Ninth Circuit Upholds Obstruction Conviction of LA Sheriff

LOS ANGELES (CN) – With the Ninth Circuit upholding his conviction Monday for lying to federal officials during an investigation into jailhouse abuse, former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca is a step closer to serving a three-year sentence in federal prison.

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca.

After one mistrial due to jury deadlock, a new federal jury found that Baca led fellow officers in a scheme to obstruct an FBI probe of inmate abuse at LA County jails. A judge sentenced him to three years in prison in 2017.

The jury found Baca hid an inmate-informant from investigators in 2011 to prevent him from testifying before a federal grand jury. He also lied to federal investigators in April 2013 when asked about his role in the cover-up.

Officers caught on to the undercover probe when they found an FBI phone smuggled into the county jail in a Doritos bag by another officer.

Baca, who has Alzheimer’s disease, appealed the conviction claiming the trial was tainted by unfair rulings by U.S District Judge Percy Anderson, including a decision to bar the jury from hearing about Baca’s illness.

He also claimed prosecutors ruined his chances with jurors by mentioning the guilty verdicts of jailhouse officers who had become cooperating witnesses.

A three-judge Ninth Circuit panel rejected Baca’s arguments in a 7-page memorandum Monday, finding that that his trial had been fair and that federal prosecutors had introduced sufficient evidence for the jury to rely on.

“We find no basis for reversing,” the judges said in the unsigned memorandum. “Contrary to Baca’s contention, the government did not argue that the cooperating witnesses’ guilty verdicts could be used as evidence of Baca’s guilt.”

The panel also held that the exclusion of evidence of Baca’s illness did not interfere with his constitutional right to present a defense.

In a statement, U.S. Attorney Nick Hanna applauded the ruling.

“The Ninth Circuit opinion confirms the principle that no one is above the law,” Hanna said. “Prosecutors presented a fair and thorough case that demonstrated Mr. Baca acted corruptly by obstructing a federal grand jury investigation. Instead of cooperating with a federal investigation that ultimately was concerned about improving conditions in the county jails, Mr. Baca chose to obstruct and then lie to federal authorities. I am extremely proud of the prosecutors and the FBI agents whose work led to significant reforms in the Sheriff’s Department.”

Attorneys for Baca did not respond to a request for comment. 

Baca was with the Sheriff’s Department for 48 years.

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