Former Los Angeles County Sheriff, Lee Baca, and his wife, Carol Chiang, leave the United States Court after his arraignment on Friday, August 12, 2016. File photo. (Photo by Dean Musgrove/Los Angeles Daily News)

By Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News
Posted: 12/15/16 – 6:59 PM PST |

Former Sheriff Lee Baca, who led the largest law enforcement department of its kind in the nation, may take the witness stand in his own defense in an ongoing federal jail corruption trial, his attorney announced Thursday.

Nathan Hochman plans to tell U.S. District Court Judge Percy Adams today if his client will testify as well as call about a dozen defense witnesses, some of whom will speak to Baca’s character. Among them will be former Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley and Ira Reiner, the former Los Angeles city controller, city attorney, and Los Angeles County district attorney.

Hochman’s announcement was made after federal prosecutors rested their case but not before Andre Birotte Jr., the former U.S. attorney for the Central District of California who is now a federal court judge, told the jury how upset Baca had become after learning the FBI was investigating his jails.

Birotte said while he served as U.S. attorney, he knew the FBI was looking into reports of excessive force and corruption among Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies who worked at Men’s Central Jail.

He said after Baca found out about how the FBI had bribed a deputy to bring a cellphone to an inmate as part of the investigation, the former sheriff became concerned and distressed. He sent a letter to Birotte that called the FBI’s actions illegal, and that the Sheriff’s Department was conducting its own investigations.

Birotte said he interpreted the three-page letter as Baca telling the FBI: “Back off, we’re going to do this ourselves.”

Later, a meeting with Baca and then FBI Assistant Director Steve Martinez became heated, said Birotte, who was with the two men.

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