"I know I'm not a target." Those words from Sheriff Lee Baca on the set of Fox 11 News. Baca was here after a stunning announcement this morning that not only was he retiring, but it would be effective at the end of the month.
The Sheriff's Department has come under scrutiny in recent years, most recently with federal charges filed against 18 current and former deputies accused of beating jail inmates. On the FBI probe Baca said "let the officials do what they do. Let's not speak for them."
Asked whether he has any reason to believe he is going to be indicated Baca said "no one from the FBI or U.S. Attorney's office would say such a thing. Whoever puts that out is trying to make it appear as though it's gonna happen."
Baca says the reason for his retirement is to allow the department to look to the future. There's an upcoming election and Baca says the filing date was drawing near and despite having raised 750-thousand dollars he started looking at life's reality. He's 71 years old and a fifth term would end when he was 76. Baca called the job a 24-7 job, a younger man's job. He says he decided to end his 48-year career now to allow the election to proceed without him being the focus.
Baca is not endorsing anyone but did throw out two names within the department whom he described as qualified, Assistant Sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold. Hellmold stood by the Sheriff's side at a 10am news conferred as did Terri McDonald whom he recommended as Interim Sheriff. Other names in the ring to run for office, vocal opponents retired undersheriff
The Balancing Act in an Interview by Jeff Michael
Kudos to my colleague, Christine Devine for getting L A Sheriff Lee Baca to come to our studio for a sit down interview on Studio 11 LA. The sheriff had just announced that he was not running for re-election and not fulfilling his fourth term as sheriff. Both Chris and I interviewed the sheriff live on the air. It was an interesting tone.
Just to pull back the curtain for you a little, when you sit on my side of an interview you have to balance a number of forces at play. Lee Baca is, by nature, a quiet guy. He is almost Zen in the way he listens and speaks. He is also 71 years old and although in amazing shape physically, has a lilt to his voice that almost makes him seem meek. I assure you he is not. He has grown skin thicker than most men and has, to my knowledge, never backed down from controversy. So when I went into that interview I knew he expected and could handle the tough questions but I also knew you… all of you watching might see the kind old sheriff dodging verbal hard balls from the disrespectful news anchor.
What transpired was an interview that blended the slower pace of Baca's communication style with our firm digging for answers. Christine was able to expose some of the personal side of Baca and his decision making. And I pointed out that he had skirted some questions at his news conference and got him to specifically say he knows he is not the target of an investigation. With an on-going federal investigation into the Sheriff's Department, it is certainly possible Baca could be told there was evidence against him. Setting that aside lent credence to his claim that his early retirement was a personal decision; made for the good of the department. I also asked if there was any medical reason or incapacity prompting his resignation. He said, no.
After the interview, during the commercial break, Sheriff Baca thanked us sincerely. I don't like to be thanked normally after interviewing politicians or civic leaders—makes me wonder if I didn't do my job. But he was thanking us for fairness. He has a job that comes with being held accountable by the public. And we're the ones who do the holding. I still wonder if there's something else there… something that may emerge down the road to better explain why an elected sheriff is walking away a year before the job is done. Then again, I talked with one respected former elected LA County official today who said, "It really is possible he (Baca) truly believes he's doing what's best for the department."