Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday they plan to retry former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on corruption charges stemming from his alleged involvement in an effort to thwart a federal probe of misconduct by sheriff’s deputies in the jail system.
On Dec. 22, a six-man, six-woman jury deadlocked on charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice against the 74-year- old former lawman. Jurors said the panel was split 11-1 in favor of acquittal.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson declared a mistrial. The judge suggested that the “complexity” of the case, particularly difficulty grasping the concept of “intent,” played a role in the jury’s inability to reach a decision. He said he also considered possibly effects of exhaustion.
Without elaborating, Anderson added, “I’ve considered the possible effect of coercion — there was a manifest necessity to declare a mistrial in this case. … I believe the ends of the public are served by declaring a mistrial.”
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During a court hearing Tuesday morning, prosecutors said they want to try Baca again. Anderson said he wants opening statements to be given on Feb. 21, but a date was not immediately set for the start of jury selection.
Anderson also said the re-trial would be on all three charges against Baca — the obstruction and conspiracy counts, along with a charge of making false statements to federal investigators. The false statements charge was not included in the first trial, with Anderson ruling previously that Baca would be tried separately on that count.
Baca is accused of conspiring to commit, and committing, obstruction of justice from August to September 2011, partly stemming from an incident in which two sheriff’s investigators confronted an FBI agent involved in the jail probe in the driveway leading into her apartment, and falsely told her they were in the process of obtaining a warrant for her arrest.
The charges against Baca focus on a period of time when sheriff’s deputies based at the Men’s Central Jail stumbled upon a secret FBI probe of alleged civil rights abuses and unjustified beatings of inmates within jail walls.
After guards discovered that inmate Anthony Brown was secretly working as an FBI informant, they booked him under false names and moved him to different locations in order to keep him hidden from federal investigators who wanted to use him as a federal grand jury witness.
Prosecutors contend that Baca so resented the federal government’s jails probe that he attempted to force the FBI to back down by illegally having deputies confront the agent at her apartment. The prosecution also alleges that Baca ignored years of complaints about excessive force used illegally against jail inmates in county facilities managed by the Sheriff’s Department.
The third count — making false statements — contends that Baca lied to the FBI in April 2013 about his knowledge of department efforts to subvert a federal probe into corruption and inmate abuse in the jail system.
The judge originally planned to hold a separate trial on that charge after agreeing to allow testimony by an expert on dementia — but only as it relates to the false-statements allegation. Baca’s attorneys said the former sheriff is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
In closing arguments of Baca’s trial, a prosecutor told jurors that Baca “authorized and condoned” the conspiracy to thwart the federal probe, but the defense threw blame on Baca’s former second-in-command, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
Tanaka was convicted last year of conspiracy and obstruction charges and sentenced to five years in prison.
Baca retired in 2014 at the height of the federal probe. He had been sheriff since December 1998.
—City News Service