The king is dead, the king is dead. Long live the king.
Well, okay. Leroy Baca, sheriff of Los Angeles County, isn’t really a king and he isn’t really dead, but in modern America there are few political positions that offer the kind of royally unlimited tenure as his. So when he announced last week that he would soon step down from the post he has held since 1982, the news was greeted with the kind of shock that followed Pope Benedict XVI’s abdication of the papacy last year.
In point of fact, the papacy changes hands more frequently than does the position of sheriff in Los Angeles. Since 1900, there have eleven popes but only nine L.A. County sheriffs, and until recently it appeared that Baca was a shoo-in for reelection later this year. But then fate intervened and suddenly, for Sheriff Baca, the allure of a peaceful retirement was too strong to resist.
But will it be peaceful? I suspect not, as the Sheriff’s Department is embroiled in scandal, the taint of which will follow Baca into retirement like a specter. Last month, federal authorities in Los Angeles announced criminal indictments against 18 current and former members of the Sheriff’s Department, accusing them of corruption and civil rights violations stemming from incidents that occurred at the Men’s Central Jail. Deputies are accused of using unlawful force on inmates and conspiring to thwart investigations aimed at exposing the illegal activity. In one case, deputies are accused of illegally arresting the consul general of Austria and her husband, who were at the jail attending to an Austrian national already in custody.
And it gets worse. Federal prosecutors allege that when sheriff’s deputies learned that the FBI was investigating conduct within the jail, and that an inmate was an FBI informant, they altered jail records so as to make the informant impossible to locate within the sprawling jail system. Even more incredibly, some deputies are accused of confronting one of the involved FBI agents outside her home and threatening her with arrest, falsely claiming that they were obtaining an arrest warrant. Of course it’s only an allegation at this point and the accused are presumed to be innocent, but if this really occurred it’s a sign of a deep malignancy within the department.