On Monday morning, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson will announce what sentence he believes is appropriate for former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca.
There are a number of factors that could influence Anderson’s decision.
But, we’ll get to all that in a minute. First let’s quickly review how we got here:
In late 2015, it became fairly clear to Baca and his attorneys that the former sheriff was very likely going to be indicted for some part of his alleged participation in obstructing the FBI’s investigation into corruption and brutality by deputies in the LA County jail system. With this in mind, toward the end of last year—according to members of the U.S. Attorney’s office—Baca’s people floated the idea of a deal. However, it took until the first week of February 2016 for the final language of the plea deal to be nailed down in a flurry of negotiations.
Finally, it was agreed that Baca would plead to one count of lying to federal officials. Specifically, according to the feds, the former sheriff replied falsely to certain questions when he was interviewed in April 2013 by members of the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s office, having to do with Baca’s knowledge of alleged attempts by LASD personnel working under him to obstruct the aforementioned federal investigation.
In return for the plea, the government would recommend a sentencing range of between zero to six months, but not to exceed six months. Additionally, Baca would agree not to contest certain other accusations, but would not plead guilty to them.
For their part, prosecutors would agree not to bring charges based on those acts that the sheriff would not contest.
And so it was that, on the morning of February 10, 2016, the deal was announced, and in the afternoon Baca pleaded guilty to that one count of lying before Judge Percy Anderson. All that remained was for Anderson to actually sentence Baca.
There was one small caveat: for the deal to remain in place, Anderson’s sentence must stay within the agreed upon 0-6.
Until the plea hearing, it was pretty much assumed that Anderson would stay within the 0-6 boundary because, should Anderson decided to give Baca a sentence greater than six months, this would effectively dynamite the deal, bringing everyone back to pre-deal conditions where the government was prepared to indict Baca and take him to trial, an outcome that nobody really wants.
But during that February hearing, while the judge didn’t say he’d exceed the 0-6 boundaries, Anderson also made it clear that he legally could go as high as five years, leading some court watchers to wonder if the judge might be toying with the notion of going at least a little higher.
Or then again, maybe not.
NO PRISON TIME, PROBATION ONLY
As one might expect, Baca’s team of attorneys, led by Michael Zwieback, has asked the court to sentence the former sheriff to probation only.
Baca “did the unthinkable,” wrote Zwieback and company in a 30 plus-page sentencing memo. But “he accepted responsibility and pleaded guilty to a crime.”
Baca is seventy-four years old, his attorneys wrote of their client. “He has early stage Alzheimer’s disease. He needs constant monitoring, prescription medications, and any treatment that may slow or stall the progression of this degenerative disease. No one contends that he is a threat to the community. He will not offend again. All conditions support a probation only sentence.”
(Lead defense attorney Zweiback is, by the way, a former assistant U.S. attorney.)
The former sheriff’s attorneys also told the judge that, if Baca was not sentenced to prison, he would be accepted into a clinical study at UCLA that might change the course of his disease, plus as a former high profile member of law enforcement, along with his medical condition, he would be a target for victimization in a federal prison.
The 36-page brief was accompanied by scores of letters from supporters that include sports personalities, religious figures, former jail inmates, at least two former California governors, and a lot of other names that you would know.
The elephant in the room, however, when it comes to Baca’s sentencing, is the fact that seven people to date working under the former sheriff, and to whom he directly, or through the chain of command, gave orders, have already been given federal prison terms by Judge Anderson ranging from 18 months to 41 months. And those sentences are arguably, at least in part, a consequence of the orders Baca allegedly gave. And then there is former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, who received a sentence of 60 months.
Baca’s attorneys argue that those other cases and sentences don’t apply because their client is to be sentenced for the crime of making a false statement in connection with a single interview, not with obstruction, bribery or any of the other alleged Illegal acts on which the other “Related Cases” are based.
A STUDY IN CONTRASTS
The prosecution, in contrast, wants Judge Anderson to give the former sheriff a sentence of six months in a federal prison.
“Defendant Leroy Baca is a study in contrasts,” prosecutors Brandon Fox, Lizabeth Rhodes, and Eddie Jauregui wrote in their most recent sentencing brief. “He was a champion of certain reforms in the criminal justice system, yet ignored warnings that his deputies were committing serious abuses in the Los Angeles County jails” and became “angry that the federal government was investigating his department”
Baca, they wrote, issued orders that,” taken literally, may not have been corrupt,” but were carried out, without Baca’s objection, in a manner that was corrupt.
And then he “lied to the federal government.”
As for the matter of the former sheriff’s Alzheimer’s, the prosecutors contend that, while Baca “suffers from a mild cognitive impairment” it should not preclude a sentence like the six months they propose.
In a separate 10-page declaration, Dr. James Pelton, Regional Medical Director for the Western Region of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, assured the judge that “Mr. Baca’s medical condition is not unusual in the BOP.”As discussed below,” Pelton wrote, “there are hundreds of inmates who have cognitive impairment that is more severe than Mr. Baca’s condition. Additionally, contrary to the assertion of Mr. Baca…it is very likely that Mr. Baca would continue to be able to take medication prescribed to him to treat his disease while incarcerated. I make this statement as the person who would be deciding whether Mr. Baca 2 would receive this medication….”
ABOVE THE LAW
Near the end of their brief, the prosecutors pointed to an incident that they said suggested that the former sheriff still felt he had done nothing wrong, and that he was “above the law” and that he “refuses” even now “to acknowledge the problems within the Los Angeles County jails.”
The were referring to Baca’s May 29, 2016, speech and interview given when he was honored on May 29, 2016, by a Jewish organization.
At that time, Baca stated he was not afraid of jail. “I’m not afraid of
anything….” he said. “I can serve time, I don’t care what the circumstances are…I’ll stand on my record proudly, anywhere, whether it’s in the free world or in jail.”
Similarly, although it was too recent to make it into their brief, the prosecution was also reportedly very interested in a panel with which the former sheriff participated this past Friday, July 15, entitled Every Life Matters – Solving the Imbalance of Race Relations From Both Sides.
WHAT WILL ANDERSON DO?
So will Anderson go with six months, or probation only? Or will he blow up the deal?
Those reading tea leaves, point to Anderson’s harsh remarks after he sentenced Gilbert Michel (the deputy who accepted a bribe to bring in the cell phone to inmate/FBI informant Anthony Brown), and then the scorched earth lecture he gave to Paul Tanaka before he handed down the undersheriff’s sentence.
If by some chance Anderson decides to go above the 0-6 boundary on Monday, Baca and his attorneys will have a decision to make. They can roll the dice and go to trial where, in addition to the public spectacle, if Baca loses, the judge can give him up to 5 years, which is what he gave Tanaka.
Or, if the sentence isn’t too excessive, Baca could elect to cut his losses and decide to keep the deal in place.
In any case, Monday morning all speculation will end, and we will learn what sentence Judge Percy Anderson considers just.