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Supervisors demand that Sheriff Lee Baca explain officers' hiring

In a unanimous vote, county leaders ask Baca to report on whether there were exceptions to Sheriff's Department standards when it hired officers from a county police force.

December 03, 2013|By Seema Mehta and Ben Poston

Los Angeles County leaders demanded Tuesday that Sheriff Lee Baca investigate hiring practices in response to a Times' investigation that found his department hired officers even though they had histories of misconduct.

The move, approved unanimously by the county Board of Supervisors, requests Baca to report in two weeks on "whether exceptions were made to the hiring standards despite a commitment to conduct a full background on each applicant, [and] if so, who made those decisions and how will they be held accountable," according to a motion written by Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.

In calling for action, Antonovich cited The Times' report last weekend finding that the Sheriff's Department hired dozens of officers from a disbanded county police force known as the Office of Public Safety in 2010 even though investigators found significant misconduct in their backgrounds.

Internal sheriff's files showed that jobs were given to officers who falsified reports, accidentally fired their weapons, had sex at work, committed theft and solicited prostitutes. Twenty-nine of the roughly 280 hires had previously been fired or pressured to resign from other law enforcement agencies.

The hires were prompted by a consolidation aimed at saving money, and Antonovich said supervisors were promised at the time in public and in private that only those officers who met the Sheriff's Department's standards would be hired.

"We ought to know who made these exceptions to the rule," Antonovich said, adding that the hirings could expose taxpayers to legal liability. "We need to hold those people responsible and accountable."

Former Undersheriff Larry Waldie and a small circle of aides were responsible for reviewing the background files. In an interview with The Times, Waldie said he personally reviewed many of the applicants' files, but he said he was not aware of any hires with histories of significant misconduct.

Waldie, who is now retired, also said he and his aides were under "significant pressure" from the Board of Supervisors and other officials to hire as many county officers as possible.

A county spokesman denied Waldie's account, saying that the Board of Supervisors told the Sheriff's Department to hire only applicants who met the agency's hiring standards.

Baca, who is an elected official, is not subordinate to the Board of Supervisors and at times has had a testy relationship with the panel, which controls his budget. Traditionally, if the board requests his presence, Baca or a high-level official in the Sheriff's Department appears.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Tuesday that the department had completed its initial review of the hirings, but declined to release any preliminary findings.

He said sheriff's officials will present a final report to the board in two weeks, saying that Baca "understands the urgency … and he has given the direction to his folks, 'Let's get this done.'"

"We have no problem with what they've asked for," Whitmore said. "We are well aware of the necessity to bring this to light, and that's exactly what the sheriff wants to do."

Michael Gennaco, who heads the sheriff's civilian monitoring agency, said he is conducting a separate review of the county police hires. He said he expects that report will be coordinated with the department's newly selected inspector general, Max Huntsman, who is expected to start his watchdog role next year.

Huntsman, a Los Angeles County deputy district attorney, said previously that he considers the 2010 hiring process an important issue and will investigate the matter if supervisors request it.

seema.mehta@latimes.com

ben.poston@latimes.com

Times staff writer Robert Faturechi contributed to this report.

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