Steve Lopez: It's time for Lee Baca to step aside
How bad does it have to get at L.A. County’s jails before Sheriff Lee Baca is either pushed into stepping aside, at least temporarily, or has the integrity to volunteer for a leave of absence?
Guess what, Lee.
“Dukes of Hazzard” was not a training film.
Even before the undercover FBI investigation of alleged beatings of inmates by guards (with witnesses including a chaplain and Hollywood producer), and even before the allegations of drug-running by deputies, there were big questions about Baca’s ability to manage a huge department.
He gave badges to a reserve unit that included "celebrities."
He let his recruits be featured in a reality TV show his own office determined to be humiliating.
He also halted training at an academy after the discovery of problems including an instructor giving out answers to tests.
In a recent three-year span, he accepted more gifts than all of California’s other sheriffs combined.
He launched an investigation into a case involving a Beverly Hills acquaintance even after the police department there refused to look into the case.
His officers gave Mel Gibson an escort home from the Malibu/Lost Hills station after his 2006 arrest, but an addled, 24-year-old non-celebrity named Mitrice Richardson was allowed to leave on foot after midnight in 2009 without a purse or cellphone and ended up dead in a nearby canyon.
And now, in my colleague Robert Faturechi’s latest expose, a rookie deputy quit after allegedly being ordered to beat up a mentally ill inmate.
Baca, to his credit, has been an enlightened advocate for the rights of people with a mental illness. He and I have served on panels together in that very cause.
Which makes Faturechi’s story today all the more shocking. In it, the ex-deputy’s uncle, a longtime sheriff’s detective, confronted the supervisor who ordered his nephew to “beat up dings,” a derogatory term for people with a mental illness. The same uncle then allegedly threatened to “put a bullet” in the offending supervisor’s head.
If Baca’s got any self-respect, he’s got to walk. Given his record, Baca can’t be trusted to handle even more inmates who flood into his jails because of the realignment that will shift responsibilities from the state to the counties.
Do the right thing, Sheriff Baca. I know you were elected to the job, but I don’t think many people would object if you decided on early retirement.
-- Steve Lopez