Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. (27309)

LOS ANGELES, Calif., – Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is expected to announce today that he has decided to leave the beleaguered sheriff’s department rather than fight for a fifth term.

A statement from the Sheriff’s Headquarters Bureau this morning said the sheriff would hold a news conference at the Sherman Block Sheriff’s Headquarters Building in Monterey Park at 10 a.m. The statement did not cite a reason but it was issued following numerous news reports that Baca had decided to move on.

Baca, feeling his departure will eliminate distractions taking attention from the department’s good work, plans to leave by month’s end, NBC4 reported.

The 71-year-old Baca told top officials in county government late Monday that he believes stepping down will help the department recover after several years of tumult and criticism, sources familiar with the conversations told the Los Angeles Times.

Baca was first elected in 1998 and was facing a tough re-election campaign this year for his fifth term, including a challenge from one of his former deputies.

With 18 current and former deputies facing federal criminal charges for mistreating jail inmates, Baca had announced Monday — apparently before he decided to leave — that he would support a citizens’ commission to oversee department operations.

 He described the citizens’ commission as “consistent with my view on strengthening transparency and accountability.”

In December, the Los Angeles Times reported that the department hired dozens of officers in 2010 despite evidence of significant misconduct found during their background checks.

Federal prosecutors filed charges against current and former deputies in December, accusing them of beating jail inmates and visitors and trying to intimidate an FBI agent.

The charges related to a long-standing corruption investigation of the jail system, which is administered by the sheriff’s department. The department is also facing civil lawsuits relating to the actions of some of the deputies charged with misconduct.

Additionally, the U.S. Justice Department last year accused sheriff’s deputies of engaging in widespread unlawful searches of homes, improper detentions and unreasonable force as Antelope Valley authorities conducted an effort to discriminate against African Americans who received low-income subsidized housing.

At the local level, the sheriff’s department was under criticism by a blue-ribbon commission appointed by the Board of Supervisors to examine allegations of jail abuses and was facing the prospect of official oversight, with the board last month approving the appointment of the county’s first Inspector-General. Max Huntsman, a former deputy supervisor of the public integrity division of the Los Angeles District Attorney’s office started his new position with the county Jan. 2.

Huntsman had previously prosecuted public corruption cases in Los Angeles, as well as investigating law enforcement officers and police use-or-forces cases.

Baca had given no previous indication of his intention to stand down in the face of negative publicity.

“My job right now is to explain my side of the story,” Baca said in an interview on CBS2 last month.

“Fixing things is why I bother,” he said, when asked why he wanted to stay in the job. “Leaders don’t ever not have problems and controversies.”

Baca was facing at least four declared challengers in a two-stage re-election this year, with a primary election on June 3, and a potential general election on Nov. 4.