By Seema Mehta
6:34 PM PST, December 17, 2013
Los Angeles County's governing board called on Sheriff Lee Baca to provide more details on his agency's controversial hiring of deputies and others three years ago with histories of reported misconduct.
The Sheriff's Department “is just one hell of a mess and we have an obligation to straighten it out,” county Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas said in an interview. “The department needs help. I don’t know how much more clear that could be at this point.”
Ridley-Thomas was reacting to a report Baca provided to the county Board of Supervisors Tuesday that addressed a Times report on questionable hiring of deputies with records of misconduct. Baca's report added few new details, blaming the improper hirings on an undersheriff who no longer works for the department. Later Tuesday, an assistant sheriff told The Times that 80 officers were hired who should have been disqualified because of problems in their backgrounds.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said Baca's report to the board failed to identify why the screening process failed.
“The issue here is not to delineate the process, the issue is to find out why people who did not meet the basic standard for hiring in the sheriff’s department got hired anyway, and how do we prevent that from happening in the future,” Yaroslavsky said.
The board unanimously approved a motion by Supervisor Mike Antonovich directing Baca to report back in two weeks on the hirings now under scrutiny, and whether those deputies have had problems since joining the department. The motion also asks county staff to explore whether any legal action is possible against the undersheriff Baca is blaming for the hires.
Supporters of tighter controls on the sheriff’s department hope the latest controversies will hasten approval of a citizen’s commission to oversee the department. Board members Ridley-Thomas and Gloria Molina have proposed such a panel, but have been unable to secure a required third board vote to create the panel.
“If we don’t have a third vote now, I just don’t know what it’s going to take,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Supporters of the proposal rallied outside of the board meeting, urging Yaroslavsky to support the commission. Patrisse Cullors, lead organizer of the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence in L.A. Jails, said Yaroslavsky was the target of the protest because he's expressed concerns about civil rights issues in the jails.
Yaroslavsky said the commission proposal is “well-intentioned,” but that he is preparing an alternative oversight plan which will be announced next year.
“I’m not interested in creating yet another blue-ribbon commission that has no power, that is just a debating society,” he said. “We need people who can get into the files of the department, who can get into personnel files, who can get into investigatory files and find out what’s really happening.”
Times staff writer Abby Sewell contributed to this report.
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