Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca has revoked the concealed weapons license of a retired sheriff's captain who waged a fiery but unsuccessful campaign to unseat him in last week's election, a move the candidate's lawyer called "blatant retaliation."
Undersheriff Larry Waldie notified retired Capt. Ken Masse of the move two days after the election, accusing the failed candidate of waging a deceptive and dishonest campaign that "may have damaged the public's confidence in this agency."
Masse, who served 35 years with the department before retiring last year, intends to appeal the revocation. Peace officers in California are routinely issued credentials that allow them to carry concealed weapons after they retire. Those credentials can be revoked upon a showing of "good cause" by the department.
Police agencies usually take such action only after retired officers are accused of criminal wrongdoing or other evidence indicates they could pose a danger with a gun or law enforcement credentials, said Masse's attorney, Dieter Dammeier.
"It happens when there's dangerous conduct, not when somebody is engaged in politics," Dammeier said. "I think it's absurd in this day and age that you'd have a public official who'd think you can retaliate against someone who opposed you.... It's something you'd expect in junior high, not the L.A. Sheriff's Department."
Waldie contended in a letter revoking the permit that Masse unlawfully solicited contributions from department employees and failed to mention on the ballot that he retired in 2005. He also accused the former candidate of inappropriately using department data to contact deputies at home during the campaign.
Masse acknowledged that he solicited donations from deputies and said he was unaware of a state law prohibiting candidates from seeking contributions from their potential subordinates. The district attorney's office warned Masse during the campaign that he may have violated the law by soliciting donations from deputies, but did not file criminal charges.
Neither Baca nor Waldie could be reached Friday. Baca spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department's decision was justified. "This has nothing to do with retaliation or curbing one's democratic right to freedom of speech. This has to do with misusing department data and mechanisms," Whitmore said.
Allegations of retaliation against political opponents are not unheard of in law enforcement. Orange County Sheriff Mike Carona suspended his closest rival, Lt. Bill Hunt, on June 7, the day after Carona narrowly won reelection. He also demoted two employees who supported Hunt during the campaign.
Such steps undermine the democratic process by discouraging candidates from challenging sheriffs for reelection, Dammeier said. He said Baca's actions were an insult to Masse, whose tenure included stints in the jails, on patrol and later as a director of court security.
"There's a reason they get these, to protect themselves and their families from people they contacted on the job," Dammeier said of the gun permits. "You have clearly protected speech and you have clear retaliation. Any jury will see this for what it is."
Baca was reelected June 6 with 67% of the vote, far outdistancing four opponents. Masse, who finished third with 10%, accused Baca during the campaign of destroying morale and creating an exodus of deputies. He also said Baca endangered the public by releasing inmates early from overcrowded jails.
Jack Pitney, a professor of political science and government at Claremont McKenna College, said disciplining political opponents can lead to morale problems in a department. He said it's often best for elected officials to act graciously and to seek to unify their fractured agencies.
"If Abraham Lincoln could be gracious to the Confederates, the winner of a sheriff's election could be gracious to subordinates," Pitney said. "Having said that, there could be something to the allegations.... From the standpoint of politics, it's generally better to be gracious than vindictive. If I'd have been advisor to Baca, I would have advised him not to do it."