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An emotional Lee Baca said he decided to retire three days ago during the Monday press conference in Monterey Park. -Photo by Terry Miller
In what can only be described as a highly emotional press conference Tuesday, Sheriff Lee Baca announced his plans to step down at the end of January. Hundreds of media representatives, colleagues and deputies plus numerous supporters of the embattled Sheriff attended the press conference in Monterey Park.
The news of Baca’s decision to step down caught people by surprise inside and outside the county agency. He was in a tough re-election battle while dealing with many serious accusations of impropriety against him and at least 18 deputies under his command, particularly with regard to the jails.
Baca allegedly told top officials in county government late Monday that he believed stepping down would help the department.
Baca made a brief statement Tuesday morning then followed with a brief question and answer period.
“I have been proud and honored to serve the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the people of Los Angeles County for the past 48 years – which has made this decision the most difficult of my professional life. I am not going to seek re-election to a fifth term as Sheriff, and I will retire at the end of this month.
The reasons for doing so are many, and 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. They have conducted themselves with the utmost integrity and professionalism, resulting in yet another year of historic crime reductions not seen in nearly half-a-century.
Your Sheriff’s Department is the greatest law enforcement agency in the nation, and I want to thank the men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for their hard work, dedication, and sacrifice exhibited daily.
To the people of Los Angeles County, I also extend a deep sense of gratitude for allowing me to serve for the past 48 years.
As your elected Sheriff for the past 15 years, I have held fast to the Core Values of this great department.
And they are:
“As a leader of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, I commit myself to perform my duties with respect for the dignity of all people, integrity to do right and fight wrongs, wisdom to apply common sense and fairness in all I do, and courage to stand against racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia, and bigotry in all its forms.”
Baca — who spent 48 years with the department including 15 as sheriff — was at times at the point of tears as he explained his decision, which he said he made three days ago.
“I will go out on my terms,” Baca, 71, said. “The reasons for doing so are so many, most personal and private.”
Baca insisted his decision to step down was “based on the highest of concern for the future of the Sheriff’s Department.” He repeatedly cited the upcoming campaign, which he said had already brought “negative perception” to the department.
Baca recommended that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors appoint Asst. Sheriff Terri McDonald to oversee the department after he leaves at the end of the month.
During the press conference, Baca was asked whether his retirement was connected to the ongoing federal corruption investigation into jail violence and other problems in the department.
Baca indicated it was not, saying: “”I’m not afraid of reality. I’m only afraid of people who don’t tell the truth.”
Baca was dealing with an FBI probe and severe criticism of his leadership.
After the press conference, Todd Rogers official threw his hat into the ring for Baca’s job. Also running are Paul Tanaka, Lou Vince and Bob Olmsted.