It was 88 degrees in the motorcycle outlaw capital of America yesterday. Bikes threw up little rooster tails of crumbling asphalt as they put-put-putted down the rotting roads. The roads and the heat and the police and the $3.50 a gallon gasoline come with the territory. The rest of the country does not give a damn about the woes of paradise.
The rest of the country has its own agenda.
There was a big football game last Sunday and former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani was deeply offended by the halftime song and dance routine performed by Beyonce Knowles-Carter. “I thought it was really outrageous that she used it as a platform to attack police officers who are the people who protect her and protect us, and keep us alive,” Giuliani complained endlessly on previously recorded video.
The really big news this week came from New Hampshire, where it was 27 degrees and there was some kind of an election that was won by a billionaire with a working class affect named Donald Trump. Trump proclaimed, “The police are absolutely mistreated and misunderstood and if there is an incident, whether it’s an incident done purposefully, which is a horror, and you should really take very strong action, or if it’s a mistake it’s on your newscasts all night, all week, all month and it never ends.”
All of this was very far from El Lay where it smelled like 88 yesterday. It smelled like exhaust fumes and cynicism. Very low on the national agenda was a local story that nobody ran “all night, all week, all month.” It is practically forgotten already. Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca agreed yesterday to plead guilty to a charge of lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation during a probe into the Sheriff’s Department.
Theoretically, Baca could be sentenced to six months in jail. He had faced five years in federal prison, plus three years’ supervised release and a $250,000 fine. He won’t do a day. His plea and sentencing agreement protects him from further federal charges – like obstruction of justice. He copped to a felony so he will lose his right to vote and own a gun until the next President pardons him. Baca wore his badge on his brown suit when he appeared in court. He resigned in 2014 after 15 years as Sheriff. He will continue to collect his $19,000 a month pension. United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker issued a press release that actually announced – really, direct quote – “this case illustrates that leaders who foster and then try to hide a corrupt culture will be held accountable.” Her empty words quickly evaporated in the February heat.
During his tenure as Sheriff, Baca tried to raise Los Angeles’ nine percent sales tax by half a percent to pay for more deputies and started a special program that gave badges and guns to campaign contributors.
Ninety-seven hundred L.A. Sheriffs patrol 4.057 square miles of Los Angeles County including all of what locals call “unincorporated L.A.” and all the parks, marinas, public transportation, and public buildings and the largest jail system in the country.
The FBI launched an investigation called “Operation Pandora’s Box” into the treatment of prisoners at the Los Angeles county jails in 2010. The FBI had to investigate the jails because the complaints about routine beatings of prisoners and even visitors by Sheriff’s Deputies, of prisoners raped by deputies and prisoners raped by other prisoners on the orders of deputies, and the tales of contraband sales by deputies had become impossible to ignore. The incidents were numerous as the palm fronds that litter L.A.’s streets after a storm. Deputies armed with clubs regularly rat-packed and busted up prisoners. Once, the Austrian consul general was roughed up when she attempted to visit an Austrian prisoner. The FBI called Baca’s nephew, a suspected burglar named Justin Bravo, “one of the most egregious inmate beaters.”
Baca learned of the FBI investigation after a prisoner named Anthony Brown was found with a cell phone. Brown had paid a deputy a $1,500 down payment on an eventual fee of $20,000 to smuggle in the phone. When deputies examined the phone, they found that most of Brown’s calls were to the FBI office on Wilshire Boulevard. Thirteen deputies were assigned to rebook Brown under various names and reassign him to multiple jails. The FBI thought he might have been killed. Brown was told the FBI had abandoned him.
Those deputies were thanked for cooperating, “without asking too many questions and prying into the investigation at hand.” Baca later explained that Brown was hidden by the Sheriff’s Department to protect him from rogue deputies within the department. It was only coincidental that the FBI couldn’t find him.
“On August 18, 2011,” Baca learned, according to his plea deal, “from the FBI Assistant Director in Charge that the FBI had conducted an undercover operation that resulted in” Brown “receiving a cellular phone from a deputy sheriff at MCJ. Defendant later learned that the FBI, the USAO, and a federal grand jury were conducting a civil rights and public corruption investigation involving LASD deputies working at MCJ and TTCF.”
Paranoia about the FBI became rampant within Baca’s department. Sheriff’s were convinced their offices were bugged. They regularly held meetings outside, in a barbecue area outside the Men’s Central Jail, hiding their mouths behind their hands.
Baca ordered deputies to surveil the FBI case agent in charge of Pandora’s Box, a woman named Leah Marx. When the subtle approach didn’t work, Baca ordered deputies to threaten Marx with arrest, and the same treatment other prisoners got. She called their bluff.
So Baca eventually became the eighteenth member of his department to be convicted of systematically abusing prisoners and then hiding the abuse. Paul Tanaka, a former Undersheriff and the current Mayor of Gardena, California, is the last remaining defendant in the case. He is scheduled to go to trial on March 22.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson will formally sentence Baca on May 16. The nation won’t hear anything about that either although America may hear about the record breaking heat in El Lay that week.
That will be the day before the Idaho, Kentucky and Oregon primaries. Not much will have changed.
Hillary Clinton will bravely promise to “listen to law enforcement leaders and work with communities to prevent crime.” Whatever the hell that means.
Bernie Sanders, if he is still in the race, will tell voters he has “worked very closely and well with police officers,” and that he knows them to be “honest, hard-working people trying to do a difficult job.”
Ted Cruz will still be “proud to stand with law enforcement.”
Marco Rubio, if he survives, will campaign that, “The overwhelming and vast majority of law enforcement officers in this country are just trying to do their jobs…. It is troubling that there are groups and rhetoric out there now that is encouraging people to demonize law enforcement, to target law enforcement or in some cases, quite frankly, to misrepresent what law enforcement is trying to do.”
If he’s still around, John Kasich will continue to argue that “people have to respect law enforcement.”
Pacific Coast Highway will smell of the sea and fresh tar. Gasoline in Redondo Beach will hit $4.50 a gallon. And the freest place in the world will still be in the wind in Los Angeles.