A last-minute filing with a federal appeals court Friday spared former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca from turning himself in Monday to begin serving his three-year prison sentence.
Attorneys for Baca filed the renewed motion with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena, triggering an automatic stay of the federal prison sentence. A Los Angeles federal judge on Wednesday rejected the ex- lawman’s bid to remain free on bond pending the appeal of his conviction for obstructing an FBI probe into the county jail system.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson determined that Baca has not offered any proof that his request to remain free on bond had any purpose beyond simply delaying his prison time.
Now, it will be up to a 9th Circuit panel to decide if Baca’s arguments for bond have any merit.
Baca, 75, was sentenced in May for his conviction on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements.
Baca’s attorney, Nathan Hochman, argued that Anderson erred in barring jurors from hearing evidence of Baca’s “cooperation” with both the federal probe into wrongdoing by deputies in the jail system and an independent county review board, and that the panel should have heard about the ex-sheriff’s Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis. Hochman also said the use of an anonymous jury in Baca’s trial was a mistake that could result in a finding for a retrial.
Anderson rejected the claims, writing that the court’s “jury instructions, decision to empanel an anonymous jury and evidentiary rulings were not in error and did not deprive the defendant of his constitutional right to present a defense.”
During Baca’s two trials, prosecutors described the ex-lawman as being the top figure in a multi-part conspiracy, which also involved his former right- hand man, Paul Tanaka, and eight deputies who took orders from the sheriff.
Baca — who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for more than 15 years — was first tried in December on obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice counts, and prosecutors had planned a second trial on the false statements count. But a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, and Anderson combined all three counts in the retrial that ended with Baca’s conviction. Baca did not take the stand in either trial.
The charges stemmed from events six years ago when a cell phone was discovered in the hands of an inmate at the Men’s Central Jail. Sheriff’s deputies quickly tied the phone to the FBI, which had been conducting a secret probe of brutality against inmates.
At that point, sheriff’s officials closed ranks and began an attempt to halt the formerly covert investigation by concealing the inmate-turned- informant from federal prosecutors, who had issued a summons for his grand jury appearance, prosecutors said.
Baca became sheriff in December 1998 and won re-election on several occasions. He was poised to run again in 2014, but federal indictments unsealed in December 2013, related to excessive force in the jails and obstruction of that investigation, led Baca to retire the following month.
Hochman said the jury should have been allowed to consider evidence of improvements Baca made in the training of jail guards to de-escalate problems and successfully deal with violent and/or mentally ill inmates. Baca was not charged with any instances of jail brutality.
In addition to the 10 people convicted in connection with the Baca conspiracy case, 11 other now-former sheriff’s department members were also convicted of various crimes uncovered during the FBI investigation.
–City News Service