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Prospective jurors await Baca trial

OW Staff Writer | 2/24/2017, midnight
Jury selection began this week for the second trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on federal corruption ...

Jury selection began this week for the second trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca on federal corruption charges for allegedly conspiring to obstruct an FBI probe into possible abuse of inmates in the county jail system.

Two groups of about 125 potential panelists each began going through early stages of the selection process in the downtown federal courthouse. Jury selection, which marks the start of a trial, could last through Monday.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson said jurors would remain anonymous due to the media attention the trial is expected to draw and to lessen the chance that they are contacted during the proceedings.

Baca, 74, was tried in December on counts of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice, but jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff. Anderson then declared a mistrial.

At his re-trial—expected to take about two weeks—the former sheriff will also face a third felony count of lying to federal officials.

The charges partly stem from a 2011 incident in which two sheriff’s investigators confronted an FBI agent involved in the jail probe in the driveway leading into her apartment and falsely told her they were in the process of obtaining a warrant for her arrest.

The case against Baca focuses on a period of time when sheriff’s deputies based at the Men’s Central Jail stumbled upon a secret FBI probe of alleged civil rights abuses and unjustified beatings of inmates within jail walls.

Prosecutors contend Baca so resented the federal government’s jails probe that he attempted to force the FBI to back down by illegally having deputies confront the agent at her apartment. The prosecution also alleges that Baca ignored years of complaints about excessive force used illegally against jail inmates in county facilities managed by the Sheriff’s Department.

The third count—making false statements—contends that Baca lied to the FBI in April 2013 about his knowledge of department efforts to subvert a federal probe into corruption and inmate abuse in the jail system.

Baca maintains he had no knowledge of what was being done in his name by staff, including former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who is serving a five-year prison term for his conviction on obstruction of justice charges similar to those Baca faces. Eight other former deputies were convicted and are serving time in the case.

Baca’s attorneys contend that the ex-sheriff is in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease and suffered some cognitive impairment as much as six years ago.