MONTEREY PARK, Calif. (AP) — Embattled Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca announced his retirement Tuesday amid federal investigations that have targeted abuses in his jails and discrimination against minorities in one of the communities his deputies patrol.
Baca said he would step down at the end of the month and wouldn’t seek re-election because he was concerned about the “negative perception” the upcoming campaign would have on his department.
“I didn’t want to have to enter a campaign that would be full of negative, contentious politicking,” said Baca, 71, in an emotional statement outside sheriff’s headquarters. He has spent 48 years in the Sheriff’s Department since becoming a deputy. “I don’t see myself as the future, I see myself as part of the past.”
Last month, federal prosecutors indicted 18 current and former sheriff’s deputies for alleged crimes that included beating inmates and jail visitors, falsifying reports, and trying to obstruct an FBI probe of the nation’s largest jail system.
U.S. Attorney Andre Birotte Jr. said the indictments showed that “some members of the Sheriff’s Department considered themselves to be above the law” and “demonstrated behavior that had become institutionalized.”
Baca sidestepped questions about whether he was worried that he might be indicted as part of a federal obstruction of justice probe. “I’m not afraid of reality. I’m only afraid of people who don’t tell the truth,” he said.
The announcement came as a surprise just weeks after Baca defiantly said the indictments wouldn’t drive him from office.
“I don’t think anyone expected this,” Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe said. “We’re all caught a bit off guard.”
Because Baca is not serving out his term the five-member Board of Supervisors will be tasked with choosing an interim sheriff. Baca recommended Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.
Assistant Sheriff Todd Rogers said after the news conference that he plans to run for office and said Baca’s departure was premature but the department’s leadership needs a change. Several others had said they would challenge Baca including two former underlings.
“There are reformers in this department and I believe I am one of them,” Rogers said.
Baca has acknowledged mistakes while strongly defending his department and distancing himself personally from allegations of misconduct.