Baca in 2011
Leroy David Baca
May 27, 1942
|Spouse(s)||Judith Howell (divorced), Carol Chiang (m.1999)|
|Department||Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department|
|Rank||Sworn in as a deputy - 1965|
Sergeant - 1970
Lieutenant - 1975
Captain - 1981
Commander - 1987
Chief Deputy - 1992
Sheriff - 1998
Baca was elected Los Angeles County's 30th sheriff against his mentor Sherman Block, who had died in office days prior to the election but remained on the ballot. He was sworn in on December 7, 1998.
He was re-elected to a fourth term in 2010. He was criticized for proposing a half-percent sales tax increase in 2004 to hire more deputy sheriffs, placing friends on the payroll, taking of gifts, and for releasing inmates from the Los Angeles County Jail.
On May 12, 2017, Baca was sentenced to three years in federal prison for his role in a scheme to obstruct an FBI investigation of abuses in county jails. Baca reported to prison and began his sentence on February 5, 2020.
On May 27, 1942, Baca was born in East Los Angeles, California. Baca's mother was a seamstress born in Michoacán and then brought to the U.S. when she was a year old. Baca lived with his grandparents Clara and Thomas Baca. Thomas Baca came from Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Baca graduated from East Los Angeles College. In 1971, Baca received a bachelor's degree from California State University, Los Angeles. In 1974, Baca earned a Masters of Public Administration degree from USC. In 1993, Baca received a Doctorate of Public Administration degree from USC School of Policy, Planning, and Development.
On August 23, 1965, Baca was sworn in as a deputy sheriff trainee of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department. Baca began his career in street patrol, custody, and recruitment, and was a staff instructor at the Sheriff's Academy. In 1981, Baca became captain of the Norwalk, California, sheriff station. On January 23, 1992, Sheriff Sherman Block promoted Baca to the rank of chief deputy. On December 7, 1998, Baca was sworn in as Los Angeles County Sheriff.
He opposed the California ban on shark finning and is a Republican who opposed California Proposition 8. Baca supported Secure Communities, a program by the Department of Homeland Security in which the federal government collaborates with local law enforcement to detain and deport undocumented immigrants.
Early release of county jail inmates
On November 9, 2006, Baca and Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley issued a press release regarding their joint policy on early release, which requires all jail inmates to serve at least 25% of their sentence before becoming eligible for early release. In the press release, Baca said, "I also want to thank District Attorney Steve Cooley for his most valuable input on this matter. This new policy will move us forward to where one day all inmates will serve the entire time required."
Also in the press release, Cooley said, "I commend Sheriff Baca for implementing this new policy". "This will assure that sentences imposed by the court will be carried out in a predictable and even-handed manner. The policy was also applauded by then Redondo Beach City Attorney Michael W. Webb, who said, "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."
Special reserves program
In 1999, Baca established a special reserves program. According to The Los Angeles Times, the program was designed to cater to celebrities, executives, star athletes, and other "notable persons". Some members of the Sheriff's Department said they were worried that the program would be abused, particularly by those seeking a backdoor way of securing a concealed weapons permit in Los Angeles County.
Within a month of Baca swearing in his first new celebrity reserve deputies, one of his recruits, Scott Zacky, had been suspended and relieved of duty for brandishing a firearm in a confrontation outside his Bel-Air home. The program would eventually be suspended. Less than six months later, another member of the special reserves program was indicted by a federal grand jury on charges of international money laundering. No well-known celebrities joined the program, and fewer than 20 little-known wealthy individuals actually participated. The program was suspended in November 2006.
After the July 28, 2006, arrest of Mel Gibson for drunk driving, the Los Angeles Sheriff Department initially told the press that Mel Gibson was arrested without incident or special treatment. Subsequent to this, the original arrest report was leaked to the media, which included controversial statements by Gibson. Prior to his arrest, Gibson filmed a PSA for Baca's relief committee dressed in a sheriff's uniform. Upon questioning by The Los Angeles Times about charges of celebrity favoritism, Baca denied that his department tried to cover up Gibson's behavior. At the time, The Times reported that a civilian oversight committee had decided to investigate whether Gibson had received favorable treatment because of his celebrity status or his longtime friendship with Baca.
On June 3, 2007, celebrity Paris Hilton surrendered herself to the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department to serve a 45-day sentence as ordered by Superior Court Judge Michael T. Sauer. The 45 day sentence could be reduced to as few as 23 days for good behavior. She was placed in the Lynwood facility and separated from the general population for her safety.
Around 2 a.m. on June 7, 2007, Baca's department released Hilton after serving only 79 hours of her sentence. She was allowed to return home, and her sentence was converted to 40 days of house arrest amid rumors of a medical condition, which later emerged to be psychological.
The decision to convert her sentence was made by Baca without the consultation of either the presiding judge or the prosecuting city attorney. Further complicating the matter is the initial ruling in which the judge specifically said Hilton would not be allowed to use house arrest in lieu of jail. However, Superior Court spokesman Allan Parachini did acknowledge this is normally the purview of the sheriff, saying, "Early release decisions are the province of the sheriff every day due to jail overcrowding, but not always".
The situation led the city attorney to file a petition suggesting that Baca should be held in contempt of court for his actions. Though the judge chose not to pursue any action against Baca, he did reverse the decision and returned Hilton to jail while reaffirming the original sentence length. The offer of Hilton's attorney, Richard Hutton, to brief the judge in private chambers on her condition was declined. No written evidence was produced during that court session.
Baca later described Hilton's medical condition as a deteriorating, life-threatening condition that left her speaking incoherently. Also, in testimony to L.A. County Supervisors, Baca stated that the department had called the judge prior to Hilton's release to seek the judge's assistance in obtaining from Hilton's doctors what medications she was taking, so that County Jail doctors could administer the proper medications without dangerous side-effects to calm Hilton who had medical readings of great concern by jail physicians.
Baca stated the judge tersely responded, "She's faking", and the judge abruptly hung up. This, according to Baca, left him little choice but to release Hilton with an ankle bracelet, considering she was a nonviolent offender and that her jail sentence for her infraction is unusual and excessive in L.A. County (usually "community service" sentence picking up trash along L.A. freeways) with his jails beyond capacity.
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Baca is known for working with the Council on American–Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties advocacy organization. He has been praised and also drawn criticism for his actions in relation to the organization.
Baca is alleged to have taken a cash bribe from Lev Dermen, a suspected member of an Armenian organized crime group.
Conviction for lying to FBI about inmate abuse
The ACLU has compiled an extensive report documenting the unprecedented levels of prisoner abuse and concluding "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 by the federal government." The abuse includes rape of inmates by deputy sheriffs. In early 2012, the ACLU filed suit to prevent Baca from continuing in his position.
|Former L.A. Sheriff's Cmdr. Interviewed About Baca's Failed Leadership Concerning Inmate Abuse Scandal, KTLA5, July 18, 2016|
On February 10, 2016, Baca pled guilty to a single count of lying during a federal investigation into civil rights violations at the county jail. The investigation into brutality and corruption by sheriff's deputies already resulted in convictions and guilty pleas by a number of lower-ranking officers, including a retired sheriff's captain. Baca pleaded guilty to "lying twice about his involvement in hiding a jail inmate from FBI investigators" and to knowing that his subordinates had threatened an FBI special agent investigating Baca's department.
Shortly after Lee Baca pleaded guilty to obstruction of justice, the attorney general decided to reopen and investigate another inmate abuse case involving Mitrice Richardson, a young black woman who was released in middle of the night without any means of returning home safely, who was found months later deceased not far from Malibu Sheriff station. On April 6, 2016, his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, was convicted on conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges by a federal jury related to the same prison abuses.
Below is a summary of the Lee Baca case from the U.S. Attorney's office:
During the course of the investigation that was being conducted by the FBI, the U.S. Attorney's Office and a federal grand jury, a sheriff's deputy assigned to the Men's Central Jail accepted a bribe to smuggle a cellphone into the facility. The phone was delivered to an inmate who was working as an FBI informant. Jail officials later discovered the phone, linked it to the FBI and determined that the inmate was an informant. This led to a monthlong scheme to obstruct the investigation, which included members of the conspiracy concealing the informant from the FBI, the United States Marshals Service and the grand jury. Members of the conspiracy also engaged in witness tampering and harassing the FBI agent.— U.S. Attorney's office
On June 20, 2016, Baca's diagnosis of Alzheimer's was made available publicly in a court filing that was released by the U.S. attorney's office. This diagnosis could play into the case and cause sympathy if he ends up before a jury. In July, a plea deal for ex-Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was rejected in the case of false statements in connection with a federal investigation into county jails. The judge concluded that a sentence of no more than six months was too lenient.
On August 1, Baca withdrew his guilty plea. Baca was indicted August 5 on charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, and making false statements. On December 22, 2016, a mistrial was declared in Baca's case. The jury became "hopelessly deadlocked" with 11-1 in favor of acquittal.
On May 12, 2017, former sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced to three years in federal prison for his role in a scheme to obstruct an FBI investigation of abuses in county jails; he was convicted by a federal jury following a retrial on March 15, 2017. He was due to report to jail on July 25, 2017, to begin carrying out his three-year sentence, but a stay was granted the day prior pending an appeal. Baca lost his second bid for an appeal on August 23, 2017. Baca will remain free on appeal while his lawyers appeal the recent decision ordering him to report to prison.
In April 2019, a panel of judges from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Baca's conviction and denied his requests for another hearing. On January 13, 2020, the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear his appeal.  On February 5, Baca begin serving a three-year prison sentence at Federal Correctional Institution, La Tuna, Texas.
Baca and his ex-wife, Judith Howell, have two adult children. One son is David Baca, a sergeant with the Murrieta Police Department in Murrieta, California. Baca is a longtime resident of San Marino, California, and both of his children attended San Marino High School.
In 1999, Baca married Carol Chiang. Carol Chiang came to the U.S. from Taiwan in 1979. Baca and his wife were active in various community organizations, including the Los Angeles Chinese American Museum. They were given the Historymakers Award in 2004 for visionary actions. Baca was honored by the Southern California Public Affairs Council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 2013 for his inclusive service to the Los Angeles community. Baca's first wife and children are Latter-day Saints.
- Death of Mitrice Richardson, former inmate at Lost Hills Sheriff station
- Paul Tanaka, Baca's undersheriff, also convicted in relation to prison abuses
- Baca family of New Mexico
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- Sheriff, D.A. Announce New Jail Early Release Policy Archived June 14, 2007, at the Wayback Machine
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- "ACLU | Victim of rape by deputy in LA Jails". ACLU of Southern California via YouTube. Jan 18, 2012.
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- "Former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca is denied new appeal and is likely headed to prison". Los Angeles Times. 2019-04-19. Retrieved 2020-02-06.
- Ex-L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca Begins Serving 3-Year Sentence at Texas Prison - KTLA (02/05/2020)
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- "Lee Baca Facing Six-Month Prison Term: What Happened to the Idealistic Sheriff from East LA?". Tim Rutten. 2016-02-11. Retrieved 2018-07-06.
- Official biography
- Official announcement of John Scott's appointment to fill the remainder of Baca's term
| Los Angeles County Sheriff
1998 - 2014