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LA supervisors criticize Sheriff Lee Baca amid FBI jail probe

Some L.A. County supervisors say they're outraged at the federal indictments involving 18 sheriff's deputies.
December 10, 2013 12:00:00 AM PST
Some Los Angeles County supervisors say they're outraged at the federal indictments involving 18 current and former sheriff's deputies.

The FBI's investigation into Men's Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility revealed what prosecutors described as institutionalized behavior. Sheriff Lee Baca insists that the allegations do not reflect on the department as a whole.

But what will this investigation mean for Baca's political future? On one hand, he's running the nation's second largest law enforcement agency. On the other, he's a candidate who is seeking his fifth term as sheriff.

Rocked by the results of a federal investigation into his department, the sheriff is facing harsh criticism, especially from some of the county's top political leaders.

At the board of supervisors' weekly meeting on Tuesday, the talk turned to Baca and the FBI probe that resulted in the arrest of more than a dozen sheriff's department employees.

"To have this much coming forth at this time is hugely disconcerting," said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Supervisor Gloria Molina says Baca should not seek another term.

"I don't have confidence in him," said Molina. "I presently do not think as it stands today that he should be re-elected, honestly."

At a news conference on Monday, Baca made clear that he was not stepping down.

"I accept responsibility. I also believe in correcting things and getting proactive. You haven't seen me retire from the job," Baca said.

Bob Olmsted, a retired commander with the sheriff's department and a candidate for sheriff, called the situation "a failure of leadership to the worst degree."

"He failed to jump in and handle the particular problem," said Olmsted.

Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Baca, defended the sheriff.

"He is staying to the task. He doesn't step down; he steps up when there are challenges. The sheriff has said to me numerous times: 'The job's not done yet,'" said Whitmore.

We also reached out to Paul Tanaka, another retired high-ranking sheriff's official who is running for sheriff, but he chose not to comment.

The FBI investigation describes a culture of violence in the downtown jails. It alleges that deputies would go out of their way to use excessive force.

Michael Holguin, an inmate at Men's Central Jail in 2009, says he endured an unprovoked beating at the hands of deputies.

"If I were to beat somebody like that on the street, they'd arrest me for that. But it's OK because they're wearing a badge," said Holguin.

Holguin says one the deputies arrested on Monday was involved in his case.

"Justice just may prevail. If everybody has to answer to the law, why shouldn't they?" he said.

Fourteen of the 18 who were indicted on Monday were still current members of the sheriff's department. But it was revealed Tuesday that they will be relieved of duty without pay pending the outcome of the investigation.


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