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Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces his unexpected retirement on January 7, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Baca has decided to leave the beleaguered sheriff's department at the end of January rather than fight for a fifth term. He insisted that his sudden decision to retire was not prompted by the possibility of federal charges against him. Eighteen current and former deputies were recently indicted on a variety of charges, including mistreating jail inmates.
Embattled Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced his plans to retire at the end of the month at a press conference Tuesday morning. Baca made a statement at the Sheriff's Headquarters Building.
The decision comes amid a growing scandal over inmate abuse at the jails that saw numerous deputies charged with crimes. Some of those deputies are also accused of attempting to obstruct an FBI investigation into the Sheriff’s Department.
"I am not going to seek reelection for a fifth term as sheriff, and I will retire at the end of this month," Baca said. "The reasons for doing so are so many. Some are most personal and private, but the prevailing one is the negative perception this upcoming campaign has brought to the exemplary service provided to the men and women of the Sheriff's Department."
Hear his full statement here, and see a timeline of his career as L.A. Sheriff
We'll be updating the story and bringing you reactions to the news throughout the day. Hit refresh to see the latest.
- 4:15 p.m.: Sheriff's deputies union calls for 'stability', 'normalcy'
- 3:15 p.m.: LAPD deputy chief considers run
- 1:05 p.m. LA County Supervisor Molina says Baca resignation is 'unfortunate'
- 12:18 p.m. Supervisor Yaroslavsky: Not surprised by Baca's announcement, had spoken with him about it for months
- 11:46 a.m. Assistant Sheriff Hellmold responds to potential sheriff run
- 11:41 a.m. Board of Supervisors gets 90 days to fill position once Baca leaves
- 11:28 a.m. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, Councilman/former LAPD chief Parks respond to Baca retirement
- 11:22 a.m. LA City Councilman Joe Buscaino on Baca's retirement
- 8:36 a.m. The race to replace Baca
- 6:57 a.m. Baca leaves office early among scandals
Update 3:15 p.m.: LAPD deputy chief considering run for sheriff
LAPD Deputy Chief Terry Hara is the latest to announce he's considering a run for the sheriff's position, now that Baca has announced he won't seek another term. In a statement, Hara said:
"With the announcement of Sheriff Baca resigning, it opens the door for new leadership for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. With that opportunity, I'm considering running for Sheriff to bring best practices and the public safety service that the Sheriff's Department should be and can be -- but it will only occur with the right leadership in place."
Hara was the first Asian American to be appointed LAPD deputy chief in 2008. A 33-year veteran of the force, he's worked as an undercover narcotics officer and as a motorcycle officer before he was appointed by former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton.
L.A. County Supervisor Gloria Molina said Sheriff Baca's announcement was "very surprising."
"Certainly it caught me off-guard. I was sort of shocked and surprised. He has certainly expressed to us that he feels he is running the department in the best possible way," Molina said.
Molina said that Baca's resignation was "unfortunate" because "he has a lot of capabilities."
"He has served the county for almost 50 years, not only as a deputy sheriff but in various leadership roles within the department. And very frankly, I think this job has gotten to the point where it became so overwhelming for him, and his style of leadership," Molina said.
However, Molina said that Baca's resignation provides an opportunity.
"I have been very concerned with the kind of issues that [are] brought up, not only in lawsuits, but certainly in the mismanagement of our jail population and various other items as well, particularly the mentally ill," Molina said. “Very frankly in this instance, we had so many mistakes that were made, so many errors in the past, that the reality is we had to go back and review what went wrong in order to fix the future and find out what were the problems in order to make sure we were putting correct actions in place.”
Molina said she wants Baca's replacement to be a leader who's going to take ownership of the Department — and follow the policies of the Board of Supervisors.
— Rina Palta
L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said he wasn't surprised at Baca announcing his retirement.
“I’ve been talking to him for a long time about this," Yaroslavsky said, adding that he'd spoken with Baca about it several times in recent months. "Lee Baca is not just a colleague of mine in county government. He’s not just a colleague in politics, he’s also a friend, and he has been a friend to me for the better part of the last decade and a half.”
“I could see he was hurting and we talked it through," Yaroslavsky added. “Leaving himself aside, it was doing terrible damage to the department — to the reputation of the department— and I think that’s true.”
Yaroslavsky said he thought the sheriff made the right decision for himself, the Department and the county.
"This was becoming an untenable political situation for him and he came to the conclusion that as long as he remained in office — holding the office of sheriff, whether as a candidate or not — he would continue to be an issue in the campaign, and that would reflect on the department, and that would reflect on the ability of the new sheriff — whoever he or she may be — to do the job," Yaroslavsky said.
Yaroslavsky said it was tough, but the right decision.
“I think it was a very courageous decision," Yaroslavsky said.
Yaroslavsky praised Baca's choice for interim sheriff, Terri McDonald.
"I think the world of Terri McDonald," Yaroslavsky said. "I don’t know her interest in doing the interim job; I don’t know whether she has — I doubt it, but I’d like to hear from her — whether she has an interest in the permanent job, because I think whoever we appoint as an interim should not be a candidate for the permanent."
Yaroslavsky ran down what he saw as her strengths.
"Terri McDonald is clear-headed, clear-thinking, clear-spoken, evidence-based — everything that I admire in a public servant," Yaroslavsky said. "She has been a breath of fresh air in the Sheriff’s Department since she got here."
— Rina Palta
Sheriff Baca mentioned Assistant Sheriff Hellmold as a "highly qualified" potential replacement, along with Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers.
"I have not made a decision," Hellmold said. "I was pretty surprised when the sheriff mentioned that.”
Hellmold said that it's a possibility.
“It would come into consideration, but to me family is first, and I’ve seen a lot of the negative scrutiny that has come with the campaign, so I can’t make my focus politics. My focus is just thinking about running the Department and what option may come available," Hellmold said.
Hellmold said he's already got a focus.
“My focus is the day-to-day crime fighting," Hellmold said. “We’re talking historic lows in violent crime for the last several years.”
L.A. County CEO spokesman David Sommers said that the Board of Supervisors has 90 days from the day Baca's position is officially vacant to fill it with an interim sheriff to fill out the remainder of the term.
Sommers said he doubts it will take that long and that conversations were happening Tuesday as to what to do.
This is "uncharted territory," Sommers said. As for filling the post by the time it becomes vacant, "That'll be the goal," he added.
— Rina Palta
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas told KPCC he was “very surprised” to hear the news of Baca's retirement. "My impression was that he was gearing up for re-election and I’m quite surprised to see that he is making a different decision."
Ridley-Thomas offered his thoughts on what's needed in Baca's replacement.
"You need an oversight commission for the purposes of transparency, accountability — more eyes and ears," Ridley-Thomas said. "Law enforcement should never be left to police itself; it’s a recipe for the kind of problems we are currently experiencing.”
L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks issued a statement on Baca's retirement. Parks was LAPD chief from 1997 until 2002.
"Sheriff Baca has been a remarkable public servant for almost 50 years," Parks said in his statement. "The citizens of Los Angeles County are indebted to him for his dedication and innovative approach to public safety. There are very few that get the opportunity to start at the entry level of an organization and eventually reach the top leadership position . Sheriff Baca should be commended for his many achievements and personal sacrifice. I wish him well in retirement and he will soon find out that there is life after LASD."
— Rina Palta and Alice Walton
L.A. City Councilman Joe Buscaino spoke with KPCC about Sheriff Lee Baca's retirement. Before he became a councilman, Buscaino spent 15 years with the Los Angeles Police Department. He is now a reserve officer.
There were rumors he was considering a run for sheriff. He said he is humbled by the suggestion but is not running, and that Tuesday's announcement from Baca does not change his decision.
“I think it was right for him to look at himself in the mirror and say: 'You know what, I think I’ve done a good job' and move forward," Buscaino said.
Buscaino said the Sheriff's Department needs change.
“The Sheriff’s Department needs an overhaul without question. I see the Sheriff’s Department as what LAPD was 20 years ago,” Buscaino said.
“When the federal consent decree came, a number of police officers – they didn’t embrace it. They did not accept the fact that a federal monitor would come and overhaul the LAPD but look at LAPD today. I think the Sheriff’s Department needs to look at the great lesson of the Los Angeles Police Department.”
In the meantime, Buscaino says he plans to stay put on the City Council.
“For me, I have so much work to do as a council member — waterfront redevelopment, fixing the streets, moving forward on Jordan Downs project as well," Buscaino said. "There’s a lot brewing in the 15th Council District in the coming years that it wouldn’t make sense for me to step away from so much progress going on in my district.”
— Alice Walton
Baca is leaving office early, as his term was set to last until December. Baca said he recommended that Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald serve as interim sheriff. He said that both Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers and Assistant Sheriff James Hellmold were "highly qualified" to run for the position.
The retirement comes amid a growing scandal over inmate abuse at the jails that saw numerous deputies charged with crimes. Some of those deputies are also accused of attempting to obstruct an FBI investigation into the Sheriff’s Department.
Baca told the L.A. County Board of Supervisors his intention to leave his post Monday night, Supervisor Don Knabe told KPCC.
"I was shocked," Knabe said. Knabe said that he had a brief conversation with Baca Monday night where Baca indicated he wouldn't run for re-election and planned to retire, but no timeline was discussed. Baca said he had just been discussing a Sheriff's Department oversight commission with Baca over the weekend.
As far as why Baca's making the announcement now, Knabe said he thought it was due to the upcoming filing deadline for the June election.
"He could have waited until the last minute, extend the filing period five days or something for people to file, but by the fact that he's announcing now that he's not going to run will present an orderly way for those candidates that might or might not have considered to run, because the sheriff was running for reelection to run, so from that standpoint I appreciate what he's done," Knabe said.
Besides the Board of Supervisors, the sheriff also informed his top command staff late Monday, according to media reports.
"I think he did a good thing for the county," ACLU of Southern California legal director Peter Eliasberg tells KPCC. "I think that the scandals and the problems that have beset the Sheriff's Department for the past four or five years, it’s really important that Los Angeles get the sheriffs department back on the right track and I think that would be very, very difficult for that to happen with Sheriff Baca running the department."
Voters first elected Baca as L.A. County’s top cop in 1998, after then-incumbent Sheriff Sherman Block died during the election. Baca, 71, had been widely expected to run for a fifth term in 2014.
But bad news continued to build around Baca. A federal grand jury indicted 18 deputies on corruption and civil rights charges in December. Another federal probe found his deputies racially profiled people in the Antelope Valley. And the sheriff acknowledged his department hired dozens of unqualified deputies, including some who had committed crimes.
"I think that there’s just so much, it’s almost as if every day or every month at least there’s some new piece of bad news, some scandal," Eliasberg said. "There’s just so many things that have happened that I think it’s hard to say there’s any one point or any one thing that caused this."
In 2012, an independent blue ribbon panel issued a scathing report that said there was a “persistent pattern of unreasonable force” by deputies at the jail, and blamed Baca for failing to stop it.
In the obstruction of justice case, federal prosecutors have said their investigation continues into an alleged scheme by deputies to hide a jail informant from FBI agents. A lieutenant was the highest-ranking official indicted.
Baca has been vague in response to questions about his involvement, according to a report by the Los Angeles Times.
"I'm not a hands-on person," the sheriff told the paper last year. "You have to trust what your people are doing.”
The man who wielded much power in L.A. County for so long is the son of an undocumented immigrant. Baca’s mother was brought to the U.S. from Mexico as a little girl and worked as a seamstress. He was born in East L.A., and served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve, before joining the Sheriff’s Department in 1965. He attended Cal State L.A., and later received a PhD in public administration from USC.
Baca’s style was unusual for a top cop. He was an intellectual who sometimes compared his job to missionary work.
“Kindness is actually the greatest strength on Earth,” Baca told KPCC in a 2012 profile.
Nearly bald and rail thin, he doesn’t drink caffeine, rarely partakes of alcohol and mostly reads in his spare time. He never tweets and doesn’t use email.
He won praise for efforts to educate jail inmates and for reaching out to Muslims after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. But criticism built over allegations he offered favors to political donors and was slow to implement reforms at the jails.
Four candidates were already running to replace Baca, including his former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former Commander Bob Olmsted. But political support has yet to coalesce around an alternative. Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers announced Tuesday that he was running for sheriff.
"There has been a catastrophic failure of leadership in the Sheriff’s Department," Rogers said. "There is no doubt about that. A lot of these leaders are now gone. We have some that are still remaining and we need to fix that.”
Rogers said that Baca "trusted the wrong people, and they let him down." He added that the department needed "more direct accountability."
Rogers shot down the idea of Tanaka as a replacement for Baca.
"When I talk about catastrophic leadership, he was one of those leaders who failed the sheriff," Rogers said.
Tanaka issued a statement during Baca's statement Tuesday morning.
“Sheriff Baca and I have had our differences regarding the leadership and management of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department," Tanaka's statement read. "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."
One name mentioned often is Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell, a former deputy chief at the LAPD. Last year he said he was not interested in running for sheriff. Lately, he was said to be reconsidering.
Long Beach city prosecutor Dough Haubert endorses McDonnell for Sheriff. McDonnell came up through the LAPD and was on the shortlist of final chief candidates when the office was last open. When Charlie Beck was chosen as LAPD chief, Long Beach city reached out to McDonnell and offered him the chief job there in 2010.
"There are basic sound principles of running a law enforcement administration and I think that’s just what [Baca's replacement] is going to have to get back to," Eliasberg said. "They’re going to have to say we’re going to make sure that the people that work for us are of the highest quality. We’re going to make sure that our recruiting process and our hiring process is sound. We’re going to have clear rules about how we do business and we’re going to train people appropriately to those rules. Obviously, that’s easier said than done, but I don’t think that it’s a mystery as to what makes a law enforcement agency have the trust of the people."
As for what Supervisor Knabe is looking for, he told KPCC, "I would want someone that has the strong leadership skills and management skills, and committed to what we're doing as far as implementing the recommendations of the jail violence commission by hiring the inspector general." He added, "There have been no candidates discussed, my colleagues and I haven't even discussed this because there's never been a reason to because up until late last night the Sheriff had always said he's running running."
Scrolling timeline of Baca's career:
Correction: An earlier version of this post misstated which assistant sheriffs Baca said were "highly qualified" to run for the position.
Clarification: An earlier version of this post said that Baca was resigning rather than retiring.