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Baca's Radio Comments Fuel Complaints, Probe

February 07, 2003|Andrew Blankstein and Jean Guccione | Times Staff Writers

Two weeks ago, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca called a radio talk show and offered to "show you what I've got" after co-hosts questioned his manliness. Now his words have made him the subject of an internal department inquiry.

The discussion was supposed to be about taxes.

On Jan. 21, KFI-AM talk show hosts John Kobylt and Ken Chiampou dared public officials, including Baca and Los Angeles Mayor James K. Hahn, to call the "John and Ken Show" to explain their support for increasing the state's vehicle license fee. Officials would not have "the gonads" to stand by the tax increase in person, the two said.

Baca called. After a brief discussion on policy issues -- a higher tax, he said, would help fund law enforcement -- he added: "If you wonder whether or not I've got gonads, why don't you invite me down to the office there, and I'll come there and I'll show you what I've got."

There were several complaints.

At the end of last year, Baca's department settled a federal sexual harassment lawsuit by adopting a broad policy imposing discipline for instances of offensive speech. Under the new rules, even "an isolated derogatory comment, joke, racial slur, sexual innuendo, etc. may be grounds for discipline."

Following the policy, Sheriff's Sgt. Staci S. Burgess-Allen wrote KFI producer Ray Lopez on Thursday to request a copy of the Jan. 21 broadcast.

"We have received numerous complaints about the sheriff's comments regarding 'showing his gonads' during the show that was aired on approximately Jan. 21," Burgess-Allen wrote. "I need a pristine copy of the broadcast, for purposes of reviewing it."

In a statement, the department confirmed that "as is the case with any complaint regarding department personnel, whether it is the sheriff or a deputy fresh out of the academy, there is a mandatory inquiry."

"Because it is an ongoing personnel investigation, all employees have rights and protections which prohibit us from discussing specifics of the inquiry," the statement said.

Baca's spokesman, Steve Whitmore, said the sheriff did not intend to offend anyone with his comments.

Whitmore said the comments should be weighed in the context of the language used by the show's hosts.

"The sheriff responded to the challenge to debate the very serious issue of budget cuts and their impact on law enforcement," he said.

"By way of introduction to the debate, he used John and Ken's language," Whitmore added. "And it showed that he had the courage to debate these hosts in their territory."

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Transcript of Sheriff's Comments

A transcript of Sheriff Lee Baca's appearance on KFI-AM's "John and Ken Show" on Jan. 21:

Radio hosts: He is on line seven? Who? Lee Baca?

Hey, sheriff, we see through that crap. Don't even try.

Baca: I am on the line. Aren't you going to give me a chance to say something?

First of all we have an entire state of California that's got a deep budget problem, and granted the legislators could have done a better job, but the fact of the matter is it is a $35-billion shortfall of revenues. Now ...

Radio hosts: The legislative analysis said it is $26 billion so

Baca: So $26 billion. 35. It is catastrophic. It's nuclear in terms of its impact.

Radio hosts: 33% less is a big deal?

Baca: Well, it is a big deal, and the thing here we have to do is instead of blaming people in law enforcement, and if you wonder whether or not I've got gonads, why don't you invite me down to the office there and I'll come there and I'll show you what I've got.

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