Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is vowing to appeal his conviction and whatever prison sentence he may receive for his part in a scheme to block an FBI investigation into abuse of inmates in the Los Angeles County jail system he ran, according to court papers filed this week.
In a document filed in federal court, defense attorney Nathan Hochman asks the judge who will sentence the former sheriff to grant bail pending appeal on the grounds that Baca is not likely to flee and poses no danger to the community. The attorney also argues that a successful appeal would likely result in a reversal or an order for a new trial.
Prosecutors are seeking a two-year prison term for the 74-year-old ex-sheriff, while the defense is asking for a non-custodial term of home detention.
Baca was convicted March 15 of obstruction of justice and two other federal charges for his role in the scheme to thwart the FBI probe into inmate mistreatment in the jails and of lying to the bureau several times during a sworn interview.
Hochman wrote that his appeal will be based on arguments that the court erred by barring jurors from hearing evidence of Baca’s “cooperation” with both the federal probe and an independent county review board, and that the panel should have heard about the ex-sheriff’s diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease. The attorney also claims the jury should have been allowed to consider evidence of improvements Baca made in training jail guards.
After about two days of deliberations, a criminal jury in downtown Los Angeles—the second to hear the case—found that Baca authorized and condoned a multi-part scheme that now has resulted in the conviction of 10 former members of the Sheriff’s Department.
During his two trials, prosecutors described Baca as being the top figure in the conspiracy, which also involved his right-hand man, Paul Tanaka, and eight deputies who took orders from the sheriff.
In helping derail the federal probe, Baca “abused the great power the citizens of Los Angeles County had given him,” while false statements made during a sworn interview with investigators was a “deliberate attempt to deflect blame and place it entirely on the shoulders of others within his department,”’ the prosecution wrote in sentencing documents.
Normally, the government would recommend a prison sentence within a range of about three and four years for the convictions. But due to Baca’s age and cognitive condition, “the interests of justice will not be served by defendant spending many years behind bars in a severely impaired state,” the document states.
In its papers supporting a probationary term in home detention with community service, the defense cited Baca’s decades of public service, diagnosis of early stage Alzheimer’s disease and “peripheral” role in the conspiracy.
Hochman asked the judge to consider “an individual with one of this country’s most exceptional public service careers spanning over almost 50 years, an individual who suffers from the incurable and rapidly progressing and debilitating mental health disease of Alzheimer’s, and an individual for whom prison will not allow him to obtain medical care in the most effective manner and will subject him to especially harsh treatment due to his medical condition as well to his age and former position as LASD Sheriff.”
Baca—who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for more than 15 years—faces up to 20 years in federal prison when he is sentenced by U.S District Judge Percy Anderson—although he is expected to receive far less time behind bars, if any.
The retired lawman was first tried last December on obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice counts, and prosecutors had planned a second trial on the false statements count. But a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff, and Anderson combined all three counts in the retrial. Baca did not take the stand in either trial.