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Sheriff's Candidate to Seek Jail Probe

Politics: Stites meets with former inmates who claim they received inadequate medical care while in county custody. Challenger says Baca has mismanaged finances.

January 23, 2002|BETH SHUSTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A challenger to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca agreed Tuesday to take up the cause of two former inmates who claim their medical needs were neglected in jail.

Sheriff's Sgt. John Stites, who hopes to unseat Baca in the March5 election, said he will ask the sheriff to open an investigation into the cases of James Stern and Marco Cardona, both of whom have filed claims against the county.

Stern said he went blind in one eye after being denied eyedrops and other medical care, and Cardona said jail nurses refused for 10 weeks to give him prescription muscle relaxants to control his cerebral palsy.

Baca did not return calls seeking comment. He has refused to debate his challengers and has resisted direct confrontations with either of them.

Margaret Wilson, an attorney for the two inmates, is pressing their case partly by attempting to enlist the aid of Baca's two challengers, Stites and Sheriff's Sgt. Patrick Gomez. Gomez attended a news conference with Wilson and Stern last month.

Tuesday, Stites held an informal "fact-finding" meeting to determine the extent of the problems alleged by Stern, 37, and Cardona, 41.

While acknowledging that he does not represent the department, Stites said: "Issues like this are something we need to listen to. We need an increased budget to support medical care for the inmates."

Stites, who is on leave from his job until after the election, said the sheriff has mismanaged the department, spending money on "nontraditional" law enforcement and failing to focus on basics. For instance, he complained that Baca is not allocating enough money to patrol areas of the county.

When the East Los Angeles sheriff's station was searching for the so-called Haircut Bandit recently, Stites said supervisors there had to seek help from three other stations.

Stites, who ran for sheriff in 1994 and received 7% of the votes cast, said he has serious questions about the department's budget and the way the sheriff is spending it.

After hearing from the two inmates, Stites said that, if elected, he would allocate more money to health care in the jails.

Stern, who was held for about eight months on a grand theft charge, described what he said was a series of missteps by jail nurses and others who refused to prescribe and provide him with eyedrops and other medications for his glaucoma. At one point, he said, he was admitted to the Los Angeles County Medical Center, where a doctor mistakenly believed Stern was there for treatment for colon cancer. His vision problems worsened during his time in jail, he said, to the point where he is now blind in one eye and has extremely blurred vision in the other.

Cardona, who was held for about five months on child support and domestic violence charges, said he was denied a visit to the doctor for nearly three months. He said it was only after a newspaper reporter began asking questions that he was allowed to see a doctor and receive his medication.

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