Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca

By Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard
August 14, 2013, 6:00 a.m.

A retired Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander who played a role in exposing abuses inside the agency’s jails announced Wednesday that he is going to challenge Sheriff Lee Baca in next year’s election.

Bob Olmsted promised to clean up a department that he says has been beset by scandal because of mismanagement and cronyism by Baca.

Baca, who has been sheriff for about 15 years, enters his relection campaign amid several scandals. Over the weekend, Supervisor Gloria Molina published a letter in The Times blasting Baca and expressing disappointment that “not one challenger has stepped forward to rescue” the Sheriff’s Department.

Two others have entered the race. But Olmsted is considered the most serious challenger to Baca, who has high name recognition and significant fundraising resources.

Olmsted, 62, was one of the first sheriff’s officials to break rank with his old boss. In 2011, he went public with his criticisms of the four-term sheriff, telling The Times that he warned Baca about deputies using excessive force against inmates but was ignored until the problems grew into a scandal.

Olmsted’s public statements contradicted Baca’s claims that he had been kept in the dark by his top aides about jailhouse problems.

Olmsted also commissioned internal audits raising alarms about jailer brutality, nearly two years before Baca acknowledged that it was a problem.

The documents contained disturbing evidence of misconduct in the jails, including cases in which deputies used unnecessary force, then escaped punishment because of shoddy investigations by supervisors.

One of the reports audited more than 100 violent encounters with inmates and found that deputies crafted narratives “dramatized to justify” force. In some cases, the jailers purposely delayed using weapons that could end fights, like pepper spray and stun guns, “to dispense appropriate jailhouse ‘justice,’ ” the report said.

A blue ribbon commission later launched by the county to examine problems in the jails relied on those internal reports to make its case that excessive force was pervasive.

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