Crime & Justice

Facing prison time, former Sheriff Baca discloses he has Alzheimer's in court docs

 Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces his unexpected retirement on January 7, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announces his unexpected retirement on January 7, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.
David McNew/Getty Images

In a federal court filing, federal prosecutors confirmed Monday former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca has Alzheimer’s disease, but asked for a six-month prison sentence nonetheless. 

Baca pleaded guilty to lying to investigators earlier this year as part of a federal investigation into inmate abuse, corruption and obstruction of justice in L.A.'s county jails. 

In his own filing, Baca's attorneys asked for a probation-only sentence, noting Baca needs medicines and treatment for his disease. 

"No one contends he is a threat to the community," Baca's lawyers said in court papers. "He will not offend again."

Baca retired abruptly in 2014, amid an outbreak in scandals involving the jails and his deputies' attempts thwart the federal investigation. 

Court filings said he started consulting with with a physician about memory issues in May 2014. His interview with federal agents, in which he has since admitted to lying, happened a year earlier.

“It is first important to note that the government does not view defendant’s current condition as having any effect on his decision to lie to the federal government during his interview," U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker said in a court document. “Additionally, defendant’s tone and demeanor during his interview in April 2013 provided no indication that he was suffering from any cognitive defects at that time."

Decker said her office consulted an expert in the field of neurodegenerative disorders and that Baca’s cognitive impairment is mild and has not significantly diminished in the last several months.

At the same time, prosecutors said “while Alzheimer’s disease’s progression is hard to predict, his long term prognosis is bleak.”

The new court papers from the federal government describe Baca as “a study in contrasts.”

“He was a champion of certain reforms in the criminal justice system, yet ignored warnings that his deputies were committing serious abuses in the Los Angeles County jails," prosecutors said.

Even with Baca's legacy tarnished, letters of support from former colleagues and acquaintances flowed into the court—including one from former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and current L.A. County Supervisor Don Knabe. Other letter-writers included Robert Hertzberg, Vicente Fox, Lee Iaccoca (who said Baca and he are in the same "'boy's lunch club'"), and a smattering of current and former sheriff's colleagues and public officials. 

Schwarzenegger praised Baca's work with at-risk children.

"Sheriff Baca knew, as I do, that an investment in our kids now would keep them out of jail later," Schwarzenegger wrote. 

Another note from former Mexican President Vicente Fox credited Baca with helping the city of Leon develop a training program for police officers.

"I can assure you no other law enforcement agency from the United States lent a hand in a time of need for your Southern Neighbor," Fox wrote.

Knabe wrote Baca was dedicated to reducing recidivism and treating addiction.

Former L.A. City Attorney Carmen Trutanich wrote to the court that Baca "has served all Angelenos with distinction, reliability, and honesty," and called the charges against him "an anomaly" that "probably occurred as a result of misguided loyalty."

Federal District Judge Percy is scheduled to sentence Baca on July 11.