Los Angeles CA May 13 2017 Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced to three years in federal prison Friday, two months after a jury found him guilty of obstruction of justice and other charges stemming from an FBI probe into inmate abuse inside the Men’s Central Jail.
Baca sat still and without reaction as U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson handed down the sentence inside a federal courtroom in downtown Los Angeles. His wife sat nearby.
He will serve out his time at a prison either at a federal facility at Terminal Island in San Pedro or in Sheridan, Oregon, officials said.
The former sheriff’s sentence came after a nearly year-long series of events that began last July, when Anderson rejected a plea deal between Baca and prosecutors of a six-month sentence for lying to federal investigators about the probe of inmate abuse in Men’s Central Jail. Anderson told Baca that a six-month sentence trivialized his role in the events that led to deputies covering up abuses, looking the other way and altering records.
He then was ordered to enter a plea and stand trial on three counts: obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and giving false statements to federal investigators looking into corruption and excessive force inside the jails in 2011.
Baca pleaded not guilty to all three counts. But after his attorney, Nathan Hochman, planned to introduce a specialist to talk about Baca’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis, Anderson split the trial in two. In December, Baca stood trial on two counts: obstruction and conspiracy to obstruct. But the jury deadlocked with 11 out of 12 saying he was not guilty and a mistrial was declared.
Prosecutors tried Baca again in March on the original trio of charges. Another jury found him guilty of all three.
Though not part of the trial, Baca’s attorneys had said all along that the former sheriff, who turns 75 later this month, has Alzheimer’s disease, and his cognitive condition is deteriorating.
Hochman wrote in his 55-page recommendation that his client should be sentenced to probation and serve his time at home because of his “seriously deteriorating mental health condition” and “dangers he faces in prison based on his age and former position as LASD Sheriff.” He also needs medications and would not be a threat to society, Hochman added.
“This diagnosis is a sentence of its own,” Baca’s defense attorneys said. “It is a sentence that will leave him a mere shell of his former self and one that will rob him of the memories of his life.”
Baca is the 10th and highest ranking member of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to be convicted of charges related to the inmate abuse scandal.
Prosecutors said Baca, his then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and other high-ranking members of the department learned that the FBI had managed to get a cellphone to inmate-turned-informant Anthony Brown so Brown could report excessive use of force. Prosecutors said a series of actions were then set in motion by the sheriff’s department, including allegedly falsifying Brown’s records and identity, hiding him from FBI agents and, later, threatening an agent with arrest at her home.