The career of Lee Baca

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has been found guilty of obstructing a federal investigation into abuses in county jails and lying to cover up the interference. He served in the Sheriff’s Department for 48 years. Here is a rundown of his career.

Lee Baca joins the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department as deputy trainee and goes to work in the jail.

Baca is promoted to lieutenant.

Sheriff Peter Pitchess appoints Baca as captain overseeing the Norwalk station.

Sheriff Sherman Block promotes Baca to commander.

Baca offers himself as a candidate to succeed LAPD Chief Daryl Gates.

Baca receives doctorate in public administration from USC.

Fails in second bid to become LAPD chief.

Sheriff Sherman Block, outside Sheriff's Department headquarters, talks to reporters and offers to debate Lee Baca. (July 16, 1998)
Sheriff Sherman Block, outside Sheriff's Department headquarters, talks to reporters and offers to debate Lee Baca. (July 16, 1998) (Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times file)

Baca announces he is running for sheriff, challenging his one-time mentor Block.

Block dies just days before the election, but his name remains on the ballot.

Lee Baca is congratulated by his sister Elaine Baca Wagner, center, and supporter, Nadia Nalbandian, left, as he prepares to make his victory speach at the Ritz Calton in Pasadena. (Nov. 3, 1998)
Lee Baca is congratulated by his sister Elaine Baca Wagner, center, and supporter, Nadia Nalbandian, left, as he prepares to make his victory speach at the Ritz Calton in Pasadena. (Nov. 3, 1998) (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Baca is elected sheriff.

Baca laughs with former L.A. County Sheriff Peter Pitchess shortly after the swearing in ceremony in Pasadena.
Baca laughs with former L.A. County Sheriff Peter Pitchess shortly after the swearing in ceremony in Pasadena. (Los Angeles Times)

Lee Baca is sworn in as Los Angeles County sheriff.

At Baca’s urging, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors creates the Office of Independent Review to help oversee department internal investigations.

Sheriff Lee Baca is questioned by L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina about an inmate death at the Men's Central Jail.
Sheriff Lee Baca is questioned by L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina about an inmate death at the Men's Central Jail. (Beatrice de Gea / Los Angeles Times )

Supervisors seek a wide-ranging probe of Baca’s jail operations after five inmate slayings in six months.

Mel Gibson's booking photo from July 2006.
Mel Gibson's booking photo from July 2006. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department)

The Sheriff’s Department’s civilian oversight office launches an investigation into whether authorities gave Mel Gibson preferential treatment when he was arrested July 28, 2006, on suspicion of drunk driving and tried to cover up alleged offensive comments and behavior.

Baca defended the way his department handled the case and said the actor’s behavior after his arrest is not relevant.

There is no cover-up,” Baca said. “Our job is not to [focus] on what he said. It’s to establish his blood-alcohol level when he was driving and proceed with the case. Trying someone on rumor and innuendo is no way to run an investigation, at least one with integrity.”

Paris Hilton's booking photo, taken after her June 2007 arrest on a probation violation.
Paris Hilton's booking photo, taken after her June 2007 arrest on a probation violation. (Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department / European Pressphoto Agency)

Hours after Paris Hilton left jail on June 26, 2007, having served 23 days, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca appears before county supervisors to defend his widely criticized attempt to release her earlier.

Baca had sent her home after five days of her 45-day sentence, with orders to wear an electronic monitor. But Judge Michael T. Sauer returned her to jail the next day to serve out her term for violating probation on alcohol-related reckless driving charges.

Baca said the decision to release Hilton early was not favoritism but was based on her undisclosed medical condition, which he said could not be treated in jail.

The Times reports instances of the Sheriff’s Department intervening in cases involving Baca political donors.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca personally launched a criminal investigation in another police agency’s jurisdiction after a request from Guess Inc. co-founder Georges Marciano, who later contributed $100,000 to two sheriff’s charities, according to civil court testimony, law enforcement records and interviews.

Samira Hussein of Gaithersburg, Md., listens as Baca testifies during a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on March 10, 2011, in Washington, D.C.  Baca defended his work with Muslim groups before Congress and elsewhere.
Samira Hussein of Gaithersburg, Md., listens as Baca testifies during a hearing before the House Homeland Security Committee on March 10, 2011, in Washington, D.C. Baca defended his work with Muslim groups before Congress and elsewhere. (Alex Wong / Getty Images)

The L.A. County sheriff, a Republican with a strong reputation as a crime fighter, believes in building trust within minority communities. He reads the Koran and shuns hard-line tactics.

FBI investigation into allegations of deputy abuse in L.A. County jails becomes public.

The Times reveals that the FBI had an informant inside the jails.

Baca admits he was out of touch with problems in the jails and pledges reforms.

A panel on jail abuse blasts Baca, citing “a failure of leadership,” and he agrees to a long list of reforms.

A federal grand jury probes whether the Sheriff’s Department hindered the FBI inquiry into abuse by jailers.

Baca announces that homicides in his jurisdiction are at the lowest level since 1970.

Paul Tanaka, seen in April 2013 when he was  running for L.A. County sheriff.
Paul Tanaka, seen in April 2013 when he was running for L.A. County sheriff. (Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Baca’s No. 2, Paul Tanaka, quits after becoming the focus of criticism amid a federal probe of abuse of inmates. It is later revealed that Baca asked him to retire.

U.S. Justice Department concludes that deputies harassed and intimidated blacks, Latinos and others in the Antelope Valley with widespread unlawful detentions and searches.

A Times investigation finds that the Sheriff’s Department hired dozens of officers even though background investigators found they had histories of serious misconduct.

Federal authorities charge 18 current and former deputies with beatings of jail inmates and visitors, trying to intimidate an FBI agent and other crimes.

A Times investigation shows Baca maintained a special hiring program that granted preferential treatment to the friends and relatives of department officials, including some candidates who were given jobs despite having troubled histories. Baca’s nephew was among those hired in the “Friends of the Sheriff” program even though sheriff’s investigators noted that he had allegedly been involved in theft and a fight with San Diego police and had been arrested on suspicion of drunk driving and burglary.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces that he will not seek a fifth term and will retire at the end of the month.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces that he will not seek a fifth term and will retire at the end of the month. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Baca announces his retirement.

John L. Scott takes the oath of office, administered by Sachi Hamai, executive officer of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Alice Scott, center, watches as her husband is sworn in as Los Angeles County sheriff.
John L. Scott takes the oath of office, administered by Sachi Hamai, executive officer of the L.A. County Board of Supervisors. Alice Scott, center, watches as her husband is sworn in as Los Angeles County sheriff. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

John L. Scott, an undersheriff in Orange County, is sworn in as interim Los Angeles County sheriff on Lee Baca’s final day on the job.

In the plea agreement filed in federal court, Baca admits to lying to FBI agents and federal prosecutors investigating the beatings of inmates and visitors at the nation’s largest jail system.

In a court filing, Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox confirms rumors about Baca’s health, writing that an
expert on Alzheimer’s had evaluated the former sheriff for the government and verified the diagnosis that Baca is in the early stages of the disease.

A federal judge throws out a plea agreement that would have given Baca a maximum of six months in prison, saying the sentence was too lenient considering Baca’s role in obstructing an FBI investigation into the county jails.

Baca withdraws his guilty plea to a charge of lying during an FBI investigation into the county’s jails, opting instead to take his chances at a high-stakes trial.

Days after withdrawing a guilty plea to the charge of lying during an FBI investigation into widespread abuses at the county jails, Baca is indicted on more serious charges that could bring up to 20 years in prison.

Baca faces new charges of conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements.

At an arraignment in a downtown federal courtroom, Baca enters his plea of not guilty before U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson and tells the judge he suffers from periods of “cloudiness in my brain” brought on by Alzheimer’s disease.

Jury selection begins in the federal criminal trial of Baca, who faces obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges that could send him to prison for several years.

Baca’s criminal trial opens.

The prosecution rests its case.

The federal corruption case against Baca ends in a mistrial.

Baca’s retrial on obstruction of justice charges opens.

Lee Baca, center, his wife Carol, and his attorney Nathan Hochman, leave the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse.
Lee Baca, center, his wife Carol, and his attorney Nathan Hochman, leave the Los Angeles Federal Courthouse. (Damian Dovarganes/AP Photo)

Baca is found guilty of obstructing a federal investigation into abuses in county jails and lying to cover up the interference.

Sources: Times reporting

Credits: Richard Winton, Robert Faturechi, Jack Leonard, Matt Ballinger, Maloy Moore, TimelineSetter