Sheriff Leroy Baca is King of Blunders, Law Suits and Controversy … So Why Does the Public Keep Him In Office?

RUSS REPORT CARD - Last week, another controversy rocked the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s (LASD) office. Sheriff Lee Baca announced the arrest of Sergeant Bonnie Bryant III on grand theft charges following a two-week internal investigation. Bryant, a 28-year veteran, is accused of stealing thousands of dollars in drug money.

According to reports, Bryant is being held on $20,000 bond but is still receiving a paycheck. In February 2012, Raymond Orr,  a custody employee, was arrested for allegedly smuggling cocaine into Men's Central Jail to sell it to inmates.

In May 2012, Sergeant Mark Fitzpatrick was sentenced to nine years in prison for sexually assaulting and inappropriately searching women while on duty.

But scores of “bad apples” or rogue cops have been allowed to continue alleged criminal activities under Baca’s command.

Several lawsuits have been filed against Baca and his department by inmates, costing taxpayers countless hundreds of thousands of dollars to defend because of alleged rogue deputies who effectively “take the law into their own hands.”

The ACLU has filed three different lawsuits against the jail system, LASD and Baca that are still pending in the courts. More than seventy witness declarations are cited in these lawsuits. Baca’s own deputies have been successful in court with lawsuits alleging retaliation and harassment, among other charges.

To name just two such cases, in February 2012 a $50,000 settlement was awarded to Deputy James Mee who sued LASD and Baca for retaliation and harassment when he refused to bury pages of Mel Gibson’s arrest report in 2006. In 2010, Sgt. Patrick Gomez was awarded $1 Million by a Federal Jury that found the department liable for retaliation against Gomez.

Allegations of abuses surrounding Baca’s “badge of honor” program that distributed realistic looking badges to favored politicians, campaign donors and celebrities came to light when three officials were arrested on bribery and extortion charges. The US attorney’s office released a picture of an unknown woman sporting two handguns and wearing one of Baca’s “badges.” It took four years of warnings from the US Attorney’s office and others to affect a recall of more than two hundred of these badges handed out by Baca.

Baca was criticized for allowing deep pocket donors and reservists to use unmarked department vehicles. When Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Capt. Phillip Hansen asked for an accounting on the “take home cars,” he was denied any information.

In 2011, accusations surfaced about Baca’s interaction with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR- a known terrorist group. This was the second time in two years a member of Congress had questioned Baca on his involvements with radical Muslims.

Beginning in September 2011, WitnessLA’s Matt Fleischer chronicled the deep seated problems eroding the LASD in a multi-part article while touted “the brutal legacy of the LASD. Lawsuits filed by LASD deputies who had actually been beaten by other “gang” deputies lend credence to these reports.

In December 2011, an LA Times investigation uncovered 1480 wrongful incarcerations within a five year period. Under Baca’s command, little to no verification and oversight was provided to insure accuracy of these arrests. It’s just a guess, but there may be another hundreds of lawsuits allowed to proceed to trial against Baca and his department in coming months by victims who were jailed wrongfully.

While Baca promised to create a Task Force to minimize wrongful jailings, nothing has come from his promise.

Baca’s “selective enforcement” tactics and claims of favoritism were “limelighted” when he released Paris Hilton from jail after just hours in 2007, ignoring a judges ruling that she serve 45 days in jail.

Nichole Richie was released from jail after serving just 82 minutes after a similar arrest that same year. Mel Gibson got a pass in 2006 on a drunk driving arrest.

But these are not the only allegations surrounding around the Sheriff. “Moonbeam” -as he has been dubbed- has been accused of taking gifts- far more than any sheriff in history, for violations of California’s Public Records Act, putting friends on the payroll in highly paid positions, accepting political contributions from employees, low morale among his officers, racism and wasteful spending. This is an incomplete list.

But the public must share the blame. The list is endless of Baca’s foibles and bad habits, yet for four terms voters have reelected him.

Hopefully, the scrutiny surrounding the investigations Baca is currently embroiled in will give voters a different picture of Leroy Baca in 2014 when he comes up again for reelection.

(Katharine Russ is an investigative reporter. She is a regular contributor to CityWatch and to the North Valley Reporter. Katharine Russ can be reached at: ) –cw

Vol 10 Issue 61
Pub: July 31, 2012