Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca announced his resignation at a press conference Tuesday. He stated he will not seek reelection in November, and that he will step down from his post at the end of January. The sheriff gave what he called some “personal and private” reasons, but will mostly be stepping down because of a “negative perception this upcoming campaign has brought on” his department. Baca appeared to be fighting tears during his initial announcement.
Baca leaves the department amid during a time of widespread controversy in a massive jail system. Baca’s department has helped detain and deport a record number of immigrants—the majority of whom were not accused of any violent crime. The sheriff’s department was also the target of a federal investigation. Grand jury indictments resulting from that investigation reveal serious abuse at L.A.’s Men’s Central Jail and the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
The documents allege not only excessive force and intimidation against inmates and their visitors—including broken bones—but serious corruption as well. Nevertheless, the sheriff states that his is “the safest large jail in the country.”
On Monday, Sheriff Baca agreed to an oversight commission, that he stated “would serve to further develop law enforcement skills regarding Constitutional policing, procedural justice, civil rights, and human rights as a whole.” That was a big change of course for Baca, who has long said that his department was free of any institutional problems—despite allegations about abuse and corruption for decades from former inmates and their supporters.
Just last month, Baca insisted the 18 grand jury indictments represented some bad apples, but weren’t evident of a crisis in his department as a whole. Those statements in support of his deputies were echoed during today’s press conference, during which time he also floated possible new candidates for election.
Baca first assumed office in December 1998. He is recommending jails chief Terri McDonald “[hold] the fort” until November’s election.