Sheriff Baca backs proposal to create civilian oversight commission

Sheriff Baca backs proposal to create civilian oversight commission
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca at a news conference in Monterey Park last month after the announcement of federal criminal charges against 18 current and former sheriff's deputies involved in jail operations. (Christina House / For The Times)

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca threw his support behind a proposal by two county supervisors to set up an oversight commission for the Sheriff's Department, which has been beset by allegations of widespread misconduct and abuse.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina proposed setting up a permanent civilian oversight commission in September, after the U.S. Department of Justice announced that its civil rights division would investigate the treatment of mentally ill inmates in jails overseen by the sheriff.

A vote on the proposal has been postponed multiple times, as the other three county supervisors signaled they would not support the plan. Supervisors Zev Yaroslavsky, Don Knabe and Michael D. Antonovich said that a commission would be redundant and that the county should focus instead on setting up an inspector general to oversee the department.

The board voted to hire veteran public corruption prosecutor Max Huntsman to the inspector general's post.


Baca publicly took a stance in favor of the commission proposal for the first time Monday, saying in a statement that the proposal "is consistent with my view on strengthening transparency and accountability, and would serve to further develop law enforcement skills regarding constitutional policing, procedural justice, civil rights and human rights as a whole."

The statement went on to say, "Effecting positive change in a challenged criminal justice system starts with a willingness to be completely open and transparent about everything, even if the truthfulness and transparency results in identifying areas for improvement or exposing misconduct."

Since Ridley-Thomas and Molina proposed the plan, the sheriff's department has gone through further upheaval. Last month, federal authorities announced criminal charges against 18 current and former sheriff's deputies involved in jail operations.

Prosecutors said they found a "wide scope of illegal conduct" by deputies and their supervisors that went beyond mistreating inmates, including actively attempting to hinder an FBI investigation into jail misconduct.

Also last month, a Times investigation revealed that during a large-scale hiring push in 2010, the department had accepted dozens of deputies despite serious issues that came out in their background investigations.

The citizens' oversight commission proposal once again appears on the supervisors' Tuesday meeting agenda this week.

Baca, who is running for reelection in a hotly contested race this year, has maintained that he acted to make reforms in the department as issues came to his attention.