The Retrial of Lee Baca The Trial of Lee Baca

Warning Signs Los Angeles Missed That Allowed the LA County Sheriff’s Department to Spin Out of Control

Former LA County sheriff Lee Baca with defense attorney Nathan Hochman after Baca's May 2017, sentencing.
Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

If We Could Do It Over Again

Right before former Los Angeles County sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced on Friday by U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson to 36 months in a federal prison, the LA Times ran the Op-Ed by WitnessLA about the warning signs we missed during the more than 15 years that Baca was the popular head of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.

If the press and the electorate had been more vigilant could we have derailed the growth of the toxic culture inside the LASD that led to federal convictions (or plea bargains) for 21 department members?

Would rigorous civilian oversight that had some kind of legal authority have prevented the damage done by this mess to the many brave and decent members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and to the residents of the county in general?

These are, of course, questions that require far more than can be covered in a short Op-Ed, but perhaps others will add to the discussion.

We hope you’ll go over and read the whole thing. In the meantime, here’s a clip:

….The most glaring warning sign was the matter of whom the sheriff trusted most. The name that stands out is former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, Baca’s second in command. Tanaka is now four and a half months into a five-year sentence in Colorado for obstruction of justice.

As far back as 2004, when he held the rank of chief, Tanaka was known as Baca’s crown prince, who would one day succeed his boss and until then, the man who could make or destroy any department member’s career with a phone call.

Even now, many of Baca’s closest friends and supporters portray the former sheriff as a victim of Tanaka’s ambition and trickery, a characterization that is too simple. For years, colleagues and personal friends warned Baca that Tanaka promoted a “work the gray” attitude in policing. As the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence put it, Tanaka not only failed to “identify and correct” problems of brutality in the department, “he exacerbated them.”

Yet Baca brushed off any criticism of his protégé. In a recorded deposition played for jurors in his March trial, Baca confided that Tanaka “had a unique talent of doing exactly what I wanted done.” The sheriff was willingly seduced. It would cost him everything….

Read the rest here.


  • Well written article, Celeste! Now we can only hope the voters do not repeat history with McDonnell and can his failed administration come June, 2018. I’m sure all the usual suspects, like the LA Times, the Board of Supervisors, and all the who’s who of the political establishment, will try to sell the idea that Fresh Eyes McDonnell is the best thing since sliced bread. It won’t do, he’s been measured and found wanting.

    Warning signs for gullible voters: Anytime an editorial board claims their favorite incumbent is “reform-minded,” or has a “history of reform,” run the other way. It means the exact opposite – their incumbency is based on supporting the failed status quo and protecting the political establishment at all cost. The Board and the LA Times knew Baca was full of shit a long time ago, but they didn’t care because he protected the sacred status quo which served their ideologies and narrow identity-based constituencies.

  • When can we expect your article about the state pulling all funding from AB109 teams Celeste? I’m constantly amazed at just how much Jerry and the Dems hate cops. Now you go ahead and correct me if I’m wrong but here he is putting another $15 mil to help “Californians” worried about being deported (sure legal Californians), bringing the total to $33 mil but he cuts out all state funding for AB109 teams? What’s his over under on dead cops, any idea?

  • Wrong thread for discussion of Jerry Brown. Go with the flow on failed leadership of the last regime concerning Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

  • A couple of points:

    1. Tanaka’s incubator:

    2. Paragraph #2: “If the Press and the Electorate had been more vigilant….”

    As the Chief Law Enforcement officer of the County–we all noted that Baca wore Five stars while Beck had only four–The Sheriff is an elected official, meaning that the Electorate is the Civilian Overseer for the Sheriff.

    But the Electorate can only effectively Oversee if the quality of the information it receives is good, and when that information is lacking then Oversight is lacking, and the Electorate will either be in the dark or will make faulty decisions.

    Exactly why, when this country was founded, Freedom of the Press was made a Constitutional Guarantee.

  • “Fresh eyes” also known as Sheriff “buckles” is making the same mistake as Sheriff Baca did. Buckles is delegating the decision making to corrupt executives, who were and are the product of the “toxic culture” instituted by Tanaka. The toxic culture that still remains in the sheriff’s department is not being brought into the sheriff’s department by the new recruits, the new recruits are being trained and taught by the current personnel. There are currently crooked executives at the HOJ, 8th floor, conspiring, thinking how to increase the number of firings and prosecution of deputies for minor alleged violations, while at the same time promoting to higher ranks, personnel with alleged serious misconduct, as reported by the LA Times. All this is happening under the “fresh eyes’ and sanctioned as constitutionally correct by his second in command the CPA. Yes, that lady who, according to sources, has the personality of PT, and dictates how things will be done. The sad part, they are doing the above under the false pretense of reform.
    So, if the higher ranks are conspiring, working in the gray, putting fake cases on deputies to increase their firings and their prosecution, then they are telling the line patrol deputies, it is okay to work in the gray, and make fake cases to increase the prosecution of criminals, would that be a fair statement? This regime seems more worried about protecting criminals than its own personnel. Putting fake cases on criminals would be unconstitutional, but it is politically correct and it pays well to put fake cases on deputies, right DT?
    Acting United States Attorney Sandra R. Brown said, “The former sheriff (Baca) has now been held accountable for overseeing a widespread scheme to obstruct justice by issuing orders designed to protect a corrupt culture’” The same will be said in a not distant future about “buckles”, as he is now protecting the same “corrupt culture”.
    Deirdre Fike, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office said, “as this dark chapter for the LASD nears to a close and the department embarks upon reform under new leadership, we owe a debt of gratitude to the agents and prosecutors who worked on this case over several years and, at times, under very difficult circumstances. Their unfailing commitment to this case and to rooting out corrupt officials can only restore faith in law enforcement going forward.”
    The FBI and the US Attorney’s office should continue monitoring the sheriff’s department current leadership, as they have embarked in the same “corrupt culture.” They should encamp at the HOJ, 8th floor, I am sure they could indict more executives on new, more recent crimes.
    I watched a video where “buckles” speaks about the death of Sgt. Owens during a recent peace officer’s memorial service in Sacramento. As I watched the video, I felt nauseated, and felt the urgency, the strong explosive feeling of vomiting. Imagine for a moment that if Sgt. Owens had shot the suspect in the back, knowing the suspect was reaching for a gun, “buckles” would be calling for a federal investigation on Sgt. Owens. It seems easier for “buckles” to defend, and speak well of a dead deputy than of one that is alive, very sad.

  • There two glaring “Alarm Bells” that went off quite loudly during the final years of Sheriff Baca’s term – but nobody seems to have paid enough heed to their warning. That’s the real lesson here.

    The first alarms were sounded by the two independent bodies performing oversight of the Sheriff’s Department. Those being the offices headed by Merrick Bobb and Mike Gennaco. Both provided regular reports to the public and those series of reports did a pretty good job of highlighting the jail issues. There were no surprises when the final events came to light. I look at both of these men as being like the “Canaries in a coal mine.” The canaries did their job. No one took heed. It’s interesting to note that these offices really provided the only accurate and objective reports concerning the early stages of the jail breakdown, and that these offices are now disbanded.

    Neither of the oversight bodies were perfect. There was quite a bit of organizational overhead involved with both (and IMHO opinion more so with Mr. Bobb). There was a price to be paid for their product, but looking at the end result, maybe it was worth it.

    The second alarm bell came with the internal management of the organization. In military service, and in the majority of my LASD service, when an internal decision on a major issue was required, the decision maker would summon a variety of expert folks which a broad range of knowledge on the issue. He/she would listen to the various points of view, hash out disagreements, and then make and announce the decision. Past that point, everyone involved in the process was expected to march to that decision, and to march in step. So long as the folks involved in that process stuck to it, it worked pretty good.

    As Mr. Tanaka ascended to power, that process changed. Quite interestingly, I saw the invites to give input into the process be limited to Mr. Tanaka’s inner circle. The “discussion phase” of the process would often end with the simple statement “Mr. Tanaka wants…”

    There is an interesting decision making exercise that is presented in business schools, the war colleges, and in leadership academies that illustrates the value of an informed group in complex decision making. The class is broken down into groups of 10-15. Each group is given a dilemma to solve that requires a series of decisions. One common scenario is for the group to be stranded on a remote section of Canadian tundra after a plane crash. They have a mirror, matches, a map and 100 miles to the nearest village. What do they do? Each member of the group is tasked with writing down their individual solution to the problem, and the group then formulates a solution. The solutions then get evaluate by a group of experts. What almost always occurs, is that the group solution is far better than any of the individual solutions. The reason lies in healthy group dynamics. When an issue is “Round-Tabled”, the group gets the benefit of the best knowledge held by any participants on each individual point. Thus, the more varied the group, the better the decision, just so long as all participate in a productive way.

    This all gets summarized very nicely in a quote spoken by Dr. Baca in his trial. He remarked that “Mr. Tanaka had a very keen insight for knowing what I wanted to have done.” That’s really the problem right there, in a nutshell. Had Dr. Baca directed his attentions at determining what should have been done instead, we would all have been better served.

  • It appears as though some on the inside wanted a Pitbull to just come in and tear ass. I get the picture, however the bloodhound approach seems more applicable. It’s impossible to clear the Ocean of every Great White Shark. The current situation seems to be one hell of a problem. I hope things get better for the sake of the department and the County.

  • My reference was speaking on Sheriff McDonnell and the latest internal dynamics.

  • Rick D:

    It is noteworthy that Merrick J. Bobb was General Counsel to James G. Kolts who, as Special Counsel to Los Angeles County, compiled the Kolts Commission Report in response to LASD misconduct up to 1992.

    Then Merrick Bobb himself became Special Counsel and, for the next twenty-two years, made a total of thirty four reports to the Board of Supervisors.

    All to no avail.

    Also noteworthy is the fact that James G. Kolts was the presiding judge in the murder trial of the Deputy in the link I provided up above.

    Both the original Kolts Commission Report and Bobb’s final LASD Semiannual Report to the Board of Supervisors can be Googled for perusal.

  • Taxpayer; As a 30 year veteran of this circus, I can tell you the Pitbull is what’s needed. And yesterday!! The Bloodhound had his chance and he either had a headcold or simply didn’t choose to sit and bark.

  • Taxpayer; We thought Buckles was the Pitbull we needed. Most of us were beyond excited.

    Fast forward to today…. Same Ol Same Ol. Execs buying stolen cars, banging subordinates who amazingly promote and running contract after contract into the ground while the line has to work countless hours of mandatory overtime (Drafts after your normal shift and making us work our days off) and disciplining us for the most ridiculous of reasons. You can’t make this shit up.

  • Enough with Baca and Tanaka. I’m really getting tired of hearing their names. I’m VERY curious why Celeste never posted or jumped on the L.A. Times story regarding “Fresh Eyes'” recent promotions.

    Here Celeste, let me help you with the link:

    Did you miss it by accident or the hypocritical liberal side of you won’t publish anything negative against a failure you supported. That’s fine, continue to sit back and watch as Fresh Eyes dismantles this department as he and his CPA’s destroy the lives of Deputy Sheriffs.

    Now that the Baca regime is over, the click count to your site will go from 35 to 0. All we ask is you report objectively and without bias, which you have proven over and over to not do.

    The only solace I gain from all the negative comments about Fresh Eyes is, this Blog was the beginning of the end of Tanaka and Baca era. It appears as this is the direction it’s going for Fresh Eyes as well. We can only pray and hope that a viable candidate will come forth and save this department from a complete implosion. Someone obviously that is born and raised tan and green. We just experienced what an outsider will do. Don’t mean to sound harsh Celeste, but we’re all disgusted at what Fresh Eyes and his Constitutional Policing Advisor (DT) have done to this department and the lives of so many hard working deputy Sheriffs.


    Dear “Enough,”

    We continued to report on Baca and Tanaka as long as these trials went on. Not to do so would be preposterous. As for Maya Lao’s excellent story of May 1, we held off because, although we have found some additional information on the issue, we didn’t think it was quite enough to justify an additional story. But we’re still working on that and related topics, and we hope we will have a new take on those promotions. But, if we don’t have the right material, we’re not going to push out a story, just to say we did, when a very good piece of reporting already exists at the LA Times. We have other LASD areas that we are probing.

    Furthermore, even things like the Aero Bureau series pertain to what’s going on now, as it was this administration’s IAB investigation that failed to act on the issue.

    One more thing: the Los Angeles County sheriff’s department—or law enforcement in general—is not our only area of interest or mandate for reporting. Probation, foster care, and all things juvenile justice, to name a few areas of focus, are equally as important.

    We are a tiny, non-profit publication, but through obsessively hard work, good sources whom we appreciate more than we can express, and not nearly enough sleep we have been lucky enough to move the dial on a surprising number of issues. We intend to keep doing so.

    Sincerely yours,


  • “…We have been lucky enough to move the dial on a surprising number of issues.”

    I am certain that when people look back in, say, fifty years, they will find that the dial has been moved in an absolutely positive direction.

    And thank you for that.

  • Thank you for your response Celeste. I hope the “New” information you’ve gathered isn’t what the department fed you to make it go away. The truth is in the pudding. This administration is not only worse than its predecessor, but much more heartless and destructive towards its personnel. DT (the constitutional advisor) is the most hateful person I know when it comes to law enforcement. I’ve literally seen her say, “Fuck it, just fire him.” Fresh Eyes just sits back and counts the terminations as his stats. It’s appalling as a long time member of this department to watch good deputies loose their livelihoods because someone just wants to make a point.

    There has to be someone who’s out there to rescue this department. ALADS and POPA have taken a back seat and as usual are gutless to defend their members and take Fresh Eyes on. It breaks my heart from the stories I hear about what is happening to these deputies, while his execs roam around with immunity and do anything they want and still promote. Thank you for allowing us to vent and in an acute way, come to you for assistance.

  • what I can not accept is apparently the new Sheriff caved on his duty to prosecute the former Capt. At Aero Bureau for a serious felony, there is no statute of limitations for this embezzlement of two million dollars from the federal govt.

  • @enough
    I believe you everything you say about Diana teran, she is truly helping destroy this department. I’m just curious though if you witnessed what you say you did, you would have had to been a meeting of rank. If you are of rank (again, I don’t know so if your not I apologize) and you did nothing about it, thats a problem too. Diana teran is running a muck but the commanders and chiefs are cowards and don’t stand up to her or the sheriff. Someone needs to run against this clown and wipe out all the executives when they win.

  • Regarding Diana Maria Teran, it would seem “buckles” is using her the same way Baca used Tanaka, to do “the dirty work’ for him. However, as Judge Anderson told Baca, keeping their hands clean will not do much, eventually, he will hopefully pay for it. Diana Teran has the same personality as Tanaka, arrogant, vindictive and hateful. The difference between Teran and Tanaka is that Teran has deep political connections with the District Attorney’s office, and getting fake cases filed against deputies is not too difficult. The only hope is that maybe one day, the FBI may randomly get some of those fake cases against deputies and find the obstruction of justice against those deputies. Only then, Teran’s evil-doing will be discovered to be all over the place. The problem though, the victims of all this are deputies, there will not be too much outcry, as there would be if fake cases were being made against career criminals, that is the shame of it.

  • Further, Teran is also protecting herself by ordering the crooked executives to make a case against a deputy. Teran knows the crooked executives will oblige, as they did when Tanaka order them to do the “dirty work” for him. Buckles defense would be, Teran ordered the prosecution. Teran would say, the ICIB people under Chief Mannis did the investigation. At the end, they would try to pin the fake cases on the investigators, just like they did to the “Pandora Box” deputies. The issue is why are the guys from IAB and ICIB blindly following orders they know are wrong, why are they helping in the railroading of good, hard working deputies, by fabricating cases? Are they afraid to go against Teran, or are they doing it to get the next promotion? Stay tuned for “Pandora Box 2.0”, next…..

  • Unknown: Yes, they are scared and rightly so. We will go through a door with an asswhole behind it with a gun, but will put out careers or ability to support our families at risk. Thank god that every once in awhile someone like Tara Adams stands up and makes the sacrafice for all of us……

  • Then if the crooked executives are willing to do Diana teran’s dirty work, it is time the lawsuits pile up against them. If they don’t have the courage to stand up to her, department members need to sue them. There are some coming!!!

  • @clam Chowder
    I did hear her say that while a Captain was fighting to get this deputy days off. The infraction was definitely not worthy of termination and would have never risen to that level ever in this department. I happened to be observing as the Captain (old school guy, not an ass kisser) of the deputy fight hard to keep this deputy’s job. She was so callous and vial during the entire exchange.

    Unfortunately, NO ONE has a say in the discipline but her and her flunky MS (Mark Smith) who is a softer, chubbier version of her. If you say anything against her decision, she will run to her BF Tyler or to Fresh Eyes. I don’t know of others who challenge her. Fresh Eyes has made it clear that the Buck stops with her. No, I was not in a position of rank; wouldn’t have made a difference if I was brother. I agree with you, someone worthy needs to run against Fresh Eyes and bring this department back to what it use to be. Everyone I speak to are afraid of him and are afraid to do their jobs. The morale in this department has never been this low. It’s really sad what this guy did to this department.

  • @unknown
    You are absolutely accurate! Unfortunately, the only organizations that can do something about this is ALADS and POPA. But, as always, they just steal member money and spend it on their trips/vacations and make excuses every time they are confronted. Ron Hernandez was suppose to be the Great White Hope, he’s really turned out to another disappointment/ALADS Hack. I won’t even go into Mariguchy. I have no idea why and how this guy is still in power. These unions are either blind or ignorant by watching Fresh Eyes destroy their membership. But hey, if it doesn’t affect them and their trips and lavish dinners, everyone in trouble is expendable. Just another Dick Shinee controlled organization.

  • @enough
    As I said then, I apologize as I was not sure if you were of rank. Totally agree with you, she is pulling the strings and the sheriff knows and likes the discipline. That way he can try and say he is a “reformer.” What’s sad is the commanders and chiefs that spent 30 years on this department standing by and letting it happen. I understand she would just run to the sheriff but so be it. I would rather leave as a commander with my pride then be a weak ass and let good men and women get railroaded. Please, someone from alads or Brian moraguchi can you comment on what you are doing about this……

  • @clam chowder
    That’s because you have a pair and morals. These execs have their own skeletons in their closet, especially Denham. He thinks everyone forgot about his sexual harassment case he caught in Palmdale. And now he’s firing deputies for a lot less infractions. None of them have the balls to stand up to Dr. These people are Yes men. Anything they need to do just to promote. At some point, I see this administration imploding and the real dirt exposed. Trust me, there’s a lot of it. I hope someone will come forward and run against Fresh Eyes. There has to be God sent savior out there.

    Don’t expect anything from ALADS or POPA. Too busy rubbing elbows and having dinner with Fresh Eyes on your dues money. The unions are just cash cows for these individuals. They have forgotten where they came from.

  • It would be ever so fitting for a bronze statue of Former Deputy Tara Adams to be erected at the entrance of IRC – TTCF. She presented moral fortitude without thinking twice. Whatever happened to the cowardly Deputy Juan Sanchez, who basically assaulted her?

  • Those remaining from the Tanaka Clan reminds me of the German SS after Hitler”s fall. They integrated in different countries to avoid prosecution. Slowly but surely many of them were brought to justice, even at the age of very old. Maybe a list of remaining Tanakanites to all.

  • Don’t forget about the double standard that is also applied to certain members of the civilian support staff relative to “regular employees”. Namely medical, contract workers and mental health staff.

    Even though these workers don’t directly report to LASD supervisors, they oftentimes have the same free rain and access to facilities and equipment as “regular employees” but aren’t held to the same policy and disciplinary standard. Example: Deputy A accidentally takes his phone inside a secure location which results in a policy violation, criminal prosecution and firing. However, Civilian Worker B does the same thing and gets nothing but a stern warning. Good times…..

  • Unless ALADS change their “self serving” bylaws and open the elections to the ENTIRE membership, you’ll get similar hacks every frigging year. No need to name names as the raw truth stands alone. Agency shop guarantees that ALADS has no repercussions for lack of action.

  • The only solution to the LASD problems is a totally independent civil service that promotes totaly without input from Department executives. IT would be harder for the brass to deal with than the psycophants that they have now, but when order to do something not ethical or legal they would have the balls to decline.

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