Los Angeles Ex-Sheriff Pleads Guilty in Prison Abuse Scandal


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Retired Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded guilty Feb. 10 to lying to federal investigators, in what the LA Times calls a "stunning reversal for the longtime law enforcement leader who for years insisted he played no role in the misconduct that tarnished his agency."
 
In the plea deal filed in federal court for the Central District of California, Baca admitted to lying twice about his involvement in hiding a jail inmate from FBI investigators. In fact, Baca ordered the inmate to be isolated, putting his top deputy Paul Tanaka in charge of executing the plan, the agreement acknowledged. Baca also admitted he lied when he said he was unaware that his subordinates planned to approach an FBI special agent at her home. Baca now admits he directed the subordinates to approach the agent, stating that they should "do everything but put handcuffs" on her. As part of the deal, prosecutors agreed not to seek a prison sentence of more than six months, Eileen Decker, US attorney for the Central District, told reporters. Tanaka is scheduled to stand trial in March on charges of obstructing the federal investigation into brutality and corruption in the county jails.

Baca's guilty plea "demonstrates that the illegal behavior in the Sheriff's Department went to the very top of this organization," Decker said. "More importantly, it illustrates that those who foster and then try to hide a corrupt culture will be held accountable."

Baca, a department veteran since the 1960s who served as sheriff for 16 years before stepping down in 2014, is now revealed to have overseen a jail system where prisoners were "routinely tortured," as the New York Times unsubtly put it—including having their bones broken and being subjected to sexual humiliation. More than a dozen staff members in his department have been indicted amid allegations that guards abused prisoners—particularly those deemed to be "mentally ill"— and that officials repeatedly obstructed federal attempts to investigate. 

In August, the Justice Department announced a settlement in which the county agreed to numerous changes at its jail system. The agreement put the system under federal court oversight for at least a year and specified a list of prescribed reforms.

But few media accounts are making the point that this is a systemic pattern in the United States. Last year, the city of Chicago agreed to a $5.5 million reparations deal following a similar police torture scandal.

 

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