Ex-Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is being retried on charges that he conspired to prevent the FBI from investigating abusive deputies in his jails, among other charges. Baca’s first trial late last year ended in a mistrial when jurors voted 11-1 for the ex-sheriff’s acquittal.
The Los Angeles Times reports that prosecutors are emphasizing Baca’s relationship with Undersheriff Paul Tanaka in the current trial.
Tanaka was convicted of conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges last April and began serving a five-year sentence at a minimum security camp in Englewood, Colo., last month. Jurors in Baca’s retrial were not told about Tanaka’s conviction.
As previously reported by The Root, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox argued that Baca was at the center of the conspiracy carried out by his subordinates to hide an inmate working for the FBI who sought to prove charges of abuse in the jail system.
“Mr. Baca ran the conspiracy like he ran the sheriff’s department,” Fox told jurors. “While he was at the top of it, he put one man in charge of running the day-to-day.”
The Times reports that Fox played a clip of Baca describing his relationship with Tanaka as “kind of like father and son.” Tanaka, Baca said in the videotaped testimony from a separate civil trial, “had a unique talent of doing exactly what I wanted done.”
Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, however, moved to place the blame squarely on Tanaka, who supposedly kept Baca in the dark about a 2011 obstruction plot that revolved around sheriff’s deputies discovering a cellphone that had been smuggled in to an inmate as part of an undercover FBI sting around corruption and beatings by jail guards.
Prosecutors allege that after the cellphone was confiscated, deputies tried to hide the inmate from the FBI and a federal grand jury, intimidated witnesses and threatened the lead agent on the case with arrest in an attempt to intimidate her.
Eight of Baca’s subordinates have been convicted in the case, but prosecutors have to prove that he had knowledge of the conspiracy.
Baca, 71, has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, but a U.S. district judge ruled that defense attorneys could not have a psychiatrist testify that Baca may have been affected by the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease when he made alleged false statements to federal prosecutors and FBI agents.
The Los Angeles County jail system is the largest jailer in the country. It is also one of the country’s largest mental-health facilities. In December 2014, Los Angeles County entered into a new federal agreement after settling an ACLU-led class action lawsuit on behalf of abused inmates with mental illnesses. ACLU lawyers claimed that excessive use of force was common in L.A. County jails, The Atlantic reports.
Baca abruptly resigned in January of that year, before the expiration of his term, amid mounting accusations of deputy misconduct and criticism that he failed to keep watch over the jails. He had been L.A. sheriff for 16 years.