Leroy “Lee” Baca is currently being investigated by Internal Affairs and in the midst of resigning his post. Baca, the head of the LA County Sheriff’s Department, which itself is no stranger to controversy, began his personal list of controversies less than a year after taking office in the late 90s. Baca created the “special reserves program”, which according to the LA Times was intended to give celebrities, executives, athletes, and other “notable people” special treatment. Within a month of Baca swearing in his first celebrity reserve deputy, one of his recruits, Scott Zacky was relieved of duty for brandishing a firearm outside a home. The program was soon suspended. Six months later, another “special reserve” deputy was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of international money laundering. Only 20 wealthy individuals participated in the program and no Hollywood celebrities joined.
The same year the program was discontinued, Sheriff Baca and then-LA District Attorney Steve Cooley created a policy to keep inmates in prison longer. The early release policy intended to ease overcrowding, prevent over-sentencing, and reward rehabilitation was changed to require inmates to serve 25% of their sentence before becoming eligible for “early release”. Redondo Beach City Attorney Michael Webb seemed to think this would force people to take plea deals, “Defendants will no longer be able to routinely turn down offers that involve alternative sentences such as Cal Trans or other forms of community service.”
Also in 2006, Mel Gibson was famously arrested for drunk driving. The LA Sheriff’s Department initially told reporters that Gibson was taken into custody without incident or special treatment. It was subsequently leaked to the media that Gibson made several controversial comments. It also was revealed that prior to his arrest, Gibson filmed a PSA for Baca dressed as a sheriff. Baca denied trying to cover up Gibson’s behavior when confronted by the LA Times about celebrity favoritism.
A year later, Paris Hilton was taken into custody to serve a 45-day prison sentence. The sentence was reduced to 23 days for good behavior. Despite early release before 25% of the sentence is completed being against Baca’s personal policy, but common in California due to severe overcrowding, Hilton was controversially released after only 79 hours (or a little more than three days) and her sentence was reduced again to 40 days house arrest. The decision to change her sentence was made by Baca without consulting the judge or the prosecutor. Reigniting the accusations of celebrity favoritism. Further complicating matters, the judge specifically noted in his ruling that Hilton would not be allowed to serve house arrest instead of jail time. The situation led the city attorney to file a petition suggesting that Baca should be held in contempt of court. The judge did not pursue any legal actions. Baca reversed his decision and Hilton returned to jail. Baca later said that he made the decision to release Hilton because she had a psychological break that was life threatening and left her incoherent. Baca claimed in a hearing with the LA County Supervisors, that he did contact the judge in order to get the information on Hilton’s doctors to obtain her medications so they could be administered by the jail, but the judge allegedly responded, “She’s faking,” and hung up.
In 2010, he was elected for the fourth time to be sheriff, but soon, more controversies followed. Most shockingly, the American Civil Liberties Union has amassed an extensive report of unprecedented levels of inmate abuse,
“the long-standing and pervasive culture of deputy hyper-violence in Los Angeles County jails—a culture apparently condoned at the highest levels -cries out for swift and thorough investigation and intervention…”
The abuse includes the systematic rapes of inmates by guards.
Baca’s decision to retire comes just a few weeks after Andre Birotte Jr., the U.S. Attorney for California’s Central District, announced charges against 18 current and former deputies assigned to the Los Angeles County jails in connection with “a wide scope of illegal conduct” including unjustified assaults on inmates and obstructing a federal investigation. The charges of obstructing a federal investigation stem from allegations that the deputies attempted to hide an FBI informant. The informant was being housed in the Men’s Central Jail and had been assisting the FBI with their investigation.
When the deputies learned of this, they allegedly altered records to make it look like the informant had been released. Then they rebooked him under a pseudo-name and told him to stop talking to the FBI and the U.S. Marshals. Additionally, two of the sergeants charged allegedly confronted an FBI agent at her home in order to intimidate her into divulging details about the investigation.
Separately, the U.S. Justice Department found that deputies patrolling the Antelope Valley repeatedly harassed and intimidated minorities using racial profiling and excessive force tactics. Not to mention, an LA Times report last month discovered that Baca hired dozens of officers even though they had serious misconduct on their records on and off the job.
During his four terms in office, Baca was able to win praise for programs that benefited the homeless and increased inmate education opportunities. He also joined then LAPD Chief William Bratton and former District Attorney Steve Cooley, to create a new state of the art crime lab. Ironically, Baca created the Office of Independent Review, headed by former federal prosecutor Michael Gennaco, to oversee the department’s internal affairs.
Other Baca controversies include a slew of murders in the County Jail and a contagious fire in Compton when deputies fired 120 shots during a car chase in a residential neighborhood.