Crime & Justice

Does former sheriff Baca's Alzheimer's make him incompetent for trial?

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca speaks to the media after leaving federal court in Los Angeles on Aug. 1, 2016. Baca withdrew a guilty plea and chose to go to trial on a charge of lying to federal authorities in an effort to thwart an FBI investigation into abuses at the jails he ran.
Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca speaks to the media after leaving federal court in Los Angeles on Aug. 1, 2016. Baca withdrew a guilty plea and chose to go to trial on a charge of lying to federal authorities in an effort to thwart an FBI investigation into abuses at the jails he ran.
Nick Ut/AP

Prosecutors have asked a federal judge to determine whether former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca's Alzheimer's disease would make him incompetent to stand trial in his jail abuse case.

In a motion filed Wednesday in federal district court, prosecutors in the U.S. Attorney's Office asked for a judge to order a mental competency hearing and psychiatric or psychological examinations of Baca before he goes on trial.

"Although the government believes defendant [Baca] is competent to stand trial, certain statements by defendant, his attorneys, and his experts, if taken at face value, provide 'reasonable cause to believe that defendant may be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent to the extent that he is unable to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him or to assist properly in his defense,' " the motion states. "If the Court grants this motion, it will help ensure that defendant's trial proceeds in a timely fashion if he is competent and will save resources if he is not competent."

The trial for Baca, 74, is scheduled for Dec. 6.

Baca has pleaded not guilty to charges of obstructing justice, conspiracy and lying to FBI agents who were investigating allegations of inmate abuse in the Los Angeles County jails. If convicted on all the charges, he could face up to 20 years in prison.

In July, Baca initially attempted to plead guilty to one count of lying to a federal agent as part of a plea deal that would have limited his sentence to no more than six months in prison. However, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson rejected the plea, saying the penalty would have been lenient. During that proceeding, Baca told the judge that he, at times, had "cloudiness in my brain" due to Alzheimer's disease. 

In Wednesday's court filing, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox cited news reports that quoted a Baca attorney as saying "medical records would show Baca's mental deterioration had already begun in April 2013, when he made the allegedly false statements to federal prosecutors. ... The same article reported that defense counsel stated that defendant's 'dementia has progressed since his initial diagnosis, and he suffers from, among other things, short-term memory loss'. "

Baca has already been examined by "at least two" neuropsychologists chosen by his defense attorneys, who have suggested they may have two additional experts prepared to testify about Baca's mental state, according to the court filing.

Fox said in the filing that prosecutors have already engaged a licensed forensic psychologist "for consultation and potential testimony in this matter should defendant raise a defense based on a mental disease or defect." Fox stated that a judge could schedule an examination of Baca by the prosecution's psychologist or two examinations: "One can be conducted by an independent expert and the other could be conducted by the government's expert."

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/3034806-Baca-Competency-Motion.html

This report was updated at 1:45 p.m. with the full text of the court filing.