Los Angeles

Former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca Fails in Latest Bid to Stay Free on Bond

A judge ruled Baca's request to remain free on bond was filed simply to delay his prison time

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was rejected in his latest bid to remain free on bond pending the appeal of his conviction for obstructing an FBI probe into the county jail system, and a federal judge ordered him to begin serving his three-year prison sentence on Monday.

Baca's attorney, however, said he plans to appeal to the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which will automatically delay the former sheriff's surrender date.

"Sheriff Baca intends to appeal the latest denial of his bail-pending- appeal motion as the facts and law fully, compellingly support his receiving bail," Hochman said.

In an eight-page ruling issued late Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson determined that Baca has not offered any proof that his request to remain free on bond had any purpose beyond simply delaying his prison time.

"The court additionally concludes that defendant has failed to raise a substantial question likely to result in a new trial, a sentence that does not include a term of imprisonment or a term of imprisonment less than the expected duration of the appeal process," Anderson wrote.

Baca, 75, was sentenced in May for his conviction on charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements. Baca's attorney, Nathan Hochman, moved that Baca be allowed to remain free on bond, but Anderson in July rejected the request.

Hochman appealed to the 9th Circuit, but a three-judge panel of that court rejected the appeal in late August. Hochman then filed a renewed motion with Anderson, leading to Wednesday's ruling.

Hochman's latest motion argued that Anderson erred in barring jurors from hearing evidence of Baca's "cooperation" with both the federal probe into wrongdoing by deputies in the jail system and an independent county review board, and that the panel should have heard about the ex-sheriff's Alzheimer's disease diagnosis. Hochman also said the use of an anonymous jury in Baca's trial was a mistake that could result in a finding for a retrial.

Anderson rejected the claims, writing that the court's "jury instructions, decision to empanel an anonymous jury and evidentiary rulings were not in error and did not deprive the defendant of his constitutional right to present a defense."

During Baca's two trials, prosecutors described the ex-lawman as being the top figure in a multi-part conspiracy, which also involved his former right- hand man, Paul Tanaka, and eight deputies who took orders from the sheriff.

Baca -- who ran the nation's largest sheriff's department for more than 15 years -- was first tried in December on obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice counts, and prosecutors had planned a second trial on the false statements count. But a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, and Anderson combined all three counts in the retrial that ended with Baca's conviction. Baca did not take the stand in either trial.

The charges stemmed from events six years ago when a cell phone was discovered in the hands of an inmate at the Men's Central Jail. Sheriff's deputies quickly tied the phone to the FBI, which had been conducting a secret probe of brutality against inmates.

At that point, sheriff's officials closed ranks and began an attempt to halt the formerly covert investigation by concealing the inmate-turned- informant from federal prosecutors, who had issued a summons for his grand jury appearance, prosecutors said.

Baca became sheriff in December 1998 and won re-election on several occasions. He was poised to run again in 2014, but federal indictments unsealed in December 2013, related to excessive force in the jails and obstruction of that investigation, led Baca to retire the following month.

Hochman said the jury should have been allowed to consider evidence of improvements Baca made in the training of jail guards to de-escalate problems and successfully deal with violent and/or mentally ill inmates. Baca was not charged with any instances of jail brutality.

In addition to the 10 people convicted in connection with the Baca conspiracy case, 11 other now-former sheriff's department members were also convicted of various crimes uncovered during the FBI investigation.

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