The US Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in Pasadena will decide in November whether former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca was wrongly convicted of corruption charges in May 2017. Baca was later sentenced to three years in federal prison for obstructing justice, conspiring to obstruct justice and making false statements to FBI agents.
The FBI was investigating inmate abuse perpetrated by sheriff’s deputies who serve as guards in the county’s jail system.
According to prosecutors, Baca ordered his deputies to hide an inmate who was passing information to the FBI. Baca’s deputies also visited an agent on the inmate abuse case and attempted to intimidate her by threatening to take her into custody.
Baca’s attorney Nathan Hochman has argued that US District Judge Percy Anderson erred in not allowing jurors to hear evidence that Baca at the time of the investigation was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, which his attorney claims could have impacted Baca’s memory when making statements to the FBI.
In October the appeals court ruled that the question about excluding evidence of Baca’s Alzheimer’s diagnosis “is at least fairly debatable” as it relates to whether it could have affected his conviction for making false statements.
“Finally, the district court clearly erred in holding that Baca failed to carry his burden of proving by a preponderance of the evidence that he filed the appeal for a purpose other than delay,” according to the filing.
Baca, 76, became a prominent national figure in law enforcement circles during his 15 years atop the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He resigned in 2014, shortly after the inmate abuse scandal exploded, which led to an ACLU investigation that grew into a county-appointed investigative panel that included retired federal judges.
Twenty-one deputies were ultimately indicted for their part in the abuse. Undersheriff Paul Tanaka — Baca’s second in command — claimed that Baca led the efforts to cover up the investigation. Tanaka was later sentenced to five years in prison.
Former sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton — who served four months in prison for his part in the scandal — testified that he was just following Baca’s orders during efforts to hide an FBI informant who was given a cell phone while in jail.