Case against ex-Los Angeles County sheriff goes to jury

Rodiano Bonacci
Marzo 21, 2017

Closing arguments will begin Monday in the federal obstruction of justice retrial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

More than a dozen witnesses testified during the almost two-week trial in downtown LosAngeles, where a jury of eight men and four women heard testimony from those who were once high in the chain of command at the Sheriff's Department, saying they believed instructions to hide an inmate who had been talking to an Federal Bureau of Investigation agent about abuse within the jails came from Baca.

If convicted as charged, he could be sentenced to a prison term of several years. He was going to face a separate trial on a lying charge, but prosecutors added that count to the other two charges in the retrial. The former sheriff's first trial ended in December with the jury hopelessly deadlocked 11-to-1 for acquittal.

Baca denies having advance knowledge of the illegal attempt to intimidate her.

Jurors began deliberations following closing arguments but soon broke for the day.

"These were guys in a sandbox - the sheriff's department and the FBI" trying to investigate what was happening in the jails, Hochman said.

A psychiatrist has said Baca's memory could have been impaired when he told prosecutors in 2013 he was unaware of actions taken by deputies to thwart the FBI investigation, though his defense attorney was unable to present that as a defense.

Hochman insisted Baca, 74, did nothing to subvert the probe, but he actually "wanted to join the federal investigation".

To the extent he got involved, Hochman said, was to keep the inmate "safe" from possible snitch retaliation and "get to the bottom" of the investigation.

Baca's defense attorney Nathan Hochman asked each juror to see the case through "Baca's eyes".

The charges stem from a federal investigation into deputy brutality in the jail.

Rhodes disputed the defense's contentions, painting Baca as the brains behind the conspiracy and urging the jury to "hold him to the same standard that all criminal defendants are held to".

Hochman also wanted the jury to hear medical testimony that Baca has been suffering from Alzheimer's disease for years. Later, she said, he allowed them to threaten Tanner with arrest. Prosecutors have played video for jurors of Baca describing his relationship with former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka as "like father and son".

Baca did not take the stand.

The federal corruption trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is nearing an end. He said Baca was highly supportive of the group's endeavors.

But Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox pointed out during cross- examination that the committee was not an enforcement agency and had little power to draw back the curtains on what was occurring at the department.

Before resting his case, Fox called Andre Birotte Jr., formerly the top federal prosecutor in the region - who has since become a federal judge - to tell of a heated meeting he attended with Baca and Steven Martinez, who was in charge of the FBI office in Los Angeles at the time.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes argued that phone records, documents and witness testimony from convicted deputies, including Mickey Manzo, Thomas Carey and Greg Thompson, showed Baca is guilty of obstructing a 2011 FBI investigation into Men's Central Jail and Twin Towers. "These are my g-damn jails", he quoted Baca as saying. Prosecution and defense attorneys finished closing remarks earlier Monday.

Nine other people, including Tanaka, have been convicted of related charges.

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