Supervisors will choose an interim sheriff. Baca recommended Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.

“I thank Sheriff Baca for his 48 years of public service — and I respect his decision and wish him well,” Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said in response to Baca’s announcement. “The Board of Supervisors will begin the process of appointing an interim sheriff until a sheriff is elected by the voters in the June election.

“If no candidate receives 50 percent plus one vote, a run-off election will be on the November ballot,” Antonovich said in a statement.

During Tuesday’s news conference, reporters asked the sheriff specifically about the FBI’s probe that netted 18 arrests.

“Eighteen people out of 18,0000 people does not constitute a department,” Baca answered. “And there may be more.”

“It’s the public’s department,” he said. “I’m just a steward for the moment, and that moment will come to a close.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report
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