Rafu Wire and Staff Reports
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, whose department has been under fire over allegations of mistreatment of jail inmates and the recent indictment of current and former deputies on various corruption charges, announced Tuesday he will retire at the end of the month.
“I’ve been proud and honored to serve the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the people of this greatest of counties, Los Angeles County, for the past 48 years,” Baca said, his voice occasionally cracking with emotion. “I can’t even imagine anyone working 48 years at anything, but I’ve done that, which has made this decision in my life probably the most difficult.”
Baca, 71, said he wanted to “go out on my terms” and is dropping plans to seek election to a fifth term.
“The reasons for doing so are so many,” he said. “Some are most personal and private, but the prevailing one is the negative perception this upcoming campaign has brought to the exemplary service provided by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department.”
Baca was first elected in 1998 and was facing a tough re-election campaign this year, given the scandals that have rocked the department and questions that arose about the sheriff’s level of involvement or knowledge of alleged wrongdoing by deputies.
Baca, who had given no previous indication of his intention to step down, was facing at least four declared challengers, including former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former Cmdr. Bob Olmsted. The primary will be held on June 3, and the runoff, if needed, on Nov. 4.
Tanaka, who was named in a county commission report blasting management of the jail system, resigned as Baca’s second-in-command last year.
“Sheriff Baca and I have had our differences regarding the leadership and management of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” Tanaka said in a statement. “He’s voiced his opinions publicly, as have I. I’ll talk about that during my campaign, but I want to put politics aside for today and applaud him for his dedication to public service.
“This is a tough job and I want to thank Sheriff Baca for his decades of public service to Los Angeles County.”
Tanaka has been critical of his former boss, issuing statements on Dec. 11 after the federal government arrested 18 current and former members of the department in a jail abuse and corruption scandal, and on Dec. 19 in response to a report that Baca maintained a special hiring program that granted preferential treatment to friends and relatives of department officials.
In November, when Bishop Edward Turner, a top civilian aide to Baca, was relieved of duty after officials learned he owned a South Los Angeles property that houses a medical marijuana shop, Tanaka spokesman Reed Galen said, “This is the latest example in a near-daily string of controversies within the L.A. Sheriff’s Department that Sheriff Baca has claimed to be unaware of. What did he know, and when did he know it, and how could you tell, anyway? … Baca’s ignorance card only goes so far.”
At Tuesday’s press conference, Baca said he was recommending that the Board of Supervisors appoint Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald to oversee the department.
Although he said he was not endorsing anyone as a replacement, Baca said he hoped his withdrawal from the race would open the door for two of his assistants to run for the post — Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers and Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold. He called them “highly qualified to run for this position and have the voters make their decision.”