Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca and attorney Nathan Hochman are seen outside the U.S. Courthouse in Los Angeles on Feb. 13, 2017. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
By Susan Abram, Los Angeles Daily News
Posted: 03/09/17 – 12:22 PM PST |
After almost two weeks of testimony by more than a dozen witnesses, the prosecution and defense rested their cases Thursday in the federal jail corruption re-trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
Baca didn’t take the stand in his defense. In fact, his attorney, Nathan Hochman, presented only one witness. But` before closing their case, the prosecution presented Andre Birotte Jr., the former U.S. attorney for the Central District of California who is now a federal court judge. Birotte told the jury how angry Baca had become after learning the FBI was investigating his jails in the summer of 2011.
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.
Later, a meeting with Baca and then FBI Assistant Director Steve Martinez became heated, said Birotte, who was with the two men.
“He was upset,” Birotte recalled of Baca. “He was the most upset I had ever seen him.”
At one point, Birotte heard Baca tell Martinez
“I’m the g-damn sheriff. It’s my g-damn jail.”
It got so tense, Birotte recounted, that Baca shouted to Martinez: “You want to gun up in here?”
Birotte said he took it to mean they were going to go to war over the investigation.
After prosecutors rested their case, the defense called Michael Gennaco, who founded the Office of Independent Review, which Baca had helped start.
Gennaco, a former attorney with the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, said the office was specifically created to provide oversight into actions within the Sheriff’s Department.
Gennaco said no other office of its kind could compare, adding “there was no other entity created as vibrant,” as the one he and Baca created.
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