New L.A. County interim sheriff vows to continue department reforms

The newly named interim sheriff of Los Angeles County, current Orange County Undersheriff John L. Scott, said Tuesday that he would continue the momentum of reform in the department.

Flanked by four of the five county supervisors, Scott said, “I can assure you, I’m not going to be a placeholder here in L.A. County. I will begin the process immediately of restoring both the dignity to the men and women of L.A. County and the confidence and trust of the public that we serve.”

After two closed-door meetings Tuesday, Los Angeles County Supervisors announced they had selected Scott to take over for the resigning Lee Baca until voters select a new sheriff later this year, either in June’s primary election or November’s run-off election.

“We don’t know what’s going to happen in June, but we do know we have a man who can do the job through December in Sheriff John Scott,” Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich said after the announcement.

Baca unexpectedly announced plans to retire this month. The Sheriff’s Department has been under fire over allegations of widespread misconduct and abuses in the jails, which culminated in the arrest of 18 current and former department employees late last year.


Scott will take over when Baca departs Thursday and earn the same roughly $300,000 annual salary as the former sheriff.

Scott began his law enforcement career as a deputy with Los Angeles County’s Lakewood sheriff’s station in 1969, and rose to the rank of division chief, retiring in 2005.

He then went to work at the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, serving as the undersheriff for another L.A. County veteran, Sheriff Sandra Hutchens. Scott said he was taking a leave of absence from the Orange County post and will return to the position after a permanent sheriff is installed.

At the time he joined the Orange County department it was reeling from the indictment of former Sheriff Mike Carona on corruption charges.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Gloria Molina praised Scott’s track record in Orange County, saying he has the right qualities to head up L.A. County’s “troubled” department.

“He’s understanding of the kind of reform this department needs,” she said.

Other supervisors said Scott’s background in the department would allow him to quickly transition into the new role. Board Chairman Don Knabe said Scott would be able to “hit the ground running.”

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, “Looking for an interim, we were looking for someone who would not be a caretaker, would not just be marking time for the next 10 months.”

The supervisors said it was a priority to find someone who would continue to implement reforms recommended by a citizens’ panel that studied jail violence issues. Scott also said he would be involved in the initial phases of long-term planning for the county’s jail facility, including a proposal to replace the aging Men’s Central Jail.

Officials who worked with Scott and are still at the Sheriff’s Department told The Times that he is generally well-respected, and considered a strong steward.

Two officials, who spoke on the condition they not be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that when Scott left, he had grown disillusioned with the subordinates Baca was empowering and warned the sheriff that he was headed for trouble if he stayed on the same course.

Sheriff’s spokesman SteveWhitmore declined to discuss that assertion, saying “I’m not going to get into the pettiness.”

The vote to appoint Scott was 4-0, with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstaining. Ridley-Thomas did not appear with the other four supervisors at a news conference where Scott greeted the media.

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