Ending a turbulent fourth term marred by allegations of inmate abuse, multiple federal investigations and indictments of 18 department employees, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca held a press conference Tuesday announcing his retirement at the end of January.
“I don’t see myself as the future. I see myself as part of the past,” Baca said. He vowed to recommend the County Board of Supervisors appoint Asst. Sheriff Terri McDonald to take over as Sheriff for an interim period beginning in February.
Baca was visibly emotional as he reflected on his career and circumstances of his retirement Tuesday, frequently pausing as his voice cracked. His decision not to seek a fifth term ends a 48-year career with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, including the last 15 as Sheriff. The City of Malibu pays $6.3 million annually to the Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services.
News of Baca’s retirement first broke late Monday night when insiders told several media outlets Baca had decided to leave his post. The Sheriff’s Department remains the subject of separate investigations by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) over allegations of corruption, inmate abuse and bribery.
“I regret anything that causes the department’s reputation to essentially be put in question,” Baca said Tuesday.
Last month, 13 deputies, two lieutenants and three sergeants were part of a federal indictment. Alleged offenses include submittal of false reports in attempts to defend the use of excessive force, as well as unlawful arrests of prison visitors, threatening an FBI agent at her home and training rookie jail deputies to abuse a mentally ill prisoner and lie about the incident.
When asked at the press conference if he feared he could be eventually indicted after investigations conclude, Baca intimated he was not.
“You don’t become a deputy sheriff if you’re afraid,” he told a swarm of reporters gathered at department headquarters in Monterey Park.
Through the controversy, Baca said the thought of retirement first crossed his mind just three days prior to his announcement. He said he chose to retire before embarking on a surely difficult re-election campaign.
“The timing is something I thought of because I didn’t want to enter a campaign that would be full of contentious, negative politicking,” Baca said.
First elected in 1998, Baca won reelection three times thereafter, including a 2010 election when he ran unopposed. But this year’s campaign was expected to be an uphill battle for Baca, who was set to face off against a field of critical candidates, including former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and retired Cdr. Bob Olmsted.
Tanaka oversaw the prison system under Baca for nearly two years and has received his own share of criticism for potentially enabling inmate abuse. Tanaka has denied all involvement, blaming Baca for leading the department into disarray and pushing him out of the inner leadership circle during his employment.
“Over time he has become increasingly distrustful of basically everybody,” Tanaka said in an interview with The Malibu Times last year.
In a statement released Tuesday morning, Tanaka took on a surprisingly positive tone, commending Baca’s long-running law enforcement career.
“Sheriff Baca and I have had our differences regarding the leadership and management of the Los Angeles County Sheriff ’s Department,” Tanaka said. “…I want to put politics aside for today and applaud him for his dedication to public service.”
Baca would not endorse a candidate at Tuesday’s press conference, but Asst. Sheriff Todd Rogers told the Los Angeles Times he planned on entering the race now that Baca is retiring. Asst. Sheriff Jim Hellmold is also said to be mulling a run.