A federal judge threw out a plea agreement that would have given former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca a maximum of six months in prison, saying the sentence was too lenient considering Baca’s role in obstructing an FBI investigation into the county jails, the Los Angeles Times reports. U.S. District Court Judge Percy Anderson said the deal “would trivialize the seriousness of the offenses … the need for a just punishment [and] the need to deter others.” Baca, 74, had pleaded guilty in February to a single charge of lying to federal investigators. The former sheriff’s involvement in trying to derail the investigation reached further than that, Anderson said.
At stake was what the investigators were trying to expose, Anderson said: an “us-versus-them” culture in which deputies covered up for one another and responded to inmates with enough violence to send them to the hospital. The judge said he would allow Baca to withdraw his guilty plea, setting a new hearing date for Aug. 1. The maximum sentence for the false statement charge is five years, the same amount of time that Baca’s former No. 2, Paul Tanaka, received last month after going to trial in a related obstruction-of-justice case. Baca must choose among several unappealing options. He could go ahead with the sentencing and accept whatever punishment Anderson has in mind. He could withdraw his guilty plea and take his chances going to trial. He could negotiate a new deal with federal prosecutors for a longer sentence that the judge would find more acceptable.