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Sheriff Lee Baca

Prosecutors Request Mental Competency Evaluation for Former Sheriff Lee Baca

August 25th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

After a hearing on Wednesday to set a start date for the federal criminal trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca
, government prosecutors filed a motion requesting a mental competency evaluation for the man who, for sixteen years, headed the nation’s largest sheriff’s department until his abrupt announcement of his retirement in January, 2014.

“Although the government believes defendant is competent to stand trial,” the prosecution team wrote, “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.”

Their proposed motion, stated the prosecutors, will either “ensure that the defendant’s trial proceeds in the timely fashion if he is competent.” Otherwise, it will “save resources” if Baca is found not competent to stand trial.

This rather startling development came after an edgy discussion about the issue of Baca’s mental condition as it pertained to the upcoming trial. The three-way conversation took place in court earlier on Wednesday between the government’s attorneys, defense attorney Nathan Hochman, and U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson after Hochman told the court that the defense may assert what is known as a 12.2 defense, or “mental defect” defense.

In brief, a 12.2 defense is a strategy in which the defense presents “expert evidence of a mental disease or defect” that would have prevented a defendant from possessing the mental ability required to have committed the offenses of with which he or she is charged.

At some point in the discussion, Judge Anderson asked Hochman if this meant that those who suffer from Alzheimer’s “don’t know right from wrong?”

In answer to Anderson’s terse questioning, Hochman reportedly said that, no, he was not going for an insanity defense (which is one version of a 12.2 defense). Instead he might put forth another version of the 12.2 legal tactic, which is the aforementioned “mental defect” strategy.

In the request for the competency evaluation, prosecutors Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui noted that, during the hearing in February in which Baca pleaded guilty to a charge of lying to federal officials, when asked if he had “recently been treated for any form of mental illness or addiction?” or if he was “currently suffering from any mental condition that would prevent him from “understanding fully the charge against” him, “or the consequences of any guilty plea” he might enter to relating to that charge, Baca answered, “no,” to each question.

The the prosecutors went on to point out that, on Aug. 1, Baca’s attorneys stated that “medical records would show Baca’s mental deterioration had already begun in April 2013, when he made the allegedly false statements to federal prosecutors.”

In their motion, the prosecutors made clear that they believe that Mr. Baca is competent to go to trial.

But they want an official determination, one way or the other.

Interestingly, in Wednesday’s hearing to finally determine the trial date, defense attorney Hochman said that he might consider filing a motion for a change in venue explaining that he was not sure that an untainted jury pool could be found, given all the publicity about the matter.

In response, Judge Anderson pointed out that it that it likely did not help matters to have attorneys holding press conferences on the courthouse steps—or words to that effect. Anderson then asked both sides to refrain from trying this case in the press.

The trial of Lee Baca for charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials is set to begin on December 6, 2016.

Here’s the actual motion for a competency evaluation if you want to take a look:

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 40 Comments »

Lee Baca: A December Trial Date, A New Lawyer, and a Pitch for Legal $$$ – UPDATED

August 22nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


At Wednesday’s hearing, although former sheriff Lee Baca’s lawyer, Nathan Hochman, pushed for any trial to be delayed until February or March of next, after considerable debate, U.s. District Court Judge Percy Anderson set a new trial date for December 6th.

On Wednesday of this week, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca and his new lead attorney, Nathan Hochman, will meet on the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson for a “status conference” with federal prosecutors to discuss when Baca’s criminal trial will begin.

While the trial was originally set to begin in September, then moved to October 4, our sources tell us that new and hopefully final date will likely be in December of this year. (But we’ll let you know for sure on Wednesday.)

Baca, who is now 74-years-old, was arraigned on August 12, also before Judge Anderson, at which time he pleaded not guilty to charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials.

The former sheriff was indicted on the three charges after he pulled out of a plea deal with the government that had been crafted back in February, in which he’d agreed to plead guilty to one count of lying in an interview with the feds in 2013. In return for his plea, government prosecutors agreed to a sentencing range of 0 to 6 months.

In July, however, Anderson blew up the deal by rejecting the maximum six month sentence. In a sober-minded but scathing series of comments to those assembled in his courtroom, Anderson said that a six-month sentence would not “fairly account for the significant harm” caused “by this defendant” and “under-appreciates this defendant’s culpability.” The guidelines agreed upon, the judge said grimly, “fail to fairly measure the culpability of this defendant….and the nature and circumstances of criminal conduct,” and would “…trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

After Anderson’s rejection of the 0 to 6 month sentencing agreement, Baca withdrew from the plea deal altogether, rather than take a chance on what promised to be a sentence from Anderson that likely would have fallen somewhere between 2-5 years in a federal prison.

But, to withdraw from the deal meant that Baca would instead go to trial, and likely face added charges—which was exactly what happened.


Now, the gigantic wild card in the eventual trial will be the issue of Baca’s cognitive health. He has, as most readers are aware, been diagnosed with early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, a diagnosis that was made public in late June (although WLA broke the news the month before).

On the day of his arraignment, Baca also filed for a change in his lead attorney. Through the course of his plea deal, and the withdrawal from it, Michael Zweiback, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney, has represented Baca.

Now Nathan Hochman will represent Baca. Hochman is also a former federal prosecutor, and the former head of the Tax Division for the US Department of Justice. While both he and Zweiback have strong CVs, they are reputed to have different personal styles when it comes to representing a client in a criminal trial.

Hochman has made it very clear that Baca’s mental state will be a significant issue when Baca goes before a jury, and that the defense will explore whether there was any “cognitive impairment,” during the period of the summer and early fall of 2011, when the alleged actions occurred that are the basis of the obstruction of justice charges, and in 2013, of course, when Baca was interviewed by the feds, and allegedly lied.

During the arraignment, Judge Anderson, who was appointed to the federal bench in 2002 by George W. Bush, repeatedly asked defendant Baca if he understood the proceedings. Baca replied that his mind was “clear enough” but also added that he had a “cloudiness in my brain and I’ve had that for quite awhile.”

When the case goes to trial, the government is expected to have its own witnesses who suggest that, while the former sheriff may be eccentric, he cognition and memory were fully operative during the periods in question.

Both Baca’s present and past attorneys have strongly hinted (but not outright stated) that they will do what they can to have Judge Anderson removed from the former sheriff’s case, pleading that Anderson is biased against Baca.


Trials are, of course, very expensive, and with this in mind, the former sheriff’s wife, Carol Baca, has recently sent out fund raising emails to friends in her husband’s behalf, two versions of which WitnessLA has obtained. (The LA Times’ Joel Rubin was the first to report on the emails’ existence.)

In one of the emails, Mrs. Baca wrote in part:

“The attorney fees for this defense will be substantial, well over $1 million, in addition to the large amount of money we have already spent on Lee’s legal fees. As a result, we are reaching out to our family and friends to help Lee beat these charges. Lee is in the fight for his life given his Alzheimer’s disease, and he hopes he can count on you to help him have the resources for this fight.

“There are two ways to contribute to help Lee. Any person can donate as a gift to Lee a maximum amount of $14,000 a year tax-free. In addition, we are setting up a legal defense fund that can accept contributions without limit (more details to follow).”

On the subject of legal bills, except for Paul Tanaka, nearly all of the other 21 Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department members who have been convicted by the government in the course of the multi-year federal investigation into corruption and brutality inside the LASD, have been provided attorneys by either the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), or the Professional Peace Officers Association (PPOA).

(James Sexton was the exception among the deputies who faced federal charges, as ALADS declined to pay even a portion of his bills, for reasons that make up their own disheartening tale.)

So, would Baca be eligible for any help?

We asked PPOA president, Brian Moriguchi, what he thought about whether either union could or would pay any of Baca’s bills, and he told us that “any full-member of our association in good standing is entitled to representation or financial support, regardless of whether their rank is a deputy sheriff or the sheriff himself.”

PPOA, he said, has provided financial assistance “to all of our members who were indicted related to this matter.”

Since we called Moriguchi on Sunday, he could not easily check whether or not Baca was, in fact, a full member. But if he is, Moriguchi said, “he is entitled to the same member benefits we afford all of our members, including financial assistance.”

Paul Tanaka, he said, “did not received any financial support from PPOA because he was not a member of our association.”

For the record, Mr. Baca receives roughly $328,000 annually in pension and benefits. In 2013, his total salary plus benefits was $490,727, according to Transparent California.

In 2013, Mr. Tanaka made $598,026. He also received salary and benefits as the Mayor of Gardena, which last year was $30,938.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 20 Comments »

Now That a Grand Jury Has Indicted Former Sheriff Lee Baca, Can His Trial Move Us Closer to Lasting Reform?

August 7th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Friday, former Sheriff Lee Baca was indicted by a federal grand jury for obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice. These two new charges are on top of the original charge of lying to federal officials that Baca admitted to back in February, as part of a plea deal hammered out with federal prosecutors.

The new charges were not exactly a surprise.

The grand jury indictment came about after U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson rejected Baca’s plea deal at a sentencing hearing in July, 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…..”

A six-month sentence, Anderson said, does not “fairly account for the significant harm” caused “by this defendant” and “under-appreciates this defendant’s culpability.” The guidelines agreed upon, the judge continued, “fail to fairly measure the culpability of this defendant….and the nature and circumstances of criminal conduct.”

Once Anderson dynamited the plea deal on July 19, at the next sentencing hearing on August 1, Baca and his attorneys had three possible ways to move forward:

Number 1: Baca could continue to plead guilty to the single charge with the understanding that the judge was going to hand down whatever sentence he saw fit, which could be as much as five years.

Number 2: Baca and his attorneys could work with the prosecutors to come up with a new deal that might please Anderson, which turned out to be nearly impossible.

Number 3: Baca could withdraw from the plea deal altogether, meaning that the only option left was to go to trial. This last option all but guaranteed additional charges, since the government had maintained in the negotiations for the plea that it could hit the sheriff with more counts, hence the motivation to plead to the single charge of lying to the feds.

On August 1, Baca went with Door Number 3, the go-to-trial option.

If Baca is convicted on the two obstruction counts, plus original count of lying to the feds, he could face as much as 20 years in a federal prison.

But that kind of lengthy a term is considered unlikely, especially since Baca’s second in command, Paul Tanaka, received a sentenced of five years—although he was, in the eyes of many, the person responsible for the day-to-day control of the operation that has thus far resulted in seven obstruction of justice convictions, on top of his own, with the sentencing of a ninth, former LASD Captain Tom Carey—who took a plea deal—still to come.

Yet, however one spins things, when it comes to the actions that have resulted in a string of convictions of LA Sheriff’s Department members in the last two years, some for obstruction of justice, others for corruption and brutality, all of that criminal misconduct—and far more, frankly—was allowed to occur on Lee Baca’s watch, which seemed to be much of Judge Anderson’s point.


The former sheriff’s defense is expected to make Baca’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease a significant issue in the trial. His attorneys, Michael Zweiback and a new member of the team, Nathan Hochman, have already suggested that, in the summer of 2011—the period when the actions took place that make up the heart of the obstruction charges—the former sheriff “delegated more than he should have,” due to his condition. In other words, some kind of claim of diminished capacity may be in the offing.

On the government’s side, Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui, wrote that Baca was “well aware of the accusations of rampant abuse,” in the jails, particularly in Men’s Central Jail and Twin Towers Correctional Facility. There were the ever-worsening ACLU reports. Then there were things like the “allegations about LASD deputies who worked on the 300 floor of MCJ” and called themselves “the 3000 boys,” who “exhibited gang-like and violent behavior, who “used excessive force on inmates, “and “falsified reports to cover up wrongdoing.”

In the indictment, the prosecutors also hinted that they have witnesses waiting in the wings who will testify that they told Baca about brutality in the jails, and that he still made no effort to curb the problem.

As for the actual obstruction charges, the 15-page indictment of Baca is not as long or detailed as the 20 pages written by federal prosecutors in their final indictment of Paul Tanaka. For example, there are no dramatic moments when a witness describes the defendant shouting “Fuck the FBI!” as was the case in Tanaka’s indictment.

Yet, there is the mention of Baca approving an expensive bunch of overtime so that a rotating team of deputies could guard federal informant Anthony Brown round the clock, after he’d had his name changed and was moved to an out-of-the-way sheriff’s station in San Dimas, allegedly in order to allegedly keep him away from his FBI handlers. There are accounts of a meeting where Baca was reportedly present for discussions of approaching FBI agent Leah Marx and threatening her in order to obtain information. And there is the letter from Baca to then US Attorney Andre Birotte, threatening to “end the LASD’s participation in federal task forces” if Birotte didn’t yank his support for the FBI’s investigation of the jails—and so on.


According to Baca’s attorneys, however, when it comes to the obstruction charges, the feds have themselves admitted that their case against the former sheriff is not particularly strong.

They point to passages in the prosecution’s sentencing memo, which was designed to persuade Judge Anderson that a six-month sentence for Baca was appropriate:

Indeed, there are lines in the memo such as the following: “Baca’s involvement in the obstruction is not as clear as the others,” and “may be more limited…” and “During the obstructive conduct, records show Baca was rarely in contact with any of those involved in the obstruction, with the exception of Tanaka. Tanaka himself was routinely in contact with the others.”

On the other hand, when the plea deal was first announced back in February, the government indicated that, if Baca changed his mind and the deal fell apart, they were willing and able to go to trial.

According to the feds, they laid the going-to-trial-with-additional-charges gun on the table when bargaining with Baca’s attorneys to achieve the plea. And they were fully prepared to fire that metaphorical pistol, if it became necessary.

Meanwhile, the former sheriff’s attorneys continue to express confidence.

In a text to WitnessLA, Hochman said that the new obstruction charges “represent punishment” by the feds for their client’s decision to go to trial. He also reiterated the defense’s point that the prosecutors had “admitted in court the weakness of its obstruction case” against Baca.

“This trial will be vastly different than the others,” Hochman wrote.

Well, one thing is certain: the upcoming trial of the man who led the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for fifteen years presents an opportunity like no other to shine a light on what went so catastrophically wrong in the LASD, and what still needs to be done to fix it.

The trial of Lee Baca is, at present, scheduled for September of this year.

Here’s the text of the Baca indictment


Rhetoric aside, whether Baca or the federal prosecutors do or do not actually want to go to trial, it has come to pass that, barring something wildly unforeseen, the former sheriff will in fact be on trial after all—even though for several years, the likelihood of such an event occurring appeared all but impossible.

Now the trial of Lee Baca suddenly feels weirdly fated.

Given the disturbing display of departmental arrogance and wrongdoing that the previous LASD trials have have illuminated, it seems fitting that the guy at the top should also get his chance to face a jury—whatever the outcome.

After all, the whole obstruction of justice mess came about because the feds were covertly investigating accounts of brutal and corrupt behavior by deputies toward jail inmates (and, it seems, their visitors) that department higher-ups had aggressively refused to address, no matter how many awful reports of abuse were brought to their attention.

Unfortunately, based on our own investigations over the last six years, along with those of the LA Times, ABC7, the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, and others, the problems forced into public view by a raft of federal indictments are indicative of a larger toxicity that was allowed to spread unchecked in the department, both in the jails and elsewhere in the LASD.

Yet, despite what has been brought to light by two years of federal trials, and the many positive steps taken by Sheriff Jim McDonnell, the path to lasting reform still seems to be littered with obstacles.

It was heartening to note that, in Sunday’s Los Angeles Times, the editorial board wrote about the fact that, while it’s a good thing that Baca will be on trial, the need for departmental reform is bigger, wider, deeper than the various prosecutions can reasonably accomplish.

Here are some clips from their essay:

Consider, for example, McDonnell’s continuing attempts to weed out of the department those deputies who have shown themselves to be unsuited to carry weapons and to wear the badge and the tan and green uniform.

Under the Los Angeles County system, fired deputies can be, and indeed have been, reinstated by a civil service commission that has no expertise in law enforcement or public safety and that makes its decisions based in part on the precedent set by previous sheriffs and commissions. So as McDonnell is attempting to raise standards of performance, the commission is judging deputies based on previous, lower standards. McDonnell then is compelled to take back — and to keep paying — deputies he and his command staff have deemed unfit for their jobs, completely undermining his power to set high standards of performance. It is an untenable system that has nevertheless become the envy of law enforcement officers in other agencies who would like to enjoy similar leniency…..

….The county Board of Supervisors voted this year to establish an oversight commission to keep tabs on sheriff reforms, but the panel has yet to be appointed or to convene. The board agreed to consider asking voters to grant that commission subpoena power, but with deadlines approaching to put measures on the Nov. 8 ballot, there has been no move forward on that issue….

….Switching out the man at the top was a solid step but it will not be enough to correct the Sheriff’s Department, and Los Angeles cannot rely on criminal prosecution of sheriffs, command staff and deputies as a substitute for oversight. Baca’s failed plea deal and his looming trial may be among the more compelling chapters in the story of the Sheriff’s Department, but the most important pages are those that lay out how we make sure that a similar meltdown does not occur again — and those pages haven’t yet been written.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 42 Comments »

After Sentencing Negotiations Fall Apart, Baca Says He Wants to Go to Trial to Set the Record Straight

August 2nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca returned to the court of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson at 8:30 a.m. on Monday, August 1, where his attorneys made one last ditch effort to save the plea deal that Baca agreed to in February, and that Judge Anderson dynamited two weeks before at the former sheriff’s first sentencing hearing, instead of sentencing Baca to six months in federal prison, and thus concluding his case.

Now at just after 1:30 p.m. after five hours of sidebars, out-of-court negotiations, and several lengthy recesses, Attorney Michael Zweiback, stood up, walked to the attorneys’ podium to address the court, Baca beside him, and announced the decision that had likely been in the cards since everyone assembled in the courtroom five hours earlier.

“Your honor,” Zweiback said “….unfortunately we have failed to reach any kind of resolution that could be acceptable to the court,” despite the fact that both parties “tried diligently.”

Therefore, “we request that our plea be withdrawn, and we be allowed to proceed to trial.”

Anderson asked Baca if he was in agreement. “Yes, your honor,” Baca replied. He appeared ready for this outcome.

The judge, who has a reputation for liking to move is calendar along at a brisk clip, announced that he was going to set a date for trial.

Voire dire—jury selection—would begin September 20, 2016, at 8:30 a.m., Anderson said, with the last pre-trial hearing scheduled for September 12, at 3 p.m. (Obviously Anderson planned ahead for this eventuality.)

Zweiback said he almost certainly intended to petition for more time, since the prosecution had given them “a terabyte worth of data…”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox countered saying that, the giant pile of data notwithstanding, this would be a fairly “straightforward” case, with multiple previous trials that have already laid out the issues.


Monday’s sentencing hearing came about because, two weeks ago, at the first sentencing hearing, on Monday July 18, Percy Anderson surprised court watchers by firmly rejecting Baca’s plea deal, which specified that when Anderson selected a sentence for Baca, he remain within the constraints of a 0 to 6 month term in federal prison.

Instead, Anderson informed the former sheriff, along with attorneys for the prosecution and the defense, that a six-month maximum sentence “would trivialize the seriousness of [Baca's] offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

Anderson’s rejection of the plea deal meant Baca had the choice of accepting whatever sentence Anderson decided to impose, which could go as high as five years, or working with the prosecution to come up with a new deal that both parties could live with, and that Anderson hopefully might accept.

Option three was that Baca and company could withdraw altogether from the plea deal, meaning that the former sheriff would take his chances in a full-scale, high profile trial. Of course, if Baca decided to go to trial, it was virtually guaranteed that the government would add some new charges on top of the single count of lying to federal officials, which had consituted the plea.

The new charges would almost certainly be obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice.

Eight department members had already been convicted of those two charges, all with Anderson presiding at their trials, including the former under sheriff, Paul Tanaka, whom Anderson sentenced to five years in a federal prison.

(For more on the back story on the plea deal, and Anderson’s rejection of it, go here and here.)


After court adjourned on Monday afternoon, Lee Baca and his legal team, met with reporters on the steps of the federal courthouse, where the former sheriff addressed everyone briefly, and then read from a prepared statement.

“I want to first of all thank the thousands of people who I’ve come across since I retired,” Baca told those assembled, “people who have come to me on their own initiative to say how much I have done, and how much the sheriff’s department has done to make their communities safer,”

“Go to trial and die in jail!” hissed a heckler who suddenly turned up in the photo-journo mob, but who was quickly yanked out of the way,

“This is a very historic moment in my life, obviously,” Baca continued. Then he announced that he would read his statement, after which he would take no questions.

Baca’s prepared statement was as follows:

For the peace of my family, to avoid a lengthy and expensive trial, and to minimize the court drama associated with this case, several months ago I entered a guilty plea to the one charged filed against me.

“Be very clear—one charge!” Baca said with emphasis, breaking for a moment from the prepared script.

“I am withdrawing my guilty plea today and will seek a trial. I have made this decision due to the untruthful comments about my actions made by the Court, and the U.S. Attorney’s Office, that are contradicted by the evidence in this case.

“While my future and my ability to defend myself depend on my Alzheimer’s disease I need to set the record straight about me and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on the misleading aspects of the Federal investigation..while I am capable of doing this.

“I want to thank my friends and family for encouraging me to stand up for what is right. My spirits are high and my love for all people is God’s gift to me…”

And with that, federal marshall’s escorted him to a friends vehicle that was waiting at the curb, and Baca was gone.


Once Baca had been ushered away, his attorneys, Michael Zweiback, and a new addition to the team, Nathan Hochman, said that due to Baca’s “catastrophic illeness,” and the uncertainty of Judge Anderson’s sentencing intentions, they had to choice but to go to trial.

Zweiback also said their team didn’t believe the government could prove their case and, when asked if the trial wasn’t a big risk for the defense, Zweiback said that the prosecution has “the biggest risk” with its case. “They now have the burden of proof.”

Hochman when further. “I think the prosecution would like this to be an open and shut case,” he said. “But I think the prosecution is going to be a bit surprised.”

Zweiback and Hochman said that Baca’s illness will definitely come into the trial. For one thing they said, they have evidence that “the arc of the disease started” while Baca was still the sheriff.

When asked whether Baca’s health had impeded his ability to function as sheriff during the time in which the alleged obstruction occurred, Zweiback said, “Well, he was certainly delegating more responsibility in those days….”

And so the drama continues.

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 19 Comments »

No New Plea Deal Reached, Baca Almost Certain to Be Indicted and Go to Trial

July 30th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

After two weeks of negotiation, reportedly no new plea deal has been reached between attorneys
for former sheriff Lee Baca, and government prosecutors.

This means, according to sources, that barring some legal miracle, in the near future the four-term former leader of the nation’s third largest law enforcement agency will face an indictment for charges that go beyond the one count of lying to federal officials that was the basis of Baca’s original plea deal.

Specifically, if indeed Baca’s plea deal vanishes,—as is expected to happen on Monday morning, August 1, in the courtroom of Federal district Court Judge Percy Anderson—the government is expected to indict Baca soon for obstruction of justice, and conspiracy to obstruct justice, along with the single count of lying to the feds, that was the basis for Baca’s original deal.

Then some time next year or so, Baca will go to trial.

For those coming late to this drama: in February of this year, the former sheriff pleaded guilty to one count of lying to federal officials having to do with an FBI investigation into corruption and brutality by deputies inside the sheriff’s department-run LA County jail system—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, which was supposed to occur just under two weeks ago, on July 18th. There were, however two wild cards that affected the sentencing end of the deal.

One wild card was Baca’s newly disclosed diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease (a story that WLA broke in late May).

The other wild card was the fact that the plea deal agreed to by Baca was a special kind of legal arrangement in which the sentencing range was agreed to upfront, rather than leaving it to the whim of a judge, post deal. In Baca’s case, the sentencing range approved by both the defense and the prosecution was 0 to 6 months in a federal prison.

The prosecutors pushed for the upper end, meaning a six-month sentence.

At the same time, the defense tried to persuade Judge anderson that no prison time and probation only was the way to go given Baca’s past accomplishments, and his present declining health.

But Judge Anderson chose door number three and elected not to accept either the prosecutors’ suggestion or that of the defense. Instead a grim-faced Anderson said he was rejecting the plea deal altogether, and giving Baca a chance to withdraw his plea, and go back, legally speaking, to square one.

A six-month sentence for Lee Baca, said Anderson, “would trivialize the seriousness of his offenses, his lack of respect for the law and the gross abuse of the public trust….”

Anderson gave Baca and his team of attorneys, led by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Zweiback, until Monday, August 1, to decide what the once-powerful former sheriff wanted to do now that the judge had dynamited the plea deal.

His options were as follows: He could elect to accept whatever sentence the judge decided to impose, which could be as high as five years. Or, together with the prosecutors—Assistant U.S. Attorneys Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes and Eddie Jauregui—Baca and company could present a mutually-agreed-upon alternate deal that might be more to the judge’s liking.

Or Baca could simply withdraw his original plea, thus almost certainly triggering an indictment and a lengthy federal trial sometime next year.

It appears—barring the aforementioned miracle—everyone, however reluctantly, is about to go for option three.

More soon.

PHOTO NOTE: The above photo of the former sheriff was taken at the swearing in of Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | 14 Comments »

Sentencing of Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca Postponed for One Week

July 9th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca was originally due to be sentenced on Monday, July 11 in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson.

The sentencing hearing has now been rescheduled for Monday, July 18, at 8:30 a.m., still in front of Percy Anderson.

In mid February of this year, Baca pleaded guilty 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.

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 into brutality by deputies in the county’s large jail system.

In fact, Baca has now admitted, he gave instructions that the officers “should do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Her being Agent Marx.

According to Baca’s plea deal with the U.S. Government, his proposed sentence will be between 0 to 6 months in a federal prison. But Judge Anderson has the option of going outside the parameters of the deal and could give the former sheriff as much as five years in a federal lock-up. However, if the judge were to go beyond the 0 to 6 boundaries, it would render the plea deal null and void.

Then Baca and his attorneys would have to decide whether or not they wish to take the risk going to trial, or simply accept a greater sentence than that agreed to in the deal.

The the fact that the former sheriff has been diagnosed with early stage Alzheimer’s disease, may also be a factor in Baca’s sentencing. (WitnessLA broke that story in May.)

The ongoing exchange of legal briefs and expert opinion on the matter of Baca’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis is the reason for this latest delay.

More details soon.

Photo of Lee Baca by Saxon Brice

Posted in LASD, Sheriff Lee Baca | 15 Comments »

Day of Reckoning: The Strange and Memorable Afternoon When Former LA Sheriff Lee Baca Pleaded Guilty to a Felony

February 11th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


On Wednesday afternoon, around five minutes before the 2:30 PM plea hearing was to begin in the courtroom of U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and his attorney, Michael Zweiback, walked down the left aisle of the courtroom, through the waist-high swinging door, to the defendant’s table where Baca carefully folded his lanky frame into a chair.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox, who is chief of the federal district’s public corruption and civil rights section, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes, chief of general crimes, were already seated on the other side of the room at the prosecution’s table.

The purpose of the hearing was for Baca to formally plead guilty to one felony count of lying to federal authorities when they 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.

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 into brutality by deputies in the county’s large jail system.

In fact, Baca has now admitted, he gave instructions that the officers “should do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Her being Agent Marx.

Now the act of pleading guilty in open court was the next step in the process of executing the plea agreement with the feds that Baca signed on Monday in lieu of facing a federal indictment for his alleged part in obstructing the government’s probe into LASD wrongdoing.

The idea of a plea was reportedly floated by Baca’s attorneys months ago, according to members of the U.S. Attorney’s office. But it was only in the last few days that the final language of the deal had been nailed down in a flurry of negotiations.

Baca was arraigned on the single charge on Wednesday morning, then at noon U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker held a hastily arranged press conference to announce the existence of the deal, an event that had the LA press corps scrambling wildly to get to the downtown federal building and up to the 7th floor conference room on time to report on what was about to become a national story.

And now, finally, there was the hearing in which the man who had, for years, arguably been California’s most popular elected official, would publicly plead to a felony, that in all likelihood would lead to time in a federal prison, albeit probably for no more than six months.

The plea hearing was originally randomly assigned to U.S. District Court Judge John Kronstadt, but most people who had been following the multiple federal trials involving members of the LA Sheriff’s Department assumed that Judge Percy Anderson would manage to wrestle the proceeding into his own court room.

Anderson had been the jurist to preside over all three previous obstruction of justice trials, pertaining to the hiding of FBI informant and convicted bank robber Anthony Brown in what has come to be known as Operation Pandora’s Box, an ill-considered strategy directed from the department’s highest levels that has, to date, resulted in the conviction of seven former LASD members, with accompanying prison sentences ranging from 18 to 41 months. (These cases are all on appeal with the Nineth Circuit Court of Appeals). One more department member, former captain Tom Carey, was indicted last year pertaining to Pandora’s Box, but he too has made a deal, in his case, in exchange for truthful testimony at the upcoming trial of his fellow indictee, former LASD undersheriff and 2014 candidate for LA County Sheriff, Paul Tanaka.

Tanaka’s trial, scheduled to begin jury selection on March 22, was also originally assigned to another judge. But exactly no one was surprised when the highly intelligent and decidedly quirky Anderson managed to arm wrestle the sure-to-be-theatrical Tanaka proceedings into his courtroom.


For the occasion of his plea hearing, Lee Baca wore a highly-tailored dark brown suit, a pale shirt, a gold and brown striped tie, and a melon pink silk handkerchief carefully arranged in his left breast pocket.

Both of Baca’s parents struggled with impoverished circumstances, but according to the former sheriff, his father always somehow managed to be a snappy dresser and Baca too came to find pleasure in nice clothing. On Wednesday, in addition to the good suit, he’d fastened a small decorative pin to his left lapel. The shiny thing was smaller than a quarter, but shaped like the bright LASD sheriff’s star he’d worn for 49 years, 15 of those years as the Los Angeles County Sheriff.

As Baca and everyone else sat waiting for Judge Anderson to make his appearance, the former sheriff’s expression was one of enforced calm that appeared as if it could easily fracture. As the minutes passed, he seemed less and less sure what to do with his hands, which he finally laid half-clasped on the table in front of him, the tips of his long fingers touching, as if he was gently holding a thin glass ball the size of a navel orange between his palms.

At 2:33 PM, Judge Anderson arrived, and the formal hearing began. Making a plea of this sort is a highly ritualized affair in which the judge asks a series of questions, and the defendant replies briefly. For the next 30 plus minutes, Anderson performed his side of the ritual, making programmed inquiries that allowed his honor to determined that Baca was not presently drunk, or on drugs, or suffering from a mental illness, reacting to threats or coercion, or anything else that might keep him from understanding and freely making the decision at hand.

Judge Anderson explained that the plea would not be finalized until sentencing, which would take place a few months hence. Between then and now, Baca would meet with a representative from probation, who would then submit a report that recommended a sentence within the federal guidelines—specifically from 0 to 6 months in a federal prison– for the crime to which he was pleading. Once in receipt of the probation report, the prosecution would make its own recommendation that could be higher or lower than whatever probation suggested, but that—according to the terms of the plea deal—would remain within the 0-6 month parameter.

Only then would the judge make his decision as to what sentence he intended to impose.

But, Anderson said, leaning slightly forward for emphasis, according to the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, the court “is not bound by advisory guidelines,” but is able to impose a sentence that “could be greater or lessor than the guideline range,” up to a maximum of five years in prison, plus three years of post-prison oversight, and a cash fine of up to $250,000. Anderson said, in so many words, that the 0-6 sentence wasn’t a done deal, and that he would look at a multiplicity of factors before making his decision.

All the participants were aware, however, that according to the terms of the agreement signed Monday, if the judge’s sentence strayed from the 0-6 month guidelines, it would nullify the plea deal if either of the parties wished it.

And, in the course of the hearing, prosecutor Brandon Fox made it clear that if at any point in the process Baca was to bail from the deal, the government was fully prepared to proceed to a grand jury in order to indict the sheriff, and that the charges that came with an indictment—that the feds maintained they fully believed they could prove—would likely be more extensive than the single count to which he was now about to plead.

Toward the hearing’s end, Anderson recited some of the privileges Baca would lose, either temporarily or permanently, as a convicted felon: the right to vote, the right to serve on a jury, the right to own, carry or use a firearm…and more.

In response to the ongoing questions and statements, Baca and his attorney occasionally conferred when the former sheriff looked unsure, but in the end Baca acknowledged that he understood all that had been said, and the decision he was making.

Finally Judge Anderson asked the main question: How do you plead…?

In return, Lee Baca recited the necessary words: Guilty, your honor.

Despite the dark storms of scandal unleashed by Baca and Tanaka in recent years, it was an oddly unsettling phrase to hear coming out of the former sheriff’s mouth.

A date of May 16 was set for the sentencing hearing at which point, if all went well, Baca’s plea would be finalized and a sentence imposed.

And that was that.


After the courtroom emptied, a mass of reporters, photographers and TV camera people waited on the east side of the federal courthouse for Baca, his wife, and his lawyer to emerge, along with a couple of supportive personal friends. Baca had planned to read a short statement and then leave while his lawyer stayed to answer reporters’ questions. But before an increasingly grim looking Baca could read his prepared words, reporters closed in and some began shouting agressive questions at him featuring words like “corruption” and “disgraced.”

Evidently the noisy questioners hoped to provoke a soundbite, but instead Baca’s face began to collapse, and he yanked himself away from press and lawyers and all but ran to a waiting car, his friends and wife racing beside him.

Once Baca was gone, attorney Michael Zweiback answered questions, as promised: Was he worried about his client’s safety? asked one reporter.

“I leave that to the Board of Federal Prisons,” Zweiback replied.

He and his co-counsel, Zweiback told reporters, were hoping to persuade the court that Baca “does not deserve prison time, that he is currently involved in many, many projects in the community that are doing a lot of good…”

ABC7′s Lisa Bartley asked Zweiback to “explain the difference” between his client and the “other members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s department” who were sentenced to multiple years in prison, ostensibly for following the orders of the former sheriff and the former undersheriff.

“I’ll let the U.S. Attorney’s Office speak to that,” said Zweiback smoothly. “I’m only responsible for representing the interest of my client. And he’s accepted responsibility for [the things for which] he needs to accept responsibility.” (Zweiback is, by the way, a former assistant U.S. attorney.)

Baca’s lawyer also reiterated that if Judge Anderson decided to hand down a sentence that was longer than what is specified in the guidelines, “that would nullify the plea agreement,” and the parties would go back to square one, which likely meant proceeding to trial.

In addition, Zweiback noted that, , as part of the sentencing process, Baca would do what is known as a plea colloquy, a public statement “to explain his side and to express is remorse for what he’s done. I do expect him to do that,” said the attorney.

Finally Zweiback handed out copies of the one page “statement” Baca had originally intended to deliver himself, prior to the shouting and fleeing. It consisted of two sentences written in what looked like 25 pt type:

I made a mistake and accept being held accountable.

I will always love the men and women of the Sheriff Department and serve human life no matter where and who they are.

It was signed with a looping signature: Lee Baca Retired Sheriff.

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | 63 Comments »

Former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca Pleads to Felony Charge That Would Likely Involve Time in Lock-Up

February 10th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Early Wednesday morning the news began to leak that former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca
had agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of making false statement—or statements—to federal authorities when he was interviewed in 2013 about elements of the wide-ranging corruption and civil rights investigation into wrongdoing at the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, which Baca had run for fifteen years.

In the plea agreement signed on February 8, and filed in federal court Wednesday morning, Baca admitted that he lied to the FBI and members of the U.S. Attorney’s Office during an April 12, 2013 round of questioning. 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, hoping to get information about the feds’ rapidly expanding investigation into brutality by deputies in the LA County Jail.

In fact, Baca has now admitted, he gave instructions that the officers “should do everything but put handcuffs on her.” Her being Agent Marx.

Mr. Baca also denied participating in conversations about “keeping the FBI and inmate [ Anthony Brown, a federal informant] away from each other, according to the statement of facts in the plea agreement

According to federal officials, discussions with Baca’s attorney about a possible deal have been going on for the past few months while an investigation into Baca’s actions continued. The initial approach was made from Baca’s side.

The government has been investigating the sheriff for multiple years as part of a general investigation into corruption and wrongdoing inside the department he led, according to U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker.

“Today’s charge and plea agreement demonstrate that illegal behavior within the sheriff’s department went to the very top of the organization,” said Decker.

Throughout the investigation there were denials” of wrongdoing from Baca, she said.

“He had the opportunity to lead, but he did not lead.”

Baca is expected to enter his formal plea Wednesday afternoon at 2:30 PM in federal court.

More after the hearing.

Photo of Lee Baca by Saxon Brice

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | 33 Comments »

Judge Makes Clear That Former Sheriff Lee Baca Is on the Hook for Legal Damages, But Taxpayers Will Likely Pay

January 15th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

As most of you know, a month ago, on December 15, 2015, a federal jury found in favor of 8 working members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who brought suit
in civil court against the County of Los Angeles in general, and former sheriff Lee Baca in particular for what they and their attorney described as career-damaging retaliation, which they said occurred after the eight plaintiffs publically endorsed former undersheriff Paul Tanaka in his 2013-2014 run for sheriff.

Those who brought the lawsuit were: Capt. Charles Antuna, Sgt. Casey Dowling, Cpt. Louis Duran, Cmdr. Kevin Hebert, Cpt. Robert Tubbs, Cmdr. David Waters, Lt. Robert Wheat, and Custody Assistant Rocio Martinez.

According to our sources, the plaintiff’s were originally hoping to collect upwards of a $1 million or more apiece—or $8-$16 million collectively. But while the jury found firmly in favor of the eight, plainly concluding that retaliation did indeed occur, they did not award big dollar amounts when it came to damage done to the plaintiffs. The cumulative cash amount awarded for all eight amounted to under $800,000—less than one tenth of what was desired. And nearly half of the total awards ($360,000) came in the form of punitive damages aimed directly at the former sheriff personally.

Yet, the awards were not trivial either. So one presumes the jury intended to make some sort of statement.

Near the end of last month, the intent of the jury’s verdict was further clarified by the United States District Judge Michael Fitzgerald when he delivered his post trial judgement (which you can find right here). In this more formal judgement it is even more evident that the jury’s findings were directed at Baca.

It is also interesting to note that the monetary awards not aimed at punishing the former sheriff, were nearly all for “non-economic damages”—in other words, pain and suffering. No damages whatsoever were awarded for loss of income—past, present or future—despite the plaintiffs’ earnest claims of income losses that ran, for each, into the single digit millions, all bolstered by the numbers floated by their hired gun expert witness.

Nevertheless, the jury didn’t appear to buy that the eight were all that hideously harmed, particularly not economically. But jurors did believe that Lee Baca had been deliberately retaliatory against every one of the eight for their perfectly lawful public support of Tanaka’s candidacy, and the final judgement reflects that belief.

(Judge Fitzgerald was, by the way, a very attentive jurist who did not seem to favor one side or the other, but who appeared mostly to want to see the facts of the matter—whatever they might be—elucidated as well as was legally possible during the course of the trial.)


So what does all this mean? Is the former sheriff going to be on the hook for some or all of the $800,000 tab?

Uh, well, no. Probably not.

A source with knowledge of the case told WLA that it is unlikely that Baca will pay a penny. “By statute the county must cover compensatory,” the source said, meaning the compensatory damages part of the judgment. Making Baca pay the punitive damages “is optional” the source added. But due to the fact that the county has always covered Baca’s tab before, they likely will now.

“The county,” of course, means LA County taxpayers.

And while we’re discussing this lawsuit, we should also note here that a great many department members we’ve spoken with—both working and retired—feel that several of the plaintiffs in the case have, in past years, been champion retaliators themselves.

But these last two issues were beyond the jurors’ knowledge and control. What was within the jurors’ control, however, they seemed to get remarkably right.

Here’s the complete rundown of who received what:

On each Plaintiff’s First Amendment retaliation claim, the jury returned a verdict in favor of each Plaintiff and against Defendant Leroy Baca, awarding each Plaintiff damages as follows:

1. Damages awarded Plaintiff David Waters:
Past and present non-economic damages: $80,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $128,000

2. Damages awarded Plaintiff Rocio Martinez:
Past, present, and future medical damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $48,000

3. Damages awarded Plaintiff Kevin Hebert:
Past and present non-economic damages: $35,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $83,000

4. Damages awarded Plaintiff Charles Antuna:
Past and present non-economic damages: $48,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $96,000

5. Damages awarded Plaintiff Casey Dowling:
Past and present non-economic damages: $72,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $120,000

6. Damages awarded Plaintiff Robert Wheat:
Past and present non-economic damages: $72,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $120,000

7. Damages awarded Plaintiff Louis Duran:
Past and present non-economic damages: $72,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $120,000

8. Damages awarded Plaintiff Robert Tubbs:
Past and present non-economic damages: $25,000
Future non-economic damages: $3,000
Punitive damages: $45,000
TOTAL: $73,000

Posted in Sheriff Lee Baca | 11 Comments »

Harm-Focused Policing, LAPD Training and Retraining, the Mayor of New Orleans, and Tom Carey’s Guilty Plea

August 20th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


In a paper published on Friday in the journal Ideas in American Policing, Temple University criminal justice professor Jerry Ratcliffe outlines the difference between a “crime and disorder” focused policing strategy and another method he calls “harm-focused policing,” which redirects police resources and strategies toward the detrimental effects of crime on a community

Targeting issues that affect poor minority communities, like substance abuse, emotional health, and gang recruitment would go beyond the symptoms to get at the “why” of the crimes.

Switching the focus would more accurately represent communities’ concerns, says Jerry Ratcliffe, a criminal justice professor at Temple University and the paper’s author, and would help to change the relationship between cops and poor minority communities: “Where police can often see only crime and disorder, community experiences are more nuanced and diverse.”

While it can be difficult to quantify harm, the paper says there are ways to identify places and people that are especially harmful to communities.

Here’s a clip from the paper:

The range of community anxieties is often heartbreaking, ranging from the day-to-day incivilities that sap community cohesion, to concerns about root causes of crime, drugs, speeding traffic, environmental conditions, community dissolution and the harms associated with gang recruitment of young children. It is not uncommon to hear concerns about the lack of police attention to a neighborhood in the same meeting as complaints about the detrimental impacts of excessive and unfocused police attention on the wrong people. While there are correlations between increased police activity and lower neighborhood violence (see for example Koper & Mayo-Wilson, 2006; Ratcliffe, Taniguchi, Groff, & Wood, 2011), the negative consequences of repeated police contacts are now being more widely understood.

The paper also says the controversial practice of “stop, question, and frisk” (or “stop and frisk”) should be included in the harm index calculations as something that can hurt police-community relations:

The crime reduction benefits of increased pedestrian investigations (sometimes referred to in general as ‘stop, question and frisk’ [SQF]) remain a matter of some dispute (Rosenfeld & Fornango, 2014), and the tactic itself remains highly controversial with the public concerned about both the disproportionate impact on minority communities and potential reduction in police legitimacy. Even Braga and Weisburd, two of the strongest advocates of hot spots policing, accept that ‘It seems likely that overly aggressive and indiscriminate police crackdowns would produce some undesirable effects’ (2010: 188).

Given the potential for harm stemming from unrestrained used of SQF, inclusion of a weighting for each pedestrian or vehicle investigative stop has a number of benefits. First, it acts as a constraint against unfocused and unrestricted use of SQF by over-eager police commanders desperate to reduce crime in a location. The right weighting3 would still sanction use of the tactic, but ideally encourage a focused and targeted application because each stop would count against the area’s harm index. In this way a calculation of cost-benefit ratio would determine if the anticipated crime and harm reduction benefits sufficiently offset any potential loss of police legitimacy and community support. Second, this would send a signal that the police are cognizant of the potential for pedestrian and vehicle investigative stops to impact police-community relations and that they are aware that some police tactics come with an associated cost. Third, having a price associated with investigative stops may generate improved data collection of stops, which will have a corollary benefit, allowing departments to better assess their vulnerability to accusations of racial profiling.


In an interview with the LA Times’ Patt Morrison, Deputy Chief William Murphy, who is the head of the Los Angeles Police Department’s Police Sciences and Training Bureau, talked about how much LAPD training has evolved from a decade ago, how the Sandra Bland tragedy might have turned out differently, and how LA officers are taught to conduct traffic stops and mental health crisis calls.

Here’s a clip (but do yourself a favor and read the whole thing):

What is the LAPD training for a traffic stop?

In the academy, before we teach anything, we ask, “Have you ever been stopped by the police?” Everybody’s hands go up. [They say] the officer was kind of rude. We say: “Remember that before we teach you how to do a traffic stop. What if it was your mother? Your sister? Is that how you’d want someone to treat them?”

In California, we teach an eight-step traffic stop. The first four are critical: The initial thing is the greeting — a smile, say, “Good morning, I’m Officer Bill Murphy of the LAPD.” When people ask for business cards, you give it to them — that’s our policy. When you do this [he points to his nameplate] and say, “This is me,” you’re just getting them mad.

Then you explain the reason for the stop. In some of these traffic stops that go south, they’ve left out some of these components. The goal of a traffic stop is to educate, not irritate. You pull somebody over for running a stop sign to have a conversation to change their behavior.

Watch the tapes and you notice officers — not from California — don’t ask [the driver], “Why would you do that?” I’ve had people tell me, “My wife’s at the hospital delivering my first baby” or “I just got fired today and my head’s not in the game.” You give them an opportunity to explain before you make a decision whether or not to write a ticket.

Then [as the last step], you say have a good day; you always end on a positive note.

The Sandra Bland traffic arrest apparently escalated when an officer got testy because she wouldn’t put out her cigarette; it ended with Bland allegedly hanging herself in a jail cell.

You have to think, is [the driver] a threat to you, or are you just irritated because they happen to be having a cigarette? If you think they’re really a threat, that’s a different situation. I’ve gotten pulled over, and as a police officer, my heart still races. [Bland was] probably just nervous, smoking her cigarette.

We teach don’t be the “contempt of cop” cop. Usually, you get contempt of cop when your emotions take over, when the goal becomes something other than educating, like, “You’re not respecting my authority.”

We’re lucky: About 98% of our police vehicles are two-person. If the [first officer] for whatever reason isn’t making that connection and it’s getting heated, we tell them to switch roles right away. Say, “Hey, partner, let me take this over,” as opposed to getting into a confrontation.

I was asked about the video of the Cincinnati incident [a campus police officer shot an unarmed man during a traffic stop; the officer has been indicted for murder]. You need to control your emotions and stress level so you don’t overreact. When you overreact, you can see a threat that’s really not there.


The Altantic’s Jeffery Goldberg has a great longread about New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu who is on a crusade to cut down on the level of homicides in his city. Landrieu’s particular focus is on the “epidemic of young African American men killing young African American men.”

One of Mayor Landrieu’s innovative violence diversion programs, NOLA for Life, initiates “call-ins” where around 20 men between the ages of 16-24 who are likely to shoot or be shot, and who have had contact with the justice system, are called into court without explanation.

Landrieu addresses the gathered boys and young men, who are either doing a short stint in jail or are on probation, and introduces two groups of people who have come to speak with them and help them—on one side, representatives from every local and federal law enforcement agency, on the other, social workers and counselors ready to help the attendees and connect them with services and resources.

Landrieu tells the young men gathered in front of him, that if they leave the courthouse and make wrong choices they will have further contact with the law enforcement agencies in attendance, but if they choose correctly, Landrieu says, “I’ll make a commitment to you that you’re going to go to the front of the line: if you need a job, if you need mental-health, substance-abuse counseling, if you say you need something, the folks on this side of the room will listen to you, talk to you, help you.”

NOLA for Life also features mental health services, substance abuse treatment, and job training. And teams of counselors, including former gang members, are dispatched to ERs to convince family members of shooting victims not to seek revenge.

“i want people to tell me whether or not they think that the lives of poor young African American men that live in certain communities in every city—whether their lives matter…that’s all I want to know: that the answer to that is ‘yes’.”

Here’s a clip:

“It’s a roll of the dice. People get out of Central City, they do,” Landrieu told me recently. “But many don’t. If life had gone differently for Joseph Norfleet and James Darby, who knows? Joseph Norfleet could have been that 9-year-old victim. Maybe Joseph Norfleet would be dead and James Darby would be in prison today. We see this so often—today’s shooter is tomorrow’s victim.”

The prison [Angola], 130 miles from New Orleans, could legitimately be considered the city’s most distant neighborhood. Of the roughly 6,300 men currently imprisoned at Angola—three-quarters of them there for life, and nearly 80 percent of them African American—about 2,000 at any given moment are from New Orleans. Thousands of children in New Orleans—a city whose population today is roughly 380,000—have fathers who will reside until death in Angola.

“This place will bring you to your knees,” Landrieu said.


“What you’re going to see is a huge governing failure on the part of our society. This country has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and Louisiana has the highest incarceration rate in the country. That’s failure.”

Landrieu visits Angola on occasion to learn more about a crisis that has come to consume him. He decided, early in his first term, to devote the resources of his city to solving one of this country’s most diabolical challenges—the persistence of homicide in poor African American communities. The numbers are staggering. From 1980 to 2013, 262,000 black males were killed in America. By contrast, roughly 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam. In New Orleans, about 6,000 African American men have been murdered since 1980. The killers of these men were, in the vast majority of cases, other African American men. In New Orleans, 80 percent of murder victims are believed to have known their killer.


As we drove to Angola, I asked Landrieu why he has made homicide—a seemingly ineradicable disease in a gun-saturated country whose popular culture glorifies violence—his chief priority.

“I didn’t grab this. This problem grabbed me,” he said. “I guess you could say I’m obsessed with it. I don’t understand why it’s okay in America—a country that’s supposed to be the greatest country in the world, a place with more wealth than anywhere else—for us to leave so many of our citizens basically dead. Why do we allow our citizens to kill each other as if it’s the cost of doing business? We have basically given up on our African American boys. I’d be a cold son of a bitch if I ignored it, if I just focused on the other side of town, or focused just on tourism.

“I’m absolutely certain we have the money and the capacity to solve this problem, but we do not have the will. This problem doesn’t touch enough Americans to rise to the level of a national crisis. But these are all our children. I’m embarrassed by it. How could this be normal?”


On Wednesday, former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Captain William “Tom” Carey officially changed his plea to guilty in the obstruction of justice trial involving the hiding of a federal informant from the FBI.

Standing before US District Judge Percy Anderson, Carey pled guilty to one count of perjury. In exchange, three separate charges of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and another count of lying on the witness stand, are to be dismissed.

In return, Carey will have to fully cooperate with the feds and provide testimony in related trials, including that of his co-defendant, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, and that of former Sheriff Lee Baca, who has not been indicted, but may be federal prosecutors’ next target.

ABC7′s Miriam Hernandez and Lisa Bartley were there in court and have the story. Here are some clips:

Former Sheriff Leroy “Lee” Baca might be getting nervous right about now.

Retired Captain William “Tom” Carey, 57, officially changed his plea to guilty on Wednesday, becoming the highest-ranking Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department official to flip in the years-long federal investigation.

“Guilty,” Carey stated under oath as he stood before Judge Percy Anderson alongside his defense attorney Andrew Stolper.

Carey cut a deal with prosecutors that requires total cooperation with law enforcement as they forge ahead in their investigation of corruption and inmate abuse inside county jails, which are run by the LASD.

Speculation is growing that Baca, who abruptly resigned in January 2014, could be in the crosshairs of federal prosecutors.

“We’ve seen in the investigation of this case that the prosecution has been trying to go as high as they can, even to the sheriff himself,” said Laurie Levenson, a Loyola Law School professor and former federal prosecutor.

Carey’s co-defendant, former LASD Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, goes on trial this November for his alleged role in the scheme to block the FBI investigation.


Carey’s plea deal means that three felony counts — obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and one count of making false statements — will be dismissed.

Carey pleaded guilty to one count of making another false statement, which points to what prosecutors say was the true motivation for hiding Brown from the FBI.

At the trial of Deputy James Sexton in May 2014, Carey testified that there was no other reason to move Brown other than for his own safety.

Carey now admits that was a lie because he “knew that the deputies ordered to stand guard over Inmate AB during this time were there, at least in part, so that the FBI could not have access to Inmate AB unless there was an order from co-defendant Tanaka or another LASD executive that would have allowed access.”

Carey’s cooperation agreement means he is likely to testify against Tanaka at his upcoming trial, although defense attorneys are sure to attack Carey’s credibility now that he’s admitted to previously lying on the witness stand.

Posted in LAPD, LASD, law enforcement, Sheriff Lee Baca, Violence Prevention | 29 Comments »

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