In 2017, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was sentenced to three years in federal prison for interfering in an FBI investigation. Interestingly, the events surrounding this case happened nearly a decade ago, when federal investigators delivered a cellphone to an inmate who was working as an informant. During this time, the FBI was conducting an undisclosed probe to investigate instances of abuse and mistreatment at the Men’s Central Jail. According to Joel Rubin of the Los Angeles Times, “For years, the Sheriff’s Department had been dogged by reports of a place run amok, in which deputies routinely beat inmates without provocation and covered up the abuse, often with the knowledge of supervisors. Other corruption, including deputies who took bribes to bring contraband in to inmates, was said to be rampant as well.”
After jail officials discovered the plot, Baca panicked and immediately orchestrated a scheme to obstruct the investigation. Members of the 2011 conspiracy concealed information from the FBI, threatened an FBI agent, and engaged in witness tampering. Several of these deputies have been sentenced to prison for abusing inmates or participating in Baca’s multi-part conspiracy. After two trials, Baca was finally convicted on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice, and making false statements.
After the conviction, acting U.S. Attorney Sandra R. Brown made the following statement: Rather than fulfilling his sworn duty to uphold the law and protect the public, Lee Baca made a decision to protect what he viewed as his empire, and then he took actions in an effort to simply protect himself. He wore the badge, but ultimately, he failed the department and the people’s trust.”
The Failed Appeal
On February 11, 2019, Baca’s attorneys attempted to appeal the 2017 verdict. In his article, “Ex-Sheriff Baca Loses Appeal, Faces Prison,” Ruben explains that “they focused on Anderson’s decision to bar the jury from hearing testimony about Baca’s illness [Alzheimer’s] and about a conversation he had with an aide about the FBI’s investigation. Either piece of information, the defense team said, could have helped sway the jury in Baca’s favor.” However, the three-judge panel from the 9th Circuit of Court Appeals determined that the original conviction is legally sound.
U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna defended the ruling by explaining regardless of extenuating circumstances, Baca chose to obstruct and lie to federal authorities instead of making efforts to improve the living conditions for inmates.
Baca’s legal team isn’t ready to give up yet. His attorney, Nathan Hochman, is already planning another hearing with the 9th Circuit Court. Baca can remain out of prison until the appeals court decides if they’re going to grant him another hearing. Should the request be denied, the case may be taken all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. Attorney Hochman has yet to comment on Baca’s current health and mental condition, though he is hoping that Baca’s diagnosis and inevitable mental deterioration can keep him out of prison. U.S. Judge Percy Anderson, however, has rejected the idea that Baca should avoid his prison sentence.
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