Sheriff Lee Baca acknowledges deputy hiring issues


Gloria Molina was one of several county supervisors who expressed concern Tuesday over revelations that as many as 80 people who joined the department in 2010 never should have been hired. Some of the new hires included deputies who had been fired from other agencies.

"How did you make 80 mistakes? And if you made 80, are there 180 or 380 or more?" said Molina.

Four years ago, the county did away with its Office of Public Safety, a small police agency that patrolled parks and county buildings. Almost 300 of the agency's employees went to work for the sheriff's department, but Sheriff Lee Baca on Tuesday acknowledged that hiring standards were violated. In a letter to the Board of Supervisors, Baca said the hiring decisions were delegated to an undersheriff who has since retired.

When asked about the hires earlier this month, Baca said, "I've had a lot of problems to deal with. There's no perfect law enforcement agency in America, or the world for that matter. We're talking about human beings. We're talking about human beings who have some accusations in their past. Accusations in themselves are not evidence. Whether or not those accusations were true or false are really a part of this. At the same time, we can't afford to take even an accusation lightly. I take everything seriously and we intend to get to the bottom of this."

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said the issue is about preventing this from happening again.

"How do we know it's not happening as we speak?" said Yaroslavsky.

But according to records obtained by Eyewitness News, the department's disciplinary issues aren't limited to the hires that were made in 2010.

According to a departmental report, dozens of deputies have been disciplined over the past year, including two who were hit with 20-day suspensions -- one for picking up a known prostitute and making false statements and another for driving under the influence and crashing into a stationary object.

Several were hit with reductions in rank, including a sergeant, who failed to properly investigate use of force and then failed to notify internal affairs, and a lieutenant, who failed to make truthful statements in an administrative investigation.

Several deputies have been fired, including one who was sending text messages on behalf of an inmate, another who took inappropriate pictures of a court patron with a cellphone, and a sergeant and deputy who exchanged text messages with photos of inmates.

"This is a big organization and people are going to fall through the cracks, but how do we minimize that, if not eliminate that from happening?" said Yaroslavsky.

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