Although former Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca agreed to a plea agreement earlier this year, U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson rejected the deal on Monday because he found the sentence too lenient. After Baca was caught repeatedly lying to federal investigators, Judge Anderson determined that a six-month prison sentence would not serve as a strong enough deterrent against other law enforcement officers.
Responding to numerous allegations of excessive force, misconduct, and sexual assault committed by deputies at the Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) in Downtown Los Angeles, the FBI launched an investigation into the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) in 2011 by using an informant named Anthony Brown. After Brown bribed a guard to smuggle a cell phone into the jail, the FBI informant began recording deputies beating his fellow inmates without provocation.
Caught with the smuggled cell phone a few weeks later, Brown eventually admitted to his role in the FBI operation. When FBI Agents Leah Marx and David Lam arrived at MCJ to interview him on August 23, 2011, LASD Lt. Gregory Thompson abruptly terminated the interview and had Brown transferred to another facility under a series of false identities.
A month later, Baca attended a meeting where his subordinates were ordered to threaten and intimidate Agent Marx at her home. Captured on surveillance video on September 26, 2011, Sgt. Scott Craig of the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau (ICIB) lied to Marx by telling her that she was a named suspect in a felony complaint and threatened to obtain a warrant for her arrest.
During an interview with investigators on April 12, 2013, Baca falsely stated that he was unaware of the plan to harass an FBI agent at her home, when in fact Baca had attended the meeting where his officials devised the illegal plot. Baca also lied when he told investigators that he was unaware of Lt. Thompson terminating the FBI interview with Brown. In his third false statement, Baca claimed he was not involved in the discussion to hide Brown from the FBI.
Charged with three counts of making false statements to federal authorities investigating abuse and corruption within the LASD, Baca accepted a plea deal in February that reduced the charges to one count of making a false statement in exchange for a six-month sentence in prison. On Monday, Judge Anderson tossed out the plea agreement due to its lenient sentencing guidelines, saying the deal “would trivialize the seriousness of the offenses” and the need to deter others.
With a new hearing date scheduled for August 1, Baca can withdraw his plea, accept the judge’s harsher sentencing, or renegotiate a new plea bargain with the prosecution. Several other top officials have been convicted in connection to Baca’s case, including then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka who Anderson sentenced to five years in federal prison last month for obstructing the FBI investigation into corruption and prisoner abuse within the LASD.
Instead of accepting responsibility for his crimes, Baca blamed Tanaka in court and stated, “I did not lead. Instead I delegated the responsibility for this important duty, and I should not have.”
“That’s not what a leader does,” asserted Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox, regarding Baca’s admitted lies and attempted cover-up. “That’s what a coward does.”