L.A. Sheriff Baca Steps Down

You can’t run for reelection when you’ve been indicted by the Feds.

He was the most powerful elected official in Southern California.
His jail was compared to Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad, Iraq.
He was called “deliberately indifferent” to civil rights abuses and corruption among his deputies.
He saw controversy and criticism as opportunities.
He compared his job to missionary work.
What a surprise.

3000_Baca_Photo by Grant Slater–KPCCI once came across what I thought was a dead or dying 50-something Asian man in the 3000 block of the Men’s Central Jail. He was lying with his head between an open cell’s steel toilet bowl and the concrete wall. This last cell in the row had been left open for those of us housed on the tier because of overcrowding. The old man was there for two days; others used the bowl around him and on him. Someone should’ve been told, but not an eyebrow had been raised by the other inmates, so I was afraid to speak up.

These units at MCJ are referred to as modules, and their ground floor walkways –still very much in use– have been dubbed “The Freeway.” That was just about the worst place an arrogant fuck-up like me could imagine, and I was there to stay. One afternoon, from outside that open cell, I heard someone yelling angrily because the man was in their way, and I was torn up in ways I’ve never felt. So I walked up to the module’s sally port cage door, got the attention of a Sheriff’s deputy, and told him the old guy needed to be dragged out of there. I got waved off and told to get lost.

In the middle of the night, several badges pulled me out of my bunk on The Freeway and dragged me to a laundry room, where they held me against a wall so the deputy from the cage could beat the crap out of me. Apparently I’d interrupted a conversation he was having with a female deputy: he growled as much into my ear as I slid down the wall.

Sheriff Lee Baca isn’t responsible for this, but the incident, chronicled in Where Excuses Go to Die (the book for which this website serves as an information point), christened the ship that would help turn me around. What Sheriff Lee Baca is responsible for is the worsening conditions in his jails, the so-called “culture of violence” among his deputies, and the corrosive corruption pervading the LASD. So to say that I have a love-hate relationship with the L.A. Sheriff’s Department is an understatement.

L.A.’s Men’s Central Jail is a human meat grinder for deputies and pretrial prisoners alike. Extended exposure crumples your faith in fellow man and uses it to wipe. Not everything I witnessed there made it into my book. It didn’t need to. Just about everything I saw –and more– is finally a part of the public record. As I’ve mentioned in previous entries, I never thought I’d see the day that photos from inside the 3000 block (limited as they are) would be seen by the public. I never imagined such a movie-like scenario as the FBI placing an agent inside that dungeon to collect proof and evidence that conditions are as treacherous as so many years’ worth of allegations and accounts have claimed.

In L.A. Sheriff radio code-speak, that’s a “10-7” for OUT OF SERVICE.

Apocalypse Hoosegow_Sheriff Baca Steps Down_Where Excuses Go to Die“Baca Steps Down” are words almost too weird to type.

What isn’t weird (or even unexpected) is how many diversionary points and excuses he crammed into his press announcement.

With his retirement news now public and after 16 years of service, Leroy Baca will soon be free to reconnect with the East Los Angeles of his youth. I expect we’ll soon see him out in the community with all the awkwardness a public service legacy PR effort will bring. But wait – is it reckless of me to assume there will be a Baca PR campaign to come? Maybe, but the dude’s an operator. He enjoys keeping chummy with L.A.’s power elite so much that he might not be able to resist countering the inevitably poor characterizations of his tenure by replacement candidates like Paul Tanaka, Bob Olmsted, Todd Rogers, and others.

For me, the second half of my love-hate relationship –with the jail itself– now steps into play. And hopefully, whoever is elected to be the next L.A. County Sheriff will reclassify that hellhole as a 10-7.

Baca and the 3000 Block_Photo by Grant Slater–KPCC
Most photographs taken inside MCJ (and cleared for publication) are of clean and forever freshly painted corridors used by Sheriff’s deputies to march inmates to and from the chow hall. Inside the 3000 pods and modules however, not all of the fluorescent lights function, so it’s dark in there, and as unhygienic as it gets. Anyone who says different took an approved press tour – or is lying.