Sheriff Lee Baca accepting the award for the 2013 Sheriff of the Year from the National Sheriffs’ Association  on June 23, 2013. Photo courtesy of LASD
Sheriff Lee Baca accepting the award for the 2013 Sheriff of the Year from the National Sheriffs’ Association on June 23, 2013. Photo courtesy of LASD.

An ex-Los Angeles County sheriff’s lieutenant is expected to tell jurors Tuesday in the federal corruption retrial of former Sheriff Lee Baca that he was following orders from his superiors when he helped hide an inmate-turned-informant who was working to expose alleged brutality against detainees in a county jail.

Gregory Thompson was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison in 2014 for his role in the conspiracy to thwart a federal jails probe.

Prosecutors hope to use Thompson’s testimony to show that Baca was at the top of a complex scheme to keep Men’s Central Jail inmate Anthony Brown from giving evidence to a federal grand jury.

Baca, 74, is being tried in downtown Los Angeles on counts of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice and making false statements to the FBI. The retired lawman faced trial in December on the first two counts and prosecutors planned a second trial on the lying count to take place later.

However, a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson agreed to combine all three counts in the retrial that began last week.

The charges also partly stem from a 2011 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. Baca is accused of having advance knowledge of the illegal attempt to intimidate the agent.

The defense counters that it was really Baca’s second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, who ran the conspiracy. Attorney Nathan Hochman said his client was a victim of the now-imprisoned ex-undersheriff and his hidden agenda to retaliate against the FBI.

Trying to block the FBI “was not on Sheriff Baca’s agenda,” the defense attorney told the jury in his opening statement. He added that his client had a longstanding policy of being “open and direct” with the FBI, whom he considered to be “brothers in arms.”

Thompson and seven other former deputies were convicted in the case.

Baca’s second trial will differ from the first as a result of several pretrial rulings by the judge.

Anderson barred Hochman from putting on evidence of “prior good works” related to Baca’s more than 15 years as leader of the sheriff’s department, ruling that such evidence does not directly pertain to the charges for which he is being tried.

The judge also ruled that jurors will not be allowed to hear medical testimony that Baca has been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease for years, calling such proposed testimony a “waste of time.” Baca’s attorneys contend the ex-sheriff is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and suffered some cognitive impairment as long as six years ago.

—City News Service

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