Ex-LA Sheriff Can’t Wear Badge at Obstruction Trial

LOS ANGELES (CN) – A federal judge ruled Monday that ex-LA County Sheriff Leroy Baca can’t wear a sheriff’s lapel badge in the second trial over obstruction of an FBI investigation into jailhouse abuses because it prejudices the government’s case, and also denied the former lawman’s bid to toss the case on double jeopardy grounds.

U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson declared a mistrial in Baca’s first obstruction trial this past December after the jury remained deadlocked over four days of deliberations. After the trial, jurors revealed they had voted 11-1 to acquit Baca.

Jury selection in the second trial is expected to begin next week.

The government accuses Baca of conspiring to hide inmate-informant Anthony Brown from the FBI to prevent him from testifying before a federal grand jury, after jailers discovered Brown was hiding an FBI phone in a potato chip bag at Men’s Central Jail.

Baca – who has been diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease – faces another charge that was absent from the first trial: that he lied to prosecutors at an April 2013 meeting by denying knowledge of the conspiracy.

Prosecutor Brandon Fox argued in a Jan. 18 motion that the small sheriff’s badge Baca wore at his first trial is prejudicial to the government. By wearing the pin, Baca “attempted to cloak himself with the credibility, authority and support of the Sheriff’s Department, despite stepping down from that position years ago,” Fox wrote, noting on Monday that Baca’s supporters and some witnesses also wore badges in court.

Fox also moved to exclude evidence of Baca’s so-called “good acts,” including a program to teach wrestling moves to jailers in response to excessive force complaints and the creation of the Independent Office of Review over a decade before the FBI’s 2011 investigation.

Anderson granted both motions, agreeing with Fox that they are prejudicial. He also barred Baca from wearing the badge in the court cafeteria where jurors sometimes eat lunch.

Fox also asked that Anderson stop Baca from wearing star cufflinks, which prosecutors said they had noticed for the first time at Monday’s hearing.

If a new jury finds Baca guilty, he faces up to five years in prison on the conspiracy charge, 10 years for obstruction and up to five years for making a false statement.

Baca had urged the judge to grant his motion to dismiss the two counts of obstruction and conspiracy on double jeopardy grounds. His attorney Nathan Hochman said the judge had declared a mistrial over Baca’s objections, and before polling the jury on the likelihood of reaching a verdict.

Anderson did not ask the jury whether it was unanimous on both counts of obstruction of justice and conspiracy, Hochman said in court papers.


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