Sheriff Lee Baca Retires: “I Will Go Out on My Terms” More Candidates Consider Running…& Indictments LoomJanuary 8th, 2014 by Celeste Fremon
It was a strangely melancholy, almost Shakespearean scene on Tuesday morning at the Monterey Park headquarters of the LA County Sheriff’s Department where, at just after 10 am, Sheriff Lee Baca emerged and announced to a large crowd of journalists and others that he was leaving the department he had served for 48 years, and led for fifteen. His exit would be effective at the end of January.
[KPCC has most of the audio of Baca's statement and the Q & A that followed here.)
“I was elected to four terms. And I will go out on my own terms,” the 71 year old sheriff said looking fit and also fragile.
At several points in his prepared statement, the sheriff teetered on the precipice of tears.
“All the people in this county count,“ he said, his voice thickening. “Everybody.”
Baca said he was retiring for many reasons, But “the prevailing one,” he said, “is the negative perception this upcoming campaign has brought to the exemplary service provided by the men and women of the sheriff’s department.
“This is all about doing what is right for the people of Los Angeles County.”
Since the meaning of this statement was somewhat…unclear…a reporter asked Baca why he couldn’t just announce that he wasn’t running for a new term, but still finish out his existing elected term.
He thought of it, he said, “But I know the intensity of politics…”
Anoather reporter asked Baca if his resignation had anything to do with worry about federal indictments. He answered opaquely.
“I’m not afraid of reality,” he said. “I’m only afraid of people who don’t tell the truth.”
Along with the crowd of journalists recording the moment, there was also a second crowd of department members. The mood among the latter was, oddly, one of relief—as if after months of tension the storm had broken. The rain had come. There was no more wondering what would occur. Now it had happened.
Even Baca looked like a weight had been lifted.
After delivering his own news, the sheriff endorsed Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald— formerly of the California Department of Corrections, who is now in charge of the department’s custody division— as his choice for interim sheriff. (The LA County Board of Supervisors has the ultimate say about who will be chosen as interim sheriff.)
Baca also endorsed two of his assistant sheriffs as candidates for the office of sheriff, Todd Rogers and Jim Hellmold.
I spoke to Rogers after Baca’s press conference concluded. When I asked him if he planned to declare his candidacy on Tuesday, at first said he wasn’t officially declaring on this day, but another minute or two into the conversation, he changed his mind and went ahead and jumped into the race for real. He then talked about a “catastrophic failure of leadership” in the department and how Baca had trusted the wrong people, particularly Paul Tanaka. By this time, some TV reporters had drifted over, and Rogers repeated everything for the television cameras.
I had a similar conversation with Jim Hellmold, who was in his sheriff’s department uniform so couldn’t really legally talk politics. But he said he was strongly considering running, but hadn’t decided yet.
Both Hellmold and Rogers seemed very interested in whether Long Beach Chief of Police Jim McDonnell was going to jump into the race. (He has said he is now strongly considering the option. More on McDonnell later in the week.)
After the official event was over, as reporters and department members stood around talking, there was much speculation about why Baca had chosen so unexpectedly to call an end to his time in office. Most agreed it had something to do with the federal investigations, but no one seemed to know for sure.
OTHER CANDIDATES FOR SHERIFF SPEAK OUT
Candidates for Sheriff Bob Olmsted, Paul Tanaka and Lou Vince all issued statements in response to the Lee Baca’s announcement.
Olmsted (who reportedly has raised $250,000 in campaign donations thus far) wrote this:
“They said he couldn’t be beaten. They called him the Teflon Sheriff. But no man is above the law. Plagued with an active FBI investigation and a host of scandals, Lee Baca announced his resignation today.
He can run from the job, but he can’t hide from the culture of corruption he oversaw. It’s like cleaning up after a hurricane. The storm is gone, but the damage remains. It’s time to clean house, implement major reforms and restore honesty and integrity to this department……
WLA ON KCRW & PACIFICA TALKING ABOUT BACA’S RETIREMENT—AND MORE
On Tuesday afternoon, I was on KCRW’s “All Things Considered” talking about Baca’s announcement with Steve Chiotakis, and you can find the podcast of the short segment here.
Regrettably, on Tuesday morning, I was so busy chatting with people outside the LASD headquarters that I failed to pick up the request to be on Which Way WLA? until it was too late. (Here’s the WWLA? show on Baca’s retirement announcement.)
We also recommend Larry Mantel’s show on the matter at AirTalk featuring LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, Jails Commission executive director Miriam Krinsky and the So Cal ACLU’s legal director Peter Eliasberg. Definitely worth a listen.
MORE INDICTMENTS COMING?
There have been strong rumors—as yet unconfirmed—that more indictments could arrive as soon as next week—or perhaps earlier—this time involving people higher on the department food chain.
But one of the most intriguing moments of speculation came in the course of a KFI news segment on Tuesday when reporter Eric Leonard says that he has talked to a source at the federal law enforcement source who reportedly said after it was learned that the sheriff was stepping down, “The election for the next sheriff of Los Angeles County going to change dramatically again this week.” (You can find the quote at around minute 5:40)