Los Angeles County Sheriff Baca Says He Will Retire At End Of January
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, whose department has been under fire over allegations of mistreatment of jail inmates and the recent indictment of 18 current and former deputies on various corruption charges, announced Tuesday that he will retire as head of the beleaguered Sheriff's Department at the end of January.
"I've been proud and honored to serve the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the people of this greatest of counties, Los Angeles County, for the past 48 years,'' Baca said, his voice occasionally cracking with emotion.
"I can't even imagine anyone working 48 years at anything, but I've done that, which has made this decision in my life probably the most difficult.''
Baca, 71, said he wanted to "go out on my terms,'' saying he would drop plans to seek election to a fifth term and retire at the end of January.
"The reasons for doing so are so many,'' he said. "Some are most personal and private, but the prevailing one is the negative perception this upcoming campaign has brought to the exemplary service provided by the men and women of the Sheriff's Department.''
Baca was first elected in 1998 and was facing a tough re-election campaign, given the scandals that have rocked the department and questions that arose about the sheriff's level of involvement in or knowledge of alleged wrongdoing by deputies.
He denied that his decision to step down was prompted by the possibility of federal charges against him. Eighteen current and former deputies were recently indicted on a variety of charges, including mistreating jail inmates.
"My decision is based on the highest of concern for the future of the sheriff's department,'' Baca said.
Thom Mrozek, spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's Office, which is prosecuting the deputies, said the office had no comment on Baca's announcement.
Baca said he was recommending that the Board of Supervisors appoint Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald to oversee the department once he steps aside.
Although he said he was not endorsing anyone as a replacement, he said he hoped his decision not to seek re-election would open the door for two of his assistants to run for the post — Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers and Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold.
He called them "highly qualified to run for this position and have the voters make their decision.''
Shortly after Baca's retirement announcement, Rogers said he plans to run for the post. Hellmold said he still had not decided whether to enter the race.
Two former members of the department — former Cmdr. Bob Olmsted and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka — are already campaigning for the job.
Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell's name has also been mentioned as a possible candidate. He issued a statement this afternoon saying he was "humbled'' by the consideration.
The job of sheriff "would truly be a unique opportunity with both challenges and rewards,'' McDonnell said, but stopped short of making a decision to run, saying he would announce a decision "in the very near future.''
LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara, the first Asian-American to be promoted to that rank, said he was also mulling a run.
The Board of Supervisors will appoint an interim sheriff to serve until voters make their choice. They met behind closed doors today to discuss possible choices, but no immediate decision was made.
Lawyers for the county were still researching the requirements any interim sheriff would have to meet. It was not immediately clear whether someone serving on an interim basis would have to meet the same conditions as a candidate for election.
Whoever takes the job will be taking on big challenges, but Baca hailed members of the Sheriff's Department for helping bring crime to record lows.
"They have conducted themselves with the utmost integrity and professionalism resulting in yet another year of historic crime reductions in nearly half a century. In my opinion, your Sheriff's Department is the greatest law enforcement agency in the world. I want to thank the men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for their hard work, dedication and their daily sacrifices to serve the great people of this county. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say we love the people of this county, and we do it every day without exception. And to the people of the county, I extend my deepest gratitude for you allowing me to serve you for the past 48 years.''
He later added: "I may have run 70,000 miles in my lifetime, but I know I'm 72 years old in May and I don't see myself as the future, I see myself as part of the past.''
Baca had announced Monday that he would support a citizens' commission to oversee department operations.
He described the citizens' commission as "consistent with my view on strengthening transparency and accountability.''
In December, the Los Angeles Times reported that the department hired dozens of officers in 2010 despite evidence of significant misconduct found during their background checks.
Federal prosecutors filed charges against current and former deputies in December, accusing them of beating jail inmates and visitors and trying to intimidate an FBI agent.
The charges related to a long-standing corruption investigation of the jail system, which is administered by the sheriff's department. The department is also facing civil lawsuits relating to the actions of some of the deputies charged with misconduct.
Additionally, the U.S. Justice Department last year accused sheriff's deputies of engaging in widespread unlawful searches of homes, improper detentions and unreasonable force as Antelope Valley authorities conducted an effort to discriminate against African Americans who received low-income subsidized housing.
At the local level, the sheriff's department was under criticism by a blue-ribbon commission appointed by the Board of Supervisors to examine allegations of jail abuses and was facing the prospect of official oversight, with the board last month approving the appointment of the county's first Inspector-General.
Max Huntsman, a former deputy supervisor of the public integrity division of the Los Angeles District Attorney's office started his new position with the county Jan. 2.
Huntsman had previously prosecuted public corruption cases in Los Angeles, as well as investigating law enforcement officers and police use-or-forces cases.
Baca had given no previous indication of his intention to stand down in the face of negative publicity.
Baca was facing at least four declared challengers in a two-stage re- election this year, with a primary election on June 3, and a potential general election on Nov. 4.