Sheriff’s spokesman promises no more racist jokes at annual event

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca was among those in the audience at the Sheriff's Day Luncheon on Wednesday.
(Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials are trying to figure out how a comedian who unleashed a string of racist and raunchy jokes was hired to entertain at a law enforcement event Wednesday.

“It’s a lesson learned,” said sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore. “It’s not gonna happen again.”

Many in the crowd at the Sheriff’s Day Luncheon on Wednesday, estimated to be between 600 and 700 people, were dressed in their uniforms, including Sheriff Lee Baca, who thanked comedian Edwin San Juan with a plaque after the off-color performance.


“He managed to insult every ethnic group,” said one attendee, who requested that his name not be used. “I was sitting there thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

The event was hosted by a law enforcement association and was not an official Sheriff’s Department event.

The routine lasted at least 30 minutes. San Juan, who described himself on his Twitter feed as Filipino, made fun of the accents of Asians, Indians and other ethnic groups, the attendee said.

San Juan made jokes containing stereotypes about Koreans and used the N-word in a joke in which he mocked a thick Filipino accent. Other jokes got into racial and sexual stereotypes.

Whitmore said officials are trying to figure out how the comedian was vetted. They are also going to implement safeguards, he said, to keep it from happening again. They might, for example, hire a motivational speaker next year instead of a comedian.

“This was an anomaly,” Whitmore said.
In a photograph posted on San Juan’s Twitter and Facebook pages, Baca and William McSweeney, chief of the agency’s detectives, are shown smiling with San Juan as they present him with a plaque.

The inscription on the award is attributed to Baca and reads: “Your ability to combine wisdom, leadership and humor serves as an inspiration to us all.”

“It is perplexing that, as much as we fight racism on the department, the sheriff would embrace and seemed to condone the completely racist monologue,” said a Sheriff’s Department official who attended the lunch. “The sheriff even presented him with a small trophy of appreciation afterward.”

The event in Montebello was hosted by the Peace Officers Assn. of Los Angeles County, a nonprofit group that works “to advance the interests of public safety and professional law enforcement in Los Angeles County,” according to its website.

The group’s executive board includes high-ranking members of the Sheriff’s Department, the Los Angeles Police Department and other agencies. They did not immediately have a comment on the event.


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