The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday appointed Orange County Department Undersheriff John Scott as an interim replacement for retiring Sheriff Lee Baca.
The board’s 4-0 vote, the result of several closed-door meetings, came less than 48 hours before Baca’s scheduled retirement date, which is noon today.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who abstained from the vote, was not immediately available for comment.
Scott has 36 years of experience with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, last serving as its division chief of custody operations before retiring in 2005. He joined the Orange County force in 2008. His wife, Alice, was a captain with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, but she has also retired.
“I think he’s a good choice,” Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore said. “He was a valued member of the department, he knows custody well ... he knows the Sheriff’s Department backwards and forwards.”
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky noted that Scott was hired to help turn around the Orange County Sheriff’s Department and has experience in crisis management.
“What we’re looking for is someone who’s not going to be a caretaker for the next 10 months, just marking time,” Yaroslavsky said. Instead, he said, the board wants Scott “to begin the process of reforming” the sheriff’s department and “teeing it up” for whoever voters elect as the next sheriff.
“He’s got all the assets,” Yaroslavsky said of Scott.
Baca, 71, and his department have been under fire over allegations of mistreatment of jail inmates, capped so far by the indictment of 18 former and current sheriff’s deputies in an ongoing federal investigation.
Announcing his plans on Jan. 7, Baca said he wanted to go out on his own terms and cited department morale.
“The reasons for doing so are so many,” Baca said at the time. “Some are most personal and private, but the prevailing one is the negative perception this upcoming campaign has brought to the exemplary service provided by the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department.”
Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald took over management of the county jails last year in response to demands for reform from the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. Baca suggested that she would make the best choice for interim sheriff, but McDonald did not meet the state qualifications for the job.
Voters will elect a new sheriff either in a June primary or November run-off election to serve a term that begins in December.
The competitive field includes Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell, former sheriff’s Cmdr. Bob Olmsted, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former Lt. Patrick Gomez, as well as Assistant Sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold and Los Angeles police Detective Lou Vince.