Leroy Baca is sentenced.
“Alzheimer’s disease is not a get out of jail card,” said U.S. District Court Justice Percy Anderson shortly before he announced he had chosen to sentence former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca to 36 months in federal prison, with a year of supervised release.
If not for Baca’s “cognitive impairment,” said Anderson, and if not for his career in public service, “you would have received the same sentence as Mr. Tanaka.”
Baca was “at least as culpable as Tanaka,” Anderson continued. “His actions” would not have occurred “without you.”
Baca knew what he was doing, and had no problem using his power in the obstructive way he did, said the judge.
“A custodial sentence”—meaning prison—“is an important step in restoring the public’s confidence in our criminal justice system.”
Such a sentence, according to the judge, was also a “necessary deterrent to our public officials, to law enforcement and to the public.”
And so it was that Judge Anderson told the former sheriff, elected five times by large margins, that he would be going to prison for three years.
Baca reacts to the sentence
After the news of the 36 months was pronounced, at the defense table, the former sheriff looked physically sick for the first 90 seconds or so, but whatever was going on internally, on the surface, he appeared to recover his emotional balance quickly.
Baca is to surrender to the U.S. Marshals on July 25.
Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, filed a request for Baca to be out on bail pending his appeal to the 9th Circuit. Anderson denied the request Friday morning before the sentencing hearing began, but he did so on technical grounds, and told Hochman he could resubmit the request.
The sentence was for the convictions in mid-March of this year for obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, and lying to federal officials. It was the second time Baca was tried for the obstruction charges. In December of last year, his first trial resulted in a hung jury with eleven jurors voting to acquit.
In trial two, however, the eight-man four-woman jury sent a note to Judge Anderson after deliberating for approximately fourteen hours.
The jury foreperson told reporters after the verdict that although he and fellow jurors were convinced that Baca had committed crimes, they didn’t find the former sheriff unsympathetic personally. “We felt he was trying to protect his empire,” the foreperson said of Baca’s motives, “the one he worked so hard to attain.”
On the other hand, he said the panel was clear on what they perceived as Baca’s responsibility for the illegal actions of those under his command. “The leader runs the ship. He made the choice to be there.”
For sentencing day, as usual the former sheriff was dressed impeccably. He wore a highly-tailored blue suit, the color of dark denim, a white shirt, and a blue and gold striped tie with a 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 his son too came to find pleasure in nice clothing.
On Friday, as was usual, he fastened a small decorative pin to his left lapel. The judge had forbidden Baca to wear his small sheriff’s star at the last trial. So Friday he wore his Marine Corps pin to the hearing where he would find out whether or not he was going to prison. He was in the Marine reserves as a younger man, and he really liked the pin, with its tiny Marine Corp flag crossed with an equally tiny Old Glory.
“But I’m putting the star on as soon as I get downstairs,” Baca said after the sentencing.
Really? I blurted.
“Hell, yeah!” said Lee Baca.
And so he did.