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The LASD Latest, the Problem with Plea Bargains, and New Sentences Under CA’s Fair Sentencing for Youth Act

January 13th, 2014 by Taylor Walker


One of the next big questions, following Sheriff Lee Baca’s retirement announcement last week, is who the LA County Board of Supervisors will choose as interim sheriff to take over the department until a permanent sheriff is elected 10 months from now.

A Sunday LA Times editorial calls for that temporary sheriff to use that time to gut the sheriff’s department of dishonest officers and to create a culture of openness and accountability.

The Board of Supervisors should appoint an interim sheriff for the next 10 months who embraces not just the marching orders of reform but the underlying need for real change. Such a person must be prepared to root out an entrenched attitude of resistance. He or she must be prepared to face and overcome deputies and supervisors who believe they can wait out any departmental revamp.

If the Sheriff’s Department needs a housecleaning — and it does — now is the time. Proven dishonesty should result in discharge, and supervisors uncomfortable with scrutiny and new structures of accountability should be moved aside. An interim sheriff who fires and demotes as the situation requires may well be unpopular, but that’s the point: As a short-term appointee, he or she can and should take steps that might give pause to someone seeking election or reelection.

The interim sheriff should make clear in both word and deed that dishonesty — as opposed to personal disloyalty — will be punished. Honest deputies must see that deceit will be found out and punished. If there is a jailhouse code of silence meant to protect deputies and enable the abuse of inmates, it must be eliminated. An unyielding stance against secretive conduct and deception should be adopted by the interim sheriff and should be considered nonnegotiable by the time the elected sheriff takes office.

Mechanisms to ensure transparency and accountability that will transcend and outlast any single person’s leadership must be put in place. There is already an inspector general to monitor and report on jail conditions and the use of force, and to conduct its own investigations, and that’s a good start, but more is needed.

(There’s more, so make sure to read the rest.)

As a demonstration of just how urgently the LA County Sheriff’s Department is in need of reform, here are the numbers on how much the LASD is costing the county in terms of legal settlements in 2013: accounting for nearly half of the county’s total litigation costs, the sheriff’s dept. spent $43M. That’s $6M up from last year, in spite of LA County’s total expenditure being at a seven-year low. (You can find the rest of the spending report on LA County Supervisor Gloria Molina’s website.)


In an interview with Sheriff Lee Baca on Friday, ABC 7 learned that Baca’s senior civilian aide, Bishop Edward Turner will be resigning at the behest of the sheriff, pending investigation into a list of questionable issues, including the fact that an illegal marijuana dispensary was operating on Turner’s commercial property across from his church. (A previous WLA post on the Bishop Turner story can be found here.)

Here’s a clip from ABC 7′s story:

On Friday, the sheriff appeared for an Eyewitness Newsmakers interview, where I asked whether he felt betrayed by Turner.

“I feel like he should have told me that this is going on so I didn’t catch it in a difference source. But that didn’t happen. So we are doing an investigation, but I also informed the bishop yesterday that it’d be best if he resigned from the program. We will still continue the investigation, however, and he’s indicating he will resign,” said Baca.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore later told Eyewitness News that Turner is resigning from his appointed position, along with two other appointed field deputies, because the sheriff is retiring, and the investigation continues as a separate matter.


In an article for the Crime Report, Matthew Mangino, former district attorney for Lawrence County, PA, explains why plea bargains—which represents how 97% of federal criminal cases are closed—are undermining the nation’s criminal justice system by rendering trial-by-jury nearly nonexistent. Here are some clips:

Ninety-seven percent of federal criminal prosecutions are resolved by plea bargain. In state courts the numbers are comparable. The plea bargain may be the grease that keeps the criminal justice system churning, but it may also be a sign of a system in need of repair.

Judge John Gleeson, of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York recently wrote, “An excessively high rate of guilty pleas is unhealthy for our justice system.”

Why? The only scrutiny a case may receive in federal court is that afforded by a grand jury and, as long-time Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau once said, he could get a grand jury to indict a “ham sandwich.”

At trial the government must prove a defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. The government must firmly convince the jury of every element of the offense and that the defendant was the person who committed the crime.

But, as Gleeson observed, “Our [grand jury] system permits indictment to be returned on an ex parte presentation consisting entirely of inadmissible evidence.”

Much of the evidence presented to a grand jury would never see the light of day in a jury trial. The burden of proof before a grand jury requires merely a showing of probable cause; it does not require showing guilt beyond a reasonable doubt, and does not need unanimity of the grand jurors.


What this means is that an insignificant number of offenders heading off to state or federal prison were proven guilty of anything…For 97 out of 100 people accused of a crime in federal court, all that has been proven against them is that a crime has been committed and that they “probably” committed it—the same standard that permits a police officer or federal agent to make an arrest.


At 16-years-old, Edel Gonzalez was given life without parole (LWOP) for his involvement in the death of a woman during a carjacking. A controversial and important California law (SB 9) that went into effect last year, gives some juveniles, who were tried as adults and sentenced to LWOP, a chance of a chance at parole, if signed off by a judge. This past December, Gonzalez was the first person resentenced to life with the possibility of parole. (For backstory on the passage of SB 9, go here.)

Elizabeth Calvin, a senior children’s advocate at Human Rights Watch, tells Gonzalez’ story and explains the significance of this new law. Here are some clips:

I first met Edel in 2007. Seated at a visiting room table in a maximum security prison, he was a somber 32-year-old. I was investigating California’s use of life-without-parole sentences for teens. Before his crime, he had been solidly ensconced in a gang since age 11. He had also been suppressing childhood abuse and loss, and dealt with his pain by drinking. He’d never met his father, so older gang members provided his only adult male role models. He was thoroughly drunk when he and two adult codefendants attempted to steal a car. One of the men — not Edel — unexpectedly shot the driver. Edel was convicted of murder for his role and sentenced to life without parole.

When we met, he had been in prison 16 years, and a coffin would be his only way out. He was a man with no reason to hope. Yet he had reflected deeply on why he had been so lost at 16, and described his efforts to be a good person since that time. His virtually pristine prison record supported his claim.

“I am a different person than I was then,” he said. “I wish I could change the things I did. But I can try to live an upright life now, even here.” When he spoke about his victim, he became overwhelmed. He turned away, hiding tears and shame. “I’d tell her, if I could … I’m sorry. I don’t know how to give you my life. I would give you my heart if I could.”


A few weeks before Edel’s December hearing, I got a call from a jail chaplain in another county. He said that a youth had just been sentenced to life without parole and that during sentencing, the judge turned to the boy and said, “You are a monster.” His crime was a murder with depressing similarities to Edel’s case. A monstrous act, yes — a truth about any murder.

But a child is not a monster. And that is what this law is about. Science and law compel a court to consider the fact that a young person still is developing. No one can know who a 16-year-old will be in 22 years.

Posted in juvenile justice, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD, LWOP Kids, Sentencing, Sheriff Lee Baca | 6 Comments »

6 Responses

  1. What a joke Says:

    Here’s the problem. Tanaka has already admitted on camera to a news reporter that a previous investigation of Turner was squashed. Tanaka claims it was per the sheriff. 85k in a package and the sheriff squashes the investigation and keeps the guy on the payroll. Now Baca is running his mouth about conducting an investigation? Not only laughable, but disingenuous at best. You people who claim that Baca was just out of the loop and didn’t know what was going on but he didn’t really do anything criminal need to have him explain the Turner caper to everybody. He was no babe in the woods on that one. He was a crooked lying self serving politician and not only looked the other way when obvious criminal activity was going on by one of his political allies, he used his position as sheriff to prevent a thorough investigation. He belongs behind bars. You want an honest law abiding sheriff who puts law enforcement before politics? Here’s your chance to set the example and give them a reason to be ethical.

  2. J.London Says:

    “I feel like he should have told me that this is going on so I didn’t catch it in a difference source. But that didn’t happen. So we are doing an investigation, but I also informed the bishop yesterday that it’d be best if he resigned from the program. We will still continue the investigation, however, and he’s indicating he will resign,” said Baca.

    Baca is an idiot! From Baca’s statement Baca wanted Bishop Turner to tell Baca something like ” Hey Lee I’m running dope cash from a place across the street from my church. And your Driver Joe G is doing a fantastic job running cover for me.” Lee we are not as dumb as you!

    C: Here is a much better question for Lee Baca. Mr. Baca will you call for a criminal investigation of Bishop Turner and of former Undersheriff Larry Waldie who ordered the drug money returned to Bishop Turner?

    C: A side note: Everyone is now pushing for another oversight committee or citizen independent group. Don’t we have already two groups that were supposed to do all that snooping and recommending? Yes, we do the OIR (Gennaco’s joke)and the Judge? And now we want a third group of ineffective do nothing at the taxpayer expense committee. True, that the candidates will al endorse the new committee because of the Liberal Press and ACLU type groups. But, let the record clearly reflect that it was Pat Gomez in 2002 and Bob Olmsted in 2012 that came forward and exposed Lee Baca and the whole gang. It wasn’t a committee, investigative reporter or the ACLU. It certainly wasn’t an opportunist McDonnell who is afraid of his shadow. It was two men and a host of strong willed witnesses for Gomez and for the Jail Commission hearings that did the right thing!!

  3. Searchlight Says:

    Chief McDonnell aka McBaca will be announcing within a day or two, “after careful consideration and consulting with my family, I’ve changed my mind about running for Sheriff. LASD needs me now more than ever, I am going to answer the call.” Of course, he will not mention that the real reason he didn’t decide six months ago because it was too hard and he didn’t want to run against his buddy, Leroy. But now that Olmsted has done all of the heavy lifting and for the most part, forced Baca into retirement, well, McBaca being the political opportunist that he is, is just doing that. Tanking an opportunity.

    I have a news flash for LASD, unless they want to start wearing blue and have retired LAPD folks on the 4th floor “reforming LASD” into the LAPD way, folks best starting lining up behind Olmsted. And that goes particularly for ALADS and PPOA. Take you pick folks, the ball is in your court.

  4. Jack Dawson Says:

    #1,thanks for your post.

    I was around some OSS guys a week or two ago, and they were pontificating to a younger Deputy how Hellmond is going to be the interim Sheriff. Detectives, just because you are patrol trained and been around a while, what qualifies you as political experts? Have you seen this scenario before? Have you ever participated in a political election? Do you have a formal education in this matter? Can you even vote for a Los Angeles politician or do you live at the last exit on the 60, bro?

    A/S Sheriff Hellmond will be one of the first ones out with the bath water ladies and gentlemen. He has been at the Sheriff’s beckoning since the beginning and can not be trusted. That’s before we dive into his baggage. It is the old wine in a new bottle with Hellmond, but don’t you guys feel sorry for him. Jim has resources and the boyish good looks. He will land on his feet, just not in the Department without Baca.

    Oh yea, learn the Core Values before you try to mouth them with Uncle Leroy during a live shot.

  5. Person of Interest Says:

    Jack D, just a reminder that the interim Sheriff will be appointed, not elected. Only petty BOS politics involved. Jim could easily find himself appointed. Those of us who have worked around him know how little substance there is, and how much a sycophant he is. The BOS would love that.

    What short memories people seem to have re: problems and oversight. I recall distinctly that the Kolts Commission, back in the ’90s came to exactly the same conclusions about poorly managed Deputies and a need for civilian oversight. The way I see it, Baca’s legacy will be that he took those recommendations, and like everything since, ignored them while claiming to take action, ‘now that he knows about the problem which was previously undisclosed to him.’

  6. Nancy Drew Says:

    No mention of A/S Rogers yet, so Todd let me remind you, we are watching you. Let’s see the action follow your tough words on TV!

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