Santa Monica Observer - Community, Diversity, Sustainability and other Overused Words

Baca's Potential Sentence Is a Slap On the Wrist but Allows Us to Move On

U.S. Attorney should review sentencing handed out to deputies

 

Although some may claim justice was achieved when former Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded guilty in February to lying to FBI agents and federal prosecutors investigating inmate abuse at the Men's Central Jail, in reality, he received a slap on the wrist. In fact, former disgraced Sheriff Baca may serve no time at all when he is formally sentenced by U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson on May 16.

We don't celebrate the day that the person the voters elected to lead our department is convicted of a federal crime. If the plea deal stands, his conviction will stain this department's reputation

and tarnish how the public views all deputies. However, that conviction is a bitter lesson department leadership must absorb and overcome.

No matter how much time Sheriff Baca serves, he will be remembered forever by this conviction and by the misconduct that occurred under his leadership and direction. The public now knows the character of the person who served as their elected sheriff for 15 years, and ALADS members can take solace in knowing Baca and former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka are gone.

However, on another level, the plea bargain and potential sentence are a bitter disappointment. Under terms of the plea deal, Baca faces a maximum of six months behind bars or he could be sentenced to probation. Even if he is sentenced to the maximum six months, that pales in comparison to the time that lower-level personnel are serving for their roles in the scandal that arose in the Baca/Tanaka era. Just this week, U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Reid O'Connell sentenced two deputies to 18 months in federal prison for falsifying reports and called the disparity between the sentence prosecutors were seeking for the two deputies and the deal that Baca has received as "troubling."

It's unconscionable that the person who created, perpetuated, and directed the diseased culture which encouraged the abuses should get off with a relative slap on the wrist while the people who either followed or thought they were following Baca's direct orders and policy will languish for years in prison. We don't excuse the behavior of those persons, but only contrast the punishment they received with the potential punishment the co-mastermind of the criminal conduct will receive. ALADS hopes federal prosecutors will revisit all sentencing that was handed out to deputies who were following the directions given to them by their leadership in the Sheriff's Department.

Let's not forget that under the plea deal, Baca was not required to testify in the trial of Paul Tanaka, who was convicted of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. Why federal prosecutors let pass the opportunity to have Baca detail under oath the corrupt environment he directed, and to ensure that the world knows exactly what he and his second in command did, is bewildering to us.

As I said in April, the Baca/Tanaka era created leadership failures that have left the Sheriff's Department and ALADS members not only with tangible scars from rising assaults on deputies and lawlessness in our jails, but also with emotional scars from the loss of morale as deputies struggle to do an increasingly dangerous job hampered by conditions they didn't create. Sadly, rank-and-file will be dealing with the fallout of the disastrous Baca regime long after his disgraceful conduct fades from the headlines.

We are determined by our daily actions on the job, to show the public that the crimes Lee Baca committed only reflect on him, his leadership team, and those who chose to follow his orders. We are not going to let the sins of Lee Baca define our deputies, as that would not be an accurate representation of the honesty, hard work and integrity of ALADS members or their co-workers who honorably serve the residents of Los Angeles County.

Hopefully, a prison door will slam shut very soon on Lee Baca. He should not get off with a relative slap on the wrist while the people who either followed or thought they were following Baca/Tanaka's direct orders and policy will languish for years in prison. While we wait to hear the decision of the court on Monday, rank-and-file deputies will use his guilty plea to criminal misconduct to slam the door shut on an ugly chapter in our history and move forward. We are confident the department's current leadership will ensure the failures of their predecessor will not be allowed to define how we go forward from here.

George Hofstetter is President of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs. ALADS is the collective bargaining agent and represents more than 8,200 deputy sheriffs and district attorney investigators working in Los Angeles County. George can be contacted at [email protected]

 

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