Lee Baca

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca leaves the federal courthouse in Los Angeles on Feb. 10. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Joel Rubin
June 20, 2016

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, but he nonetheless should serve time in prison for lying to federal investigators during a probe into jail abuses by sheriff’s deputies, the U.S. attorney’s office has concluded.

In a court filing released late Monday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox confirmed rumors about Baca’s health, writing that an expert on Alzheimer’s had evaluated the former sheriff for the government and verified the diagnosis.

Calling Baca “a study in contrasts” for his high achievements in office and the ethical failures that were his downfall, as well as “a physically fit 74-year-old who is able to function in his daily life,” Fox urged U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson to sentence Baca to six months in prison. Baca is scheduled to be sentenced next month.

The punishment, Fox wrote, is “appropriate after taking into account all sides of defendant Baca, including his crime, his current health and his likely prognosis.”

The suggested prison term stems from a deal Baca struck with prosecutors in February. Under the terms of the agreement, Baca pleaded guilty to lying to Fox and other officials during a long, voluntary interview he gave in 2013 about his knowledge of a scheme underlings carried out to obstruct an FBI investigation into corruption in the L.A. County jail system.

In pleading guilty, Baca admitted that he lied when he told federal authorities that he was unaware his subordinates were planning to approach the FBI agent leading the jail investigation at her home to threaten her with arrest.

And Baca agreed not to contest other allegations leveled by federal prosecutors, including that he directed subordinates to approach the agent, telling them that they should “do everything but put handcuffs” on her, the agreement said.

In exchange, prosecutors agreed not to pursue more serious charges against Baca and that he should spend no more than six months in prison.

Anderson, the judge, must still approve the deal. If he decides a six-month sentence is too lenient, Anderson would tell Baca before sentencing him. If that happens, Baca would have to choose whether to accept Anderson’s punishment or withdraw his guilty plea and take his chances with whatever charges the government might decide to bring.

In the new court papers, Fox said six months in prison was still appropriate despite the Alzheimer’s diagnosis, which came to light after the plea agreement was made.

Baca’s cognitive impairment is “slight,” Fox wrote, adding that there was no evidence his condition played a role in his lying to the FBI and that the interview took place a year before Baca first consulted a doctor about “memory issues.”

The physician who advised the U.S. attorney’s office predicted his condition would not deteriorate significantly in coming months, Fox wrote. Forcing Baca to serve a prison term while his conditioned worsened badly would not serve justice, but six months in prison in the near future would do so, Fox told Anderson. The physician advised that the prognosis for Baca five or 10 years from now was “bleak.”

In justifying the call for Baca to spend time behind bars, Fox said stripping the former sheriff of his freedom would have a powerful deterrent effect on the law enforcement community.

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