Raunchy, racist jokes at sheriff’s gathering spark outrage

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)

A gathering Wednesday attended by several hundred sheriff’s deputies and staff members from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department went badly awry when a comedian unleashed a stand-up routine filled with racist and sexually explicit humor, people in attendance said.

Many in the crowd at the Sheriff’s Day Luncheon, 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. “There was a lot of cringing and nervous laughter.... 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.

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.

Baca’s spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said the performance “will be reviewed.”

“If anyone was offended, that was not the intent and certainly apologies are extended,” Whitmore said, adding that he wasn’t at the event so he couldn’t comment on the specifics of the routine.

Whitmore said he spoke to Baca, and Baca said he “became concerned that people would complain” but decided to give the comedian the plaque anyway “to thank him for volunteering to come to the luncheon.”

The sheriff “wants to remind everyone this is a comedian,” Whitmore said. “No one in the department would say this.”

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.”

The annual lunch event, he said, is “a way for the family of the Sheriff’s Department to bond…. Everything is done with humor and there is never any disrespect intended.”

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.

Among other things, San Juan made jokes evoking stereotypes about Koreans and used the N-word in a joke in which he mocked a thick Filipino accent.

“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 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 it’s 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.

Another sheriff’s official in attendance said that although “everyone was startled” by the jokes, given what was supposed to be a professional setting, the comedian was “evenhanded” and did not target a particular race.

San Juan could not be reached for comment.


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