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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Eight Accuse Baca of Bias as Sheriff Promises to Retire

LOS ANGELES (CN) - As L.A. Sheriff Lee Baca announced his retirement Tuesday, eight of his officers were suing him in Superior Court, claiming Baca had compiled a "hit list" of officers to punish for their support of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, a potential rival for Baca's job, whom the officers claim Baca forced out of his job last year.

Baca announced his retirement Tuesday, a month after federal prosecutors charged 18 of his officers and former officers were with a litany of abuses.

The eight officers' lawsuit, against Baca and Los Angeles County, was date-stamped Tuesday, without a time stamp.

In the lawsuit, lead plaintiff Charles Antuna et al. claimed: "In early 2013, Baca forced Tanaka to retire as Undersheriff. While Tanaka's retirement date was August 1, 2013, he nominally remained Undersheriff until that date. Baca in part pushed out Tanaka because he is an Asian man. Baca apparently believed that by casting aspersions against Tanaka, an Asian man, Baca could retain his job as sheriff. Baca thought wrongly that if he blamed Tanaka, Baca could avoid potential criminal prosecution in connection with various wrongful actions and so that Baca could avoid the potential of having to resign as the sheriff. Yet based on information and belief, Baca will be forced to resign because of his acts of discriminations, harassment, retaliation and criminal wrongdoing, or to avoid prosecution for such civil rights violations."

In the lawsuit, the plaintiff officers cite a March 25, 2013, Los Angeles Times article that "cites numerous individuals close to Tanaka, and indicated that Tanaka was considering a run for sheriff in 2014. The Tanaka-based sources asserted allegations that were completely opposed to the official line promulgated by Baca and the LASD."

Plaintiff David Water says he "spoke to LA Times about the Baca-Tanaka relationship."

The lawsuit continues: "In retaliation for Waters' association with Tanaka, on or about March 28, 2013, Baca and his supporters initiated a criminal investigation against Waters. The subject matter of the investigation was previously investigated by Internal Affairs and lower-level employees. In the WCSR [Watch Commander's Service Report], Waters was cleared of any wrongdoing (exonerated).

"While numerous high-ranking individuals have informed Waters that the allegations were baseless and the investigation continues."

The lawsuit continues: "Shortly thereafter, most of the other plaintiffs, after they were publicly associated with Tanaka, an Asian man, and supported Tanaka for Sheriff, also suffered with Internal Affairs investigations against them, often with criminal allegations, such as [plaintiffs Louis] Duran, [Robert] Wheat and [Casey] Dowling, or with administrative claims such as [Kevin] Hebert and [Robert] Tubbs, or with threats of such investigations as with Antuna and [Rocio] Martinez." (Parentheses, but not brackets, in complaint.)

The plaintiffs claim Baca promoted an unqualified officer, James Hellmold, to assistant sheriff, "despite opposition from his command staff," because Hellmold was "a strident Baca supporter."

"Hellmold, at Baca's direction, began compiling a 'hit' list, which was comprised of actual or suspected Baca supporters," the eight officers say in the lawsuit. "Each of the plaintiffs is believed to be on that hit list ..."

The officers describe a list of other retaliation to which Baca allegedly subjected them, allegedly in violation of department protocol.

Antuna claims that Baca retaliated against him just after he went on a fishing trip with Tanaka.

"On or about early June 2013, Antuna went on a fishing trip with Tanaka," the complaint states.

"On or about late June 2013, Antuna was removed as captain of IRC."

IRC is not defined in the complaint - apparently, it means Inmate Reception Center.

The officers seek damages, civil penalties and punitive damages for lost earnings and benefits, pain and suffering, costs of suit, and discrimination based on association, fair employment (FEHA) discrimination, violation of the Public Safety Officer's Procedural Bill of Rights, failure to take corrective action, and retaliation.

They are represented by Bradley Gage, with Goldberg & Gage, of Woodland Hills.

According to the complaint, Antuna, a Latino, is a captain who has been with the Sheriff's Office for more than 30 years.

Martinez, a Latina, is a custody assistant who has been with LASD for 16 years.

Waters, a commander, has been with the LASD for more than 30 years.

Hebert, a captain, has been with the office for 25 years.

Tubbs, a captain, has been with the officer for about 30 years.

Duran, a Latino and a captain, has been with LASD for more than 30 years.

Wheat, a lieutenant, has been with LASD for 27 years.

Dowling, a sergeant, has been with the Sheriff's Office for 25 years.

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