Baca Accepts Criticism for Jail Violence

But says he won’t step down or fire his second-in-command.

By City News Service

Sheriff Lee Baca said Wednesday he accepts many of the recommendations made by a commission that found that a severe lack of top-level oversight of county jails led to repeated cases of excessive force against inmates, but said he was not prepared to fire any senior managers in response to the findings.

Nor was he planning to step aside himself.

“You know, I’m not a person that thinks about quitting on anything,” Baca said during a news conference at the Men’s Central Jail. “The voters had the grace to give me the job and the voters will have the grace to take it away.”

Baca took the brunt of criticism in the report released last week by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, which was appointed by the Board of Supervisors to investigate allegations of rampant violence by deputies against jail inmates.

The commission found that Baca and other top department managers failed to address the issue until they were confronted by adverse publicity. The panel accused Baca of being insulated from jail management and doing nothing to minimize violence against inmates.

“The problem of excessive and unnecessary force in the Los Angeles County jails was the result of many factors, beginning most fundamentally with a failure of leadership in the department,” according to the commission’s report. “Simply stated, the sheriff did not pay enough attention to the jails until external events forced him to do so.

“Further, his senior leaders failed to monitor conditions in the jails and elevate use-of-force issues so that they received the necessary attention by the sheriff, and the undersheriff engaged in conduct that undermined supervision of aggressive deputies and promoted an environment of lax and untimely discipline of deputy misconduct,” according to the report.

The panel issued dozens of recommendations, most notably the creation of an inspector general’s office to provide oversight of the department and the jails. It also stressed that Baca – who has held the county sheriff’s job for 14 years – needs to be personally engaged in oversight of the jails.

“When I read the recommendations – I couldn’t have written them better myself,” Baca told reporters yesterday.

The sheriff took issue with some of the characterizations in the report of deputies running rampant in the jails, saying the situation did not exist “to the degree the words describe.”

“But I do have some deputies that have done some terrible things,” he conceded.

Baca insisted that he demands his deputies follow the Sheriff’s Department’s core values of respect for everyone, saying dozens of deputies have been fired for failing to meet that standard.

But he said he was not prepared to take immediate action against his second-in-command, Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was accused by the Citizens’ Commission of discouraging investigations into deputy-misconduct allegations and encouraging deputies to be aggressive against inmates.

Baca said he needs to see proof of such activity before taking action.

“I am not a person that acts impulsively or in my own self-interest when it comes to someone else’s career,” Baca said. “We’ll either have the facts, or we won’t have the facts. But that’s what I have to do because it is not fair, and we do believe evidence and facts drives disciplinary decisions, not allegations.”

In addition to the commission’s investigation, the county jails are also the subject of a federal probe. The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which has been critical of deputies’ conduct in the jails, issued a report last month claiming that jailers routinely struck inmates in the head during scuffles.

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October 4, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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