Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces his retirement at a news conference at Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau in Monterey Park, Calif., Tuesday.
MONTEREY PARK, Calif. — Embattled Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced his retirement Tuesday amid federal investigations that have targeted abuses in his jails and discrimination against minorities in one of the communities his deputies patrol.
Baca said he would step down at the end of the month and wouldn’t seek re-election because he was concerned about the “negative perception” the upcoming campaign would create concerning the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.
“I didn’t want to have to enter a campaign that would be full of negative, contentious politicking,” said Baca, 71, in an emotional statement outside sheriff’s headquarters.
Baca spent 48 years in the Sheriff’s Department and became the first Hispanic-American to hold the top post. He liked talking about his job, traveling the world and even went on uniformed patrol a few years ago to try to save the department from paying overtime.
He said it was time to step aside and give someone else a chance.
“I don’t see myself as the future, I see myself as part of the past,” he said.
Last month, 18 current and former sheriff’s deputies were indicted for alleged crimes that included beating inmates and jail visitors, falsifying reports, and trying to obstruct an FBI probe of the nation’s largest jail system.
Federal prosecutors said the charges showed that some sheriff’s employees thought they were above the law and exhibited behavior that had become institutionalized.
Baca sidestepped questions Tuesday about whether he was worried that he might be indicted as part of the federal probe but acknowledged more of his employees might face charges.
“I’m not afraid of reality. I’m only afraid of people who don’t tell the truth,” he said.
Baca had weathered other controversies involving his department, but the indictments came as the strongest challenge to his legacy. The retirement announcement came as a surprise less than a month after Baca defiantly said the criminal investigation wouldn’t drive him from office. He said he began thinking about retirement over the past weekend.
“I don’t think anyone expected this,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe said. “We’re all caught a bit off guard.”
Because Baca is not serving out his term the five-member Board of Supervisors will be tasked with choosing an interim sheriff. Baca recommended Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.
Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers said that he plans to run for the office. Baca’s departure was premature but the department’s leadership needs a change, Rogers said. Several others have said they would challenge Baca including two former underlings.
Baca has acknowledged mistakes while strongly defending his department and distancing himself personally from allegations of misconduct.
The sheriff said he made improvements, including creating a database to track inmate complaints. He has also hired a new head of custody and rearranged his command staff.
The American Civil Liberties Union sued the Sheriff’s Department in 2012 saying Baca and his top commanders had condoned violence against inmates. The organization released a report documenting more than 70 cases of misconduct by deputies.MORE IN Wire NewsWASHINGTON — The U.S. economy expanded at a sluggish 1. Full Story
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