Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca retired today, culminating a career that spanned more than 48 years, 15 of them as the head of the sheriff's department.
“I want to thank the county of Los Angeles for allowing my dream (to) come true,” Baca said in remarks outside the Sherman Block Sheriff's Headquarters Building. “As I retire, I see the sheriff's department in a place far stronger, far more innovative (and) far more accountable.”
Baca's retirement, which became official at noon, came in response to a number of scandals, including the abuse of inmates in Los Angeles county jails.
Baca will be replaced on an interim basis by Orange County Undersheriff John Scott, who was with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department from 1969 to 2005, retiring as division chief of custody operations.
Scott was to be sworn in this afternoon.
Scott was appointed interim sheriff Tuesday by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
“The sheriff's department is at a crossroads and John has the necessary experience and skills to step in right away and lead in the interim,” Supervisor Don Knabe said. ``During his tenure with Orange County, John has been instrumental in turning around a department that faced similar conditions to those we face today in Los Angeles County.”
Baca, 71, and his department have been under fire over allegations of mistreatment of jail inmates, capped so far by the indictment of 18 former and current sheriff's deputies in an ongoing federal investigation.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky noted Scott's experience in crisis management and said he expected changes.
“What we're looking for is someone who's not going to be a caretaker for the next 10 months, just marking time,” Yaroslavsky said.
Instead, Yaroslavsky said, the board wants Scott “to begin the process of reforming” the sheriff's department and “teeing it up” for whoever voters elect the next sheriff.
In announcing his retirement plans on Jan. 7, Baca said he wanted to go out on his own terms and cited department morale.
“The reasons for doing so are so many,” Baca said at the time. “Some are most personal and private, but the prevailing one is the negative perception this upcoming campaign has brought to the exemplary service provided by the men and women of the sheriff's department.”
Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald took over management of the county jails last year in response to demands for reform from the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence. Baca suggested that she would make the best choice for interim sheriff, but McDonald did not meet the state qualifications for the job.
Scott said he'd already met with McDonald. “She's somebody that I can work with,” he said.
Voters will elect a new sheriff either in a June primary or November run-off election to serve a four-year term that begins in December.
The field includes Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell, former sheriff's Cmdr. Bob Olmsted, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former Lt. Patrick Gomez, as well as assistant sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold and Los Angeles police detective Lou Vince.
If one candidate gets a majority of the vote, eliminating the need for a run-off, the board will appoint that sheriff-elect to the interim position. Otherwise, Scott will serve until December.
--City News Service