Sheriff Lee Baca The Trial of Lee Baca  Editors' Selections

As Lee Baca’s Trial Approaches, the Fight Heats Up About the Former LA Sheriff’s “Cognitive Impairment”

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

THE LEGAL FIGHT OVER LEE BACA’S MEMORY

Earlier this month, both the defense and the prosecution agreed with the assessment of a court-appointed examiner
that former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was competent to stand trial on charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying in four different instances to federal officials.

The trial is scheduled to begin on December 6.

Now the fight is over whether or not the former sheriff was cognitively able in 2011, and again in 2013, to be legally responsible for his alleged crimes.

Baca was diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease in early 2016, news that became public in June of this year. Since that time, the issue of the former sheriff’s cognitive impairment has been a legal matter as well as a medical one. (WitnessLA first broke the story of Baca’s illness in late May.)

Yet, although both parties have agreed that Mr. Baca’s is fit to go to trial next month, the former sheriff’s mental state will clearly be a major feature of the defense’s argument that Baca should be acquitted of all charges. The defense team contends that in the late summer and early fall of 2011, when the events underlying the obstruction of justice charges occurred, Baca was already failing cognitively.

They further contend that the former sheriff was suffering from memory impairment during his April 12, 2013 government interview, where he was asked about “events and conversations” that occurred in August-September 2011. It was his answers to questions in this interview that resulted in the charge of lying to federal officials.

The defense has a medical expert, Dr. James Spar, a professor of clinical psychiatry at UCLA’s med school, who will testify that Baca was already suffering from memory loss and confusion in 2013, and very likely was comprimised for up to ten years prior to his diagnosis this year.

In Baca’s filing, defense attorney Nathan Hochman also names two former department members—former LASD deputy Micky Manzo, and former LASD captain Tom Carey—who reported observing Baca seeming “confused.”

Not surprisingly, the prosecution team of Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes, and Eddie Jauregui presents a very different view.


“NO MEDICAL EVIDENCE”

In a motion filed earlier this month, government prosecutors write that, during Baca’s 16-year tenure as LA County sheriff, he “never reported any concerns about memory loss or cognitive impairment to any doctor.”

The opposite is true, they write. “There is no medical evidence of cognitive deficiencies in
defendant’s medical records during, or before, his alleged crimes.”

According to the prosecution, Baca “repeatedly went to the doctor and reported no issues related to cognitive functioning.’ Doctors who saw him from 2010 to 2013 “observed and reported that he was alert and oriented to person, place, and time, that there were no significant neurological findings, and that psychiatric affect was always normal.”

In addition, Baca “planned to run for re-election in 2014.”

The prosecution further notes that it was only in March 2014 that Baca sought medical advice based on concerns about his cognitive functioning. “Medical records from that period indicate that defendant’s chief complaint was sleep disturbance,” they write, “although defendant also complained of anxiety, depression and memory difficulties.”

It was not until May 13, 2014, when Baca went to see a neuropsychologist, “that cognitive impairments were first noted by a clinician.”


TUESDAY HEARING

In a hearing at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson will hear the defense and the prosecution both present arguments about whether or not Baca’s expert, Dr. James Spar, should be permitted to testify at trial–along with some other issues.

Baca, if you’ll remember, originally pleaded guilty in February of this year to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when officials questioned him in the course of a wide-ranging investigation into “corruption and civil rights violations” in the department he’d led for fifteen years, an investigation that, according to the government, Baca, his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, and others attempted to thwart.

Specifically, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning on April 12, 2013. At that time, among other denials by Baca, the former sheriff falsely claimed ignorance of the fact that, in 2011, two LASD sergeants were going to approach FBI special agent, Leah Marx, and threaten her with arrest, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation.

Once Baca pleaded guilty to the single felony count in February, all that remained was for the former sheriff to be sentenced by Judge Anderson at a hearing scheduled for late July.

However, when the hearing arrived, Anderson rejected Baca’s plea deal, telling those in the courtroom that the 0 to 6 month sentencing range that the deal required “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca’s] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust…..”

Rather than risk the unspecified longer sentence that Judge Anderson intimated he intended to hand down, Baca opted to go to trial. Thus in early August, the former sheriff was indicted by a federal grand jury for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. The two new charges were added to an expanded version of the original charge of lying to federal officials.

We’ll let you know what happens on Tuesday. So stay tuned.


PHOTO OF LEE BACA BY SAXON BRICE

11 Comments

  • My oh my. The defense has an expert who will testify that Baca was very likely suffering from memory loss and confusion as far back as 10 years prior to 2013?
    No shit? They’re paying this guy big bucks to impart his knowledge in court?
    Why didn’t the defense just subpoena everybody who attended an EPC meeting from day one after Moonbeam took office?
    Yes, it’s obvious Baca was always dazed and confused. He’s got his wife out there begging for money for his defense while they are paying big bucks to some expert to state the obvious. Everybody knew the dirty little secret that wasn’t a secret at all. Put his cast of ass kissing clowns up on the stand and let them admit that it was obvious Baca was looney tunes from day one.
    Better yet, his lawyers should just have him take the stand and ask him a question. Any question would do, but maybe the best tactic would be to ask him if he ever notices dust particles.
    My oh my wouldn’t that make the LASD proud that they had such a visionary as The Man for 15 years?

  • Funny how the FBI “pick & choose” whom they want to expose and indict. The FBI is not “looking goo d” in public opinion. Obviously their instructions are politically motivated. That was evident with the “back & forth” decisions dealing with Hillary Clinton. Definitely not saying that Baca in innocent, but look at how Judge Percy Anderson changed his mind on sentencing Baca. Why else would Anderson changed his mind midstream? Definitely rare to do.

  • “Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during a round of questioning on April 12, 2013.” Then on April 17, 2013, in a borderline act of lunacy, Baca moved to demote three well-respected transit experts and top command staff at Transit Services Bureau due to an out-of-state foot race in Las Vegas in which a sergeant was unethical (deflection?). On April 18, 2013, Baca names three new executives at Transit Services Bureau, all inexperienced managers with unproven transit knowledge. Chief Anda was previously unceremoniously transferred out of transit as a commander due to performance issues, only to be later promoted and returned by Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers and Interim Sheriff John Scott. To this day it was a curious move which turned out to be very costly both in terms of violent crime and money. See attached article.
    http://articles.latimes.com/2013/apr/18/local/la-me-ln-sheriff-demoted-transit-department-20130418

    Three years and seven months later, Under the non-leadership of Ronene Anda-Thomas, two commanders, and three captains, the Sheriff’s Department will lost 75 percent of the contract due to incompetency. This is the largest failure under Sheriff McDonnell’s tenure. See Attached Article. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-metro-policing-contract-20201010-story.html

    Question for ALADS- Where do you stand on the loss of 500 Deputy Sheriff’s and $400 million contract revenue over the next five years? Question for all of us: Are Lee Baca’s Policy Decisions still hurting LASD? What will be the level of accountability for Ronene Anda-Thomas? Anda-Thomas recently announced in a public meeting what a great relationship LASD has with stunned Metro Executives only to have the response thrown her face, “LASD has a horrible relationship with Metro.” And then for her to report that story at EPC? Sheriff McDonnell, we’re all watching this one and waiting to see the consequences for those executives responsible for losing the department’s largest contract. In case you didn’t know, this is a reflection of Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers’ decision making abilities and your leadership. Stay Safe and Happy Holidays!

  • The deputies who will be leaving Transit Bureau can fill in the gaps within the department to cut down the fatigue & overtime. The public is tired of broken promises from LASD. Even though the current Sheriff did not cause this, he’s definitely holding the bag. As far as ALADS is concerned, they have to revamp with the new Directors. First, they have to hire more Attorney’s to supplement legal representation for every deputy & change the antiquated bylaws!

  • The loss of a contract this size is not a good thing. Filling the vacancies by eliminating DSG positions, is not the answer. Mc D has been in command for two years now, “two friggen years.” and what do we have to show for it. Failed leadership everywhere you look. When he took the oath and stepped into the office, he knew there were leadership problems, and admitted it, yet here we are. Those of us that know who is who, sit back and watch how he continually promotes those who were cut from the cloth of the coin club. It was nice to hear that Tyler put in his papers, and more could be submitting soon. For those of us with a few years still left, I say protect yourselves and watch your partners back.

  • @DeputySheriff- You’re correct that the Department will use this as a means to fill vacancies. But we both know that transferring displaced, disgruntled deputy sheriffs into positions they don’t want to be in is not the answer to answering LASD’s broken promises. As for ALADS, that organization has been antiquated for as long as I can remember. Attorney Dick Shinee runs the organization and runs off with the money at the same time. Do your research and you’ll learn deputies have been unhappy with ALADS for nearly 20 years. A panel of attorneys is the only way to go, the Shinee monopoly doesn’t serve deputies well. And as a reminder, Sheriff McDonnell has been in over for two years now. He may not have created the TSB debacle, but he has had plenty of time to fix it. Unfortunately, he’s been sold a bill of goods by Chief Anda-Thomas each week at EPC and is now left holding the empty bag.

  • Cops: Been out of the loop for a few years. Which “well respected” transit experts are you referring to. When I passed through a few years ago it was under the leadership of Captain Pat Jordan who consistently scored low on the ALADS leadership survey. A lot of good cops work TSB, but a lot of dead weight also…. who will now have to go to work for a living.

  • I read the recommendation of the MTA board, and TSD appears to be toast – as it should be. The department thought leadership competence was unecessary but those who pay the bill thought otherwise. Hilarious! Anda has been an incompetent wallflower who couldn’t lead an army of ants to a picnic her entire career. Execs have known this all along, right Todd? How many more executives are as incompetent?

    Thanks to Trump’s election, there is a healthy anti-incumbency, business as usual among voters. Are you listening McDonnell? You have a ton of both incompetent and corrupt execs in the hopper, just waiting for the evening news. Your choice Jim, in keeping proven failed leadership. How’s that working so far? I hear you’re really attracting recruits.

  • @ LATBG, again spot on. Many of the leaders of LASD would never have made it in the real world of business, yet here they are in charge of large units. Units that are supposed to make the citizens of Los Angeles feel safe, and they can’t seem to get it right. Rumor has it there are some things going on in Custody. Again failed leadership. It will be very interesting to see how Big Jim handles this one. Celeste, you might want to take note on this one.

  • #7, he is referring to Capt. Matt Rodriguez (North Capt.) And Jordan, who was good with numbers, not so good with the troops. I dealt with the Baker to Vegas situation / mess on a few levels and can unequivocally say Baca and Sexton handled it miserably.

  • @9 since I’ve recently joined the LACERA club, I’m out of the loop. What in the world is now going on inside Custody Division? After all the FBI investigations and Federal trials and convictions, Federal prison time handed out like candy, who in the hell would caper? And you have two Chiefs retained from the Tanaka Crime Family reign of terror by McDonnell because Tyler told him to do so, what could go wrong? Big Red left Custody Division spotless, so much, the BOS just gave her the keys to the Probation Department. Not Again, you must have it all wrong, McD is certainly on top of everything, actually running LASD, right? I mean he made a huge course correction and saved the MTA contract from cancellation, right? He was on it and was in constant contact with that Division’s Commanders and Chief all the time, right? Oh, he didn’t know? What, he said no one told him? What, he doesn’t know of any problems inside Custody Division? What, no one told him? No, I’m talking about McDonnell, not Baca. What, nothing has changed? But he brought in fresh eyes, right? Never mind. I guess we will read about it in WLA and The Times.

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