A federal judge is expected to hear attorney arguments Monday over whether former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca should be allowed to wear a small lapel pin of a sheriff’s star during his forthcoming retrial on corruption charges.
Government prosecutors filed a motion last month asking U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson to ban Baca from wearing the tiny six-pointed sheriff’s star on his lapel, as he has done for every court appearance since charges were first filed against him one year ago.
By sporting the star, Baca is sending a subtle message to jurors that he is an honorable, law-abiding former law enforcement official who has the support of the department, prosecutors allege. The defense described such worries as “paranoid.”
According to the government, the 74-year-old former lawman “essentially testified” without taking the witness stand or being subjected to cross examination by wearing the small badge during the two-week trial that ended Dec. 22 in a mistrial.
Using the quarter-sized pin, Baca “attempted to cloak himself with the credibility, authority and support of the Sheriff’s Department,” prosecutors contend.
However, defense attorney Nathan Hochman countered in his motion that the government is simply ascribing its failure to convict on “the almost mystical and talismanic power that a one-inch sheriff’s star” seems to have had over the Los Angeles federal jury. He described the prosecution’s fears as “paranoid allegations.”
The pin “was barely visible to the jury, if at all,” Hochman wrote, pointing out that his client sat 20 to 25 feet away from the jury box.
A second motion involves defense allegations that, in retrying Baca for obstruction of justice, the government is illegally exposing him to double jeopardy.
Baca was tried on the two obstruction charges, culminating with an 11-1 hung jury, with 11 jurors voting to acquit the former sheriff. Anderson then declared a mistrial.
At retrial — scheduled to begin next week — Baca will face a third felony count of lying to federal officials.
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.
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.
Baca’s attorneys contend the former sheriff is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
—City News Service