Lee Baca

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca leaves federal court in Los Angeles. (Los Angeles Times)

Joel Rubin
August 12, 2016

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded not guilty Friday afternoon to felony charges arising from an FBI probe into county jails.

At an arraignment in a downtown federal courtroom, Baca entered his plea before U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson and told the judge he suffers from periods of “cloudiness in my brain” brought on by Alzheimer’s disease.

Prosecutors last week leveled the allegations of obstruction of justice, conspiracy and lying, days after Baca withdrew a guilty plea that was part of an agreement that he had struck with the government.

Under the terms of the deal, Baca was to admit that he lied to federal officials about his involvement in a 2011 scheme to interfere with an FBI investigation into widespread abuses at the county jails. In exchange for his guilty plea, the agreement called for Baca, who is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s, to spend no more than six months in prison.

But Anderson derailed the deal, concluding the six-month sentence was too lenient for the 74-year-old man who led the Sheriff’s Department during a period when violent attacks by deputies on inmates were commonplace and readily covered up.

With Anderson signaling clearly that he intended to hand down a stiff punishment, Baca opted to back out of the deal and take his chances instead at a high-stakes trial. Prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney’s Office followed up quickly, announcing a grand jury had indicted the former sheriff on the serious charges.

The hearing Friday was notable for Baca’s comments about his variable mental acuity, which underscored how his recent Alzheimer’s diagnosis will complicate the case.

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