Lee Baca, the once powerful and popular sheriff of Los Angeles County, was found guilty yesterday of obstructing a federal investigation into abuses in county jails and lying to cover up the interference, the Los Angeles Times reports. The verdict, which jurors reached on their second full day of deliberations, marked a devastating fall for a man who in his 15 years as sheriff built himself into a national law enforcement figure known for progressive ideas on criminal justice. Baca, who is 74 and suffers from the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease, now faces the likelihood of time in federal prison.
“I disagree with this verdict,” Baca said afterward. “My mentality is always optimistic. I look forward to winning on appeal.” The jury foreman, a 51-year-old salesman, knocked down Baca’s central claim that he was unaware of the malfeasance others in the department were carrying out. “The leader runs the ship,” the foreman said. “He made the choice to be there. Step up to the plate and be responsible.” The conviction is a significant victory for a team of public corruption prosecutors from the U.S. attorney’s office who opted to retry Baca following a mistrial late last year. In that trial, the jury deadlocked 11 to 1 in favor of acquitting the former sheriff. Acting U.S. Attorney Sandra Brown said “this verdict sends a clear message that no one is above the law…. With a career in law enforcement, he knew right from wrong. And he made a decision that was to commit a crime … and when the time came, he lied — he lied to cover up his tracks.” Tenpeople — from low-level deputies to Baca and his former second in command — have been convicted or pleaded guilty. Several other deputies have been found guilty of civil rights violations for beating inmates and a visitor in the jails.