Baca Sentenced to 3 Years in Federal Prison

May 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced today to three years in prison and one year of supervised release for obstructing a federal probe into corruption in the jails, with a judge lashing out at the longtime lawman and calling him an embarrassment to the profession.

Baca, 74, was also ordered to pay a $7,500 fine.

Baca’s attorneys had asked that he serve only home detention, and they have vowed to appeal his conviction. His attorney filed papers this week urging that the ex-sheriff be allowed to remain free pending arguments before the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, however, ordered Baca to surrender to begin serving his prison term on July 25.

(EGP photo archive)

(EGP photo archive)

Baca was convicted March 15 of obstruction of justice and two other federal charges for his role in the scheme to thwart the FBI probe into inmate mistreatment in the jails that he ran, and of lying to the FBI.

After about two days of deliberations, a criminal jury in downtown Los Angeles – the second to hear the case – found that Baca authorized and condoned a multi-part scheme that now has resulted in the conviction of 10 former members of the Sheriff’s Department.

During his two trials, prosecutors described Baca as being the top figure in the conspiracy, which also involved his former right-hand man, Paul Tanaka, and eight deputies who took orders from the sheriff.

Baca showed no emotion as Anderson handed down the sentence. At one point, he nodded at his wife, but Baca did not speak during the hearing.

Prosecutors had asked for a two-year prison term, noting that they would ordinarily seek about four years, but took into account Baca’s age and diagnosis of being in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease. During the sentencing hearing, however, Anderson lashed out at Baca and said if it hadn’t
been for the ex-lawman’s health, Baca would have received the same five-year term given to his former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka.

Anderson told Baca his Alzheimer’s diagnosis is not a “get-out-of-jail-free card.”

The judge referred to the “lasting damage you caused our community and the sheriff’s department,” saying Baca’s actions were taken “to burnish your legacy – all at the expense of the public’s trust.”

“Your loyalty was perverted,” the judge said, adding, “Your actions embarrass the thousands of men and women who put their lives on the line every day.”

Speaking to reporters outside court, Baca thanked his wife, his attorneys and “the people of Los Angeles County,” saying he has continued to hear words of support from the public.

“I would like to say that for me, it was an honor to serve the county of Los Angeles for over 48 years,” he said.

Baca did not specifically address comments made by Anderson, but said he was honored “to see the performance of such wonderful people that are deputy sheriff’s in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

“I’m grateful for their willingness to sacrifice many, many hours without pay to continue to do their jobs,” Baca said, adding that he has been “a blessed person.”

In a pre-sentencing memorandum, prosecutors wrote that in helping derail the FBI probe, Baca “abused the great power the citizens of Los Angeles County had given him,” while false statements made during a sworn interview with investigators was a “deliberate attempt to deflect blame and place it entirely on the shoulders of others within his department,” the prosecution wrote in pre-sentencing documents.

In its papers requesting a probationary term in home detention with community service, the defense cited Baca’s decades of public service, diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease and “peripheral” role in the wide-ranging conspiracy.

Attorney Nathan Hochman asked the judge to consider “an individual with one of this country’s most exceptional public service careers spanning over almost 50 years, an individual who suffers from the incurable and rapidly progressing and debilitating mental health disease of Alzheimer’s, and an
individual for whom prison will not allow him to obtain medical care in the most effective manner and will subject him to especially harsh treatment due to his medical condition as well to his age and former position as LASD Sheriff.”

Hochman spoke for nearly an hour during the sentencing hearing, asking that his client be spared prison time. But his request was sternly rejected.

Baca – who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for more than 15 years – was first tried in December on obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice counts, and prosecutors had planned a second trial on the false statements count. But a mistrial was declared after jurors
deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, and Anderson combined all three counts in the retrial. Baca did not take the stand in either trial.

The charges stemmed from events six years ago when a cellphone was discovered in the hands of an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail. Sheriff’s deputies quickly tied the phone to the FBI, which had been conducting a secret probe of brutality against inmates.

At that point, sheriff’s officials closed ranks and began an attempt to halt the formerly covert investigation by concealing an inmate-turned-informant from federal prosecutors, who had issued a summons for his grand jury appearance.

In a final statement of defiance – and a pointed criticism of the FBI’s smuggling of a phone to the jailhouse informant – Baca told reporters outside court Friday, “I will never accept a cell phone in a county jail given to a career criminal. I don’t care who puts it in.”

The charges involved a host of illegal acts, including a 2011 incident in which two sheriff’s investigators confronted an FBI agent in the driveway leading to her apartment and falsely told her they were in the process of obtaining a warrant for her arrest. Baca denied having advance knowledge of the illicit attempt to intimidate the federal agent.

Prior to the first trial, Baca had pleaded guilty to the lying count, but subsequently backed out of a plea deal – which called for him to serve no more than six months in prison – after the judge rejected the agreement as too lenient. If Baca had not withdrawn from the plea, he could have been handed a
sentence of five years behind bars. He was then indicted on the three felony counts for which he was subsequently convicted.

Prosecutors described the defendant as “a study in contrasts. He championed certain reforms in the criminal justice system, yet ignored warnings that his deputies were committing serious abuses in the Los Angeles County jails. He touted his close relationship with federal officials, yet was angry
that the federal government was investigating his department. He recited the LASD’s ‘Core Values’ – which emphasize honor and integrity – during the same interview in which he lied to the federal government.”

While physically fit and able to function in his daily life, prosecutors wrote, Baca now faces “an uncertain prognosis for how quickly his mild cognitive impairment will advance.”

In his argument for a non-custodial sentence, Hochman wrote that Baca’s condition would be best treated outside of prison.

Baca became sheriff in December 1998 and won re-election on several occasions. He was poised to run again in 2014, but federal indictments unsealed in December 2013, related to excessive force in the jails and obstruction of that investigation, led Baca to retire the following month.

In his request that Baca remain free pending appeal, Hochman argued that he is not likely to flee and poses no danger to the community.

The defense attorney further wrote that his appeal is justified because the court erred in barring jurors from hearing evidence of Baca’s “cooperation” with both the federal probe and an independent county review board, and that the panel should have heard about the ex-sheriff’s Alzheimer’s
diagnosis.

Hochman also claimed the jury should have been allowed to consider evidence of improvements Baca made in the training of jail guards to de-escalate problems and successfully deal with violent and/or mentally ill inmates. Baca was not charged with any instances of jail brutality.

Knife Attack Suspect in Custody

September 9, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

EAST LOS ANGELES – A 29-year-old man suspected of carrying out a knife attack on a woman in East Los Angeles remains in custody Friday.

The 23-year-old victim who was taken to the hospital for stab wounds to her hands and arms remained in stable condition today, said Lt. Alex Salinas of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s East Los Angeles station.

The suspect, whose name has not been released, also was taken to the hospital following the attack, which was reported at 10:19 p.m. Wednesday near the intersection of Whittier Boulevard and Clela Avenue.

Salinas said deputies who happened to have been in the area used force to take down the man, who later told deputies he had been high on meth all day prior to the attack. Taking him to the hospital was common practice because force was used, but the man was not injured, Salinas said.

The victim was in line at a taco truck with her mother when the suspect grabbed her by the neck and dragged her away, Salinas said.

A man driving by who saw the attack attempted to scare off the suspect with a crowbar but was unsuccessful, according to Salinas. The good Samaritan sustained a minor injury while attempting to stop the attack but not one that warranted a hospital trip, he added.

Diversity to Mark Chicano Moratorium Observances

August 25, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Commemorations this coming weekend of the 1970 Chicano Moratorium will include a variety of speakers, several of them African American, at a march and rally in East Los Angeles on Saturday.

At a separate event on Sunday, guest speakers will include the parents of two people killed by police this year.

The 46th Annual National Chicano Moratorium commemorates what many have come to call the coming of age of the Chicano civil rights movement. Special attention each year is paid to remembering the death of crusading Chicano Journalist Ruben Salazar by a tear gas canister lobbed into the Silver Dollar Bar by an L.A. County Sheriff’s deputy during a riot that broke out following what at that time was the largest ever protest by Chicanos – Mexican Americans in Los Angeles.

The two days of activities will kickoff Saturday at 9 a.m. with a march from Atlantic Park (570 S. Atlantic Blvd. East LA) Saturday to Ruben Salazar Park (3864 Whittier Blvd., and Ditman Ave.) where a rally will be held at 12:30 p.m.

Rally speakers and entertainment will include: Kwazi Nkrumah of the Martin Luther King Jr Coalition; Allegra Casimir Taylor, daughter of a Black Panther Party political prisoner, incarcerated for 51 years before being murdered in prison last year; Hugo “Yogi Bear” Pinnell who will discuss her father’s case and the ongoing events since his murder; Wayne Arroyo, longtime American Indian Movement (AIM) activist speaking about ongoing protests in North Dakota against the Dakota Access Pipeline; Kiko Salazar speaking on long time Chicano political prisoner Ramsey Muniz; Gina Felix Goldman, actress and niece of the late Mexican movie star Maria Felix, will represent the Bring Hollywood Home Foundation on racism in Hollywood; Roberto Tijerina, internet radio talk show host from UC Riverside; David Rico, Commander of the National Brown Berets de Aztlan and Krisna Velasco of the Ritchie Valens Foundation who is producing a documentary on the life or Ruben Salazar, among several others.

Jan B. Tucker of the California League of Latinos And Chicanos (CALLAC) will speak on immigration and the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo.

On Sunday, Aug. 29, community activists will hold a “Liberation Day Program for Chicano Moratorium” from 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Saint Mary’s Church Hall: 407 South Chicago St., L.A. 90033.

The event will include a short film and Vietnam veteran Ray Andrade and former LAUSD Board Member Victoria Castro speaking on the history of the Chicano Moratorium on Aug. 29, 1970.

Also speaking are Estela Rodriguez, mother of Edwin Rodriguez who was killed by ELA Sheriffs on Feb.14 and Juan Mendez, the father of Jose Mendez who was killed by an LAPD officer on Feb. 6 of this year.

‘Use of Force’ Jumps 40% In County Jails

February 18, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

The reported use of force in county lockups rose by more than 40 percent from 2014 to 2015, a jump the assistant sheriff responsible for the jails attributed to more aggressive reporting.

“I honestly think a lot of this is reporting issues,” Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald said.

Still, she told the Board of Supervisors, “This is an area that has me concerned.”

Following reforms proposed by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, the Sheriff’s Department has pressured deputies to report every single use of force, even if that means taking an inmate’s elbow to steer him away from trouble, McDonald said.

McDonald emphasized that the quality of the interactions between custody deputies and inmates had changed dramatically since 2012.

“Before the CCJV reforms … over 50 percent (of force incidents) resulted in an inmate being seriously hurt. Now it is very rare,” McDonald told the board.

Use-of-force incidents are classified by the department into three categories. Category one incidents involve no injury and no allegation of excessive force. Category two incidents involve an allegation of force which may or may not include an injury. Category three includes situations where an inmate is injured.

McDonald cited orbital and hand fractures as common injuries.

Based on a graph presented to the board, but without access to the raw data behind it, it appears that roughly one-quarter of the reported incidents fall into the last two categories. No breakdown between categories two and three was offered, but McDonald said there were no serious injuries in 2015.

When the numbers revealed that the clinic and reception area had a high use of force, McDonald increased staffing there to move inmates through more quickly.

However, there was no clear trend behind the 2015 increase, she said.

Getting prisoners out of their cell — an “extraction” — can be a situation where inmates and deputies clash, but McDonald said 95 percent of all cell extractions are now resolved without the use of force.

McDonald stressed that the numbers were still “well under the national average,” noting that Chicago’s Cook County has about 40 percent more use-of-force incidents even though it jails half as many inmates.

Rikers Island, which also houses half the number of inmates, has nearly five times as many use-of-force incidents, she said.

McDonald also pointed to a lack of growth in disciplinary action as evidence that the use of force has not been excessive. Earlier in her presentation, she mentioned that the department was deferring hiring to fill several internal affairs positions.

Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis said they would like to see more details.

“It seems to be kind of an alarming growth in 2015,” Kuehl said.

The county has paid out millions of dollars to settle claims of excessive force against inmates. An attempt to cover up a culture of jail violence and block a federal probe resulted in the convictions of 18 deputies and other department officials — including former sheriff Lee Baca, who may be sentenced to up to six months in federal prison.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell has implemented most of the reforms recommended by the CCJV — including enhanced training, the installation of cameras in the jails and changes in the use-of-force policy.

Now, McDonald said, the department is beginning to pivot to address 100-plus provisions demanded by the proposed settlement of Rosas v. County of Los Angeles, a class-action lawsuit brought by inmates who alleged a culture that condoned violence.

McDonald, who announced her retirement in December, told the board it was probably the last update she would personally present, but that her team would provide a more detailed breakdown going forward.

There has been no word about McDonald’s replacement, although the sheriff originally announced that McDonald would stick around until a new custody chief had been hired.

Inspector General Max Huntsman said his staff had been looking at quarterly discipline reports by the Sheriff’s Department and he expected to report back to the board soon.

UPDATE: Suspect Arrested Accused of Fatally Stabbing a Man on Bus in Highland Park

November 10, 2015 by · Leave a Comment 

A 43-year-old man accused in a fatal stabbing on a Metro bus in Highland Park was arrested Wednesday and booked on suspicion of murder, but two other suspects remain at large.

Allen Jay Milton, who was detained Tuesday, was booked after being interviewed by homicide detectives. He was being held in lieu of $1 million bail.

The fatal attack occurred on Metro bus line 81 along North Figueroa Street around 10:40 p.m. Monday.

Sheriff’s Deputy Mike Barraza said three men boarded the bus at Avenue 57, walked to the back and began arguing with the victim, who was stabbed in the chest. The assailants fled when the bus, which was carrying about 10 passengers, stopped at North Figueroa and Meridian Streets, he said.

The name of the victim, who was in his 30s, has not been released.

The two suspects still being sought were described only as Hispanic men, reportedly ranging in age from 25 to 35. Anyone with information about their whereabouts was urged to call the Sheriff’s Information Bureau, (323) 890-5500, or Crime Stoppers, (800) 222-TIPS.

 
(courtesy of LASD)

Three suspects identified of stabbing of a man in a bus in Highland Park. (Courtesy of LASD)

 

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