A federal grand jury on Friday indicted former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on new charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. This was expected after Baca withdrew his agreement to plead guilty to a lesser charge of lying to federal officials. The withdrawal left Baca open to whatever new charges that prosecutors could get the grand jury to go for, and now he knows. Sheriff watcher Celeste Fremon at Witness LA says if Baca is convicted at a trial on all of the charges, he could face as much as 20 years in a federal prison.
But that kind of lengthy a term is considered unlikely, especially since Baca’s second in command, Paul Tanaka, received a sentenced of five years—although he was, in the eyes of many, the person responsible for the day-to-day control of the operation that has thus far resulted in eight obstruction of justice convictions, with the sentencing of a ninth, former LASD Captain Tom Carey—who took a plea deal—still to come.
The former sheriff’s defense is expected to make Baca’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease a significant issue in the trial. His attorneys, Michael Zweiback and a new member of the team, Nathan Hochman, have already suggested that, in the summer of 2011—the period when the actions took place that make up the heart of the obstruction charges—the former sheriff “delegated more than he should have,” due to his condition. In other words, diminished capacity.
On the government’s side, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui, wrote that Baca was “well aware of the accusations of rampant abuse,” in the jails, particularly in Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility. There were the ever-worsening ACLU reports. Then there were things like the “allegations about LASD deputies who worked on the 300 floor of MCJ” and called themselves “the 3000 boys,” who “exhibited gang-like and violent behavior, who “used excessive force on inmates, “and “falsified reports to cover up wrongdoing.”
In the indictment, the prosecutors also hinted that they have witnesses waiting in the wings who will testify that they told Baca about brutality in the jails, and that he still made no effort to curb the problem.