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Retired Sheriff's Commander Robert Olmsted running for LA County Sheriff

August 14, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
After 15 years on the job, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his department are facing increasing scrutiny, including an investigation by the FBI and a criminal grand jury. And Wednesday a new face jumped into the race for Baca's job: Retired Sheriff's Department Commander Robert Olmsted.

The Men's Central Jail has been the center of controversy for the L.A. County Sheriff's dept. Allegations of abuse of inmates, out-of-control deputies. Critics say it went on for years. And the sheriff was warned about it.

"Did he know? Yes I told him on two different occasions," said Olmsted. "He knew what was going on. But the unique thing is, if you're the boss you should know."

Robert Olmsted is a retired sheriff's department commander who announced Wednesday he is running against Sheriff Lee Baca in the next election. He says in August 2010 when he told his superiors and the sheriff of the problems, he was ignored.

"When I run it up to my boss and my boss's boss, my boss's boss's boss, and I have two conversations with the sheriff personally on the issues that were occurring, they walked away and wouldn't listen," said Olmsted.

"There are some things he didn't know. If there be any failing of Sheriff Lee Baca it may be that he's too trusting of the people that work for him. But the sheriff is staying with it. He didn't retire," said sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore.

Whitmore says Baca has brought positive changes to the jail and the number of reported use-of-force incidents has dropped.

"Education-based incarceration that's in our jails, up to 50,000 inmates have gone through that, inmates that are going through the education-based incarceration, there haven't been any use of force. Use of force in the jails are down dramatically, more than 50 percent," said Whitmore.

Olmsted's entry into the race comes as the department faces increasing scrutiny: the FBI is at least two years into an investigation of alleged corruption, deputy misconduct and abuse inside L.A. County jails.

U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. is overseeing the investigation.

"I always say that our job is to go where the evidence takes us and prosecutors in our office do that each and every day, and that's what we'll do as it relates to any investigation," said Birotte.

Olmsted says he saw the problems firsthand.

"What I saw on the onset were deputies sitting in the control booth with broken hands. And when I inquired, they said, 'Well, we hit the inmates,'" said Olmsted. "And one actually missed the inmate and hit the wall and broke his hand."

Pressure is mounting on the sheriff. The headline on a recent L.A. Times editorial: "Don't Run Again, Sheriff Baca."

L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina says she can't fire Baca, but voters should.

"Unfortunately, the department lacks leadership," said Molina. "It is being commanded by a whole group of leaders that are worse than the 'Keystone Kops.'"

"Who has fought harder for the homeless on our streets? Who has changed, and is changing, the culture in the jails?" said Whitmore.

Retired undersheriff and Baca's former second-in-command Paul Tanaka is expected to announce his candidacy for sheriff on Thursday.

It's expected there will be two or three more candidates challenging Sheriff Baca. All of this comes as the department faces a federal investigation.

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