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Former L.A. County undersheriff to run against Sheriff Lee Baca

Paul Tanaka, who was ousted by Baca, says the department needs a new direction. His role in jail scandals is controversial.

August 15, 2013|By Seema Mehta
  • "As sheriff, I will restore trust and credibility to the department and bring much-needed order to the house," said Paul Tanaka, who was ousted from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department earlier this year.
"As sheriff, I will restore trust and credibility to the department… (Francine Orr / Los Angeles…)

Paul Tanaka, a former Los Angeles County undersheriff who was ousted by Sheriff Lee Baca earlier this year, announced Thursday that he's challenging his former boss.

"I have decided to declare my candidacy for sheriff of Los Angeles County because the community members are long overdue for a new direction from their sheriff," Tanaka said, flanked by current and former department supervisors at a news conference on a hilltop helicopter pad in Griffith Park.

"The lack of accountability at the Sheriff's Department has been well-chronicled, is an embarrassment to the thousands of hard-working employees, and necessitates a change in command, a new vision," Tanaka said.

Baca, who has been sheriff for 15 years, is considered vulnerable as he seeks a fifth term because of a series of scandals in recent years. The FBI has been investigating abuse and other deputy misconduct in his jails. In a separate investigation, federal authorities found that Baca's deputies in the Antelope Valley harassed and intimidated blacks and Latinos. In addition to the federal investigations, Baca had been under fire for questionable hires, giving special treatment to friends and supporters, and the existence of aggressive, unsanctioned deputy cliques within the agency's ranks.

Tanaka, 54, never mentioned Baca by name, but criticized him for failing to be involved in the day-to-day running of the department, for not being accountable and for having poor relations with some elected officials.

"As sheriff, I will restore trust and credibility to the department and bring much-needed order to the house," he said, pledging to create a clearer organizational structure, strengthen hiring practices and implement new accountability and disciplinary systems.

Tanaka, the mayor of Gardena, is a controversial figure.

Amid the department's jails scandal, Tanaka was accused of fostering a climate in which aggression was prized, loyalty was placed above merit, and discipline was discouraged. Tanaka has countered that he was scapegoated by sheriff's officials who were upset that he was holding lazy supervisors accountable.

On Thursday, Tanaka said voters would judge him on his record.

"The controversy I can't control. I can't control what other people say. I'm not here to dispute whether it's accurate or not," he said in an interview. "People will get to see what my message is and how I've conducted myself."

On Wednesday, Bob Olmsted, a retired sheriff's commander who played a role in exposing abuses inside the agency's jails, announced that he would challenge Baca. Also running are Lou Vince, an LAPD detective, and Patrick Gomez, a retired sheriff's lieutenant who has run two failed campaigns.

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