Former Sheriff Lee Baca defiant to the end, even after prison sentence

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca remained defiant after his sentencing Friday morning, telling reporters outside the courthouse that he was in the right for actions he took in 2011 for which he will now serve a three-year prison term.

“There is right and wrong, that I’m clear with,” said Baca, who chose not to make a statement to the judge at his sentencing hearing. “When I stand tall, I stand right with what I think is right.”

Baca was convicted in March of obstruction of justice and conspiracy charges for the steps he and his subordinates took after they learned of an FBI investigation into corruption and abuses in the sheriff’s department-run jails.

On the courthouse steps, Baca referred to the cellphone his deputies discovered on an inmate at Men’s Central Jail and defended his actions. The phone had been smuggled into the jail by FBI agents as part of a sting.

“Final comment: I will never accept a cellphone in a county jail given to a career criminal. I don’t care who puts it in,” the ex-lawman said.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, in remarks from the bench before handing down Baca’s sentence, faulted Baca for refusing to accept responsibility and shifting the blame for the criminal actions of which he now stands convicted.

“You placed yourself in this position,” the judge said. “You had opportunity after opportunity to put a stop to it.”

Anderson said despite arguments from Baca’s defense that it was his second-in-command, then-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who was to blame, Baca was “at least as culpable” as Tanaka. He said the entire scheme may never have transpired were it not for Baca.

“In the end, that is your legacy,” Anderson said.

Baca, reading from a yellow legal pad, spoke for nearly five minutes without directly commenting on his sentence. He thanked the people of Los Angeles, his wife and his legal team, at one point reciting the Sheriff’s Department “core values” and praising the media.

“I’ve taken a lot of hits over the years, but there isn’t a police chief in America who hasn’t taken a lot of hits because it’s freedom of speech,” he said. “And I’m a protector of freedom of speech, even if it’s at my expense.”

victoria.kim@latimes.com

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