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Baca Set to Replace Top Staff

Sheriff: Four Block supporters agree to retire in lieu of demotion. Turnover of upper echelon is unprecedented.

November 20, 1998|TINA DAUNT | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Los Angeles County Sheriff-elect Lee Baca is poised to promote a cadre of his political supporters to the top positions on his command staff, while urging departmental officials who opposed him to retire or face demotion, sheriff's sources said Thursday.

Assistant Sheriff Michael E. Graham--a respected manager to whom some insiders believe the Board of Supervisors would have turned had they named the late Sherman Block's successor--said he had agreed to retire in March in lieu of being demoted to the position of commander. When he inquired about why he was being moved aside, Graham said, he was told that he has angered people in the department.

Also retiring are three steadfast Block supporters: Undersheriff Jerry Harper, division Chief Barry King and Acting Assistant Sheriff Rachel Burgess, who is one of the highest-ranking female African American law officers in the state. Assistant Sheriff Robert Mann--who was the county marshal before his department merged with the Sheriff's Department in 1994--is expected to be demoted to the rank of division chief, sources said.

The changes represent an unprecedented turnover in the department's upper echelon. Up until this year's election, each sheriff was handpicked by his predecessor, following a carefully scripted succession plan that usually called for little shake-up in the command staff.

But sources say Baca, who will be sworn in Dec. 7, is prepared to promote Cmdrs. Bill Stonich and Larry Waldie--two of his most vocal supporters--to the two assistant sheriff positions. Stonich was previously in charge of the department's technical services division, while Waldie oversaw the department's north county jail operation. Both men have been heading up Baca's transition team.

Also set for promotion is division Chief Paul Myron, who will take Harper's place as undersheriff.

Although Baca said through a spokesman that he did not want to discuss his plans until he takes office next month, he previously has praised the abilities of Myron, Stonich and Waldie, saying he believes they are all capable managers.

Harper, Burgess and King all said in interviews that they had been planning to retire. Graham, however, said he had hoped to stay on until March 2000. "With the changes in political leadership, it has forced me to retire a year early," he said. "I'm retiring in lieu of being demoted. Life goes on."

Graham is credited with creating some of the department's most successful community policing programs. A no-nonsense manager, he also put in place measures to deal with excessive-force issues, outlined under the 1992 Kolts report. Recently, he was heading up a special team of deputies dedicated to solving a variety of woes in the county jail system.

"Mike in recent years has been the rock upon which the department's external credibility has been built," said Merrick Bobb, special counsel to the Board of Supervisors investigating problems in the Sheriff's Department. "He's an extraordinary quick study."

But Graham found himself pulled into the political fray. In September, Block announced that he was elevating Graham to the position of acting undersheriff to give Harper more time to work on the campaign.

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