Sheriff Candidates Face Off in Boyle Heights
They claim distance from department scandals.
By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer
Candidates vying to head the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were at the Hollenbeck Youth Center in Boyle Heights last week to take part in a debate that focused on bringing reform to the scandal-ridden law enforcement organization.
“It’s time for a change! It’s time for a different perspective,” said Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, one of the only candidates who has not worked for the Sheriff’s Department. “It’s about restoring pride in the organization.”
Five of the seven candidates running for sheriff – a job held for the last 16 years by former Sheriff Lee Baca – took pary in the community forum hosted by the eastside youth center and the non-profit Inner City Games Los Angeles and various attorney groups. Baca resigned in January before the end of his fourth term, amid allegations of inmate abuse in the jail system and a federal probe into the department’s handling of prisoners.
James Hellmold, an LASD assistant sheriff; Bob Olmsted, a former LASD sheriff commander; Todd Rogers, an LASD assistant sheriff and Lakewood city councilmember; and Paul Tanaka, former LASD undersheriff under Baca and the current mayor of Gardena, joined McDonnell on the stage. Two candidates, retired LASD Lt. Patrick Gomez, the lone Latino in the race, and Lou Vince, an LAPD detective and sheriff’s reserve deputy, were reportedly not invited to participate because organizers do not see them as “viable candidates.”
In an email, Vince told EGP he was invited to participate when the event was originally scheduled for April 30, but “uninvited” when the date was changed. “The Latino prosecutors have refused to provide an explanation. I find it especially troubling that this group is the only group to do that,” he wrote.
While there were disagreements on how best to get it done, all five candidates agreed that the priority for the next L.A. County Sheriff should be regaining the public’s trust, deeply damaged by an ongoing federal investigation that has sparked allegations of corruption and wrongdoing, and the indictment of 20 current and former Sheriff’s Department officials. They are accused of crimes such as corruption, obstruction of justice and abuse of inmates and jail visitors.
“The boss sets the tone,” said Tanaka, who worked alongside Baca before leaving the department. “It’s putting people in key places and holding them accountable.”
Olmsted, a whistleblower who went to the FBI with the alleged inmate abuse, said he did not buy that the other candidates were serious about reforming the department.
“Somebody had to have known,” said Olmsted, referring to the abuse. “Why didn’t anyone stand up then?”
With his pathway to reform booklet in hand, Olmsted attempted to present himself as the reform candidate to the audience. The booklet outlines his plan to ensure the department steers clear of corruption. His suggestions include term limits, creating a citizens oversight committee, implementing gift limits and the newly appointed sheriff to work out of the jails once a week.
“I know where all the smoke and mirrors are in the organization,” he said. “I’m the only outsider with insider perspective.”
The remark sparked a need by the rest of the candidates to distinguish themselves from any association to the department during the scandalous times.
“I came in after the jail scandal,” repeated Hellmold throughout the debate.
Although Tanaka was second in command during the federal investigation, he tried to direct attention to his leadership as the mayor of the city of Gardena and to distant himself from the federal probe. “I stood right next to Baca during good times and bad times,” he said. “But I never condoned violence.”
A report released last year by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, however, found that Tanaka — as overseer of the jail system — not only failed to address concerns about violence against inmates by discouraging investigations into alleged deputy misconduct, but actually urged deputies to be aggressive against inmates.
Rogers emphasized that he was never offered “a sip of the Kool-Aid” by fellow deputies because he refused to do anything even slightly inappropriate. “I still felt like an outsider,” he said. He highlighted his role post-scandal implementing reforms in the department.
“I see insiders trying really hard to be outsiders,” McDonnell finally said. “I bring a fresh perspective.”
As the Long Beach Chief of Police and previously the LAPD’s second in command under former police Chief Bill Bratton, McDonnell said he has no internal alliance to LASD.
“I don’t owe anybody anything.”
Rogers responded that being a complete outsider is not necessarily an asset for a new sheriff.
“Why do we need someone who will have to go through a whole learning curve,” he questioned. “They don’t know these individuals, they don’t know about the people who have to go.”
Rogers said someone from the outside might not know how to handle sheriff’s department contracts.
As the largest sheriff’s department in the country, LASD is responsible for unincorporated areas of the county and 42 contract cities.
Hellmold pointed out that implying the department is home to corruption only worsens the department’s morale.
“How do you expect to rally the troops,” he asked.
The primary election is June 3. If no candidate receives over 50%, the two top finishers will face off in the November General Election.Print This Post
April 24, 2014 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.