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Lobbying Begins for County Sheriff PDF Print E-mail
Written by Elizabeth Marcellino   
Thursday, 23 January 2014 16:34

LOS ANGELES - As candidates jockey to compete for the job of county sheriff, an attorney charged with monitoring jail reforms praised the changes made by one of Sheriff Lee Baca's senior leaders. "She has reorganized the custody operations,'' attorney Richard Drooyan said of Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald.

"She is a hands-on manager.'' McDonald was hired last March to manage the jails in the wake of the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence's rebuke of Baca as out of touch and his senior managers as complicit in creating a culture where aggression toward inmates was promoted and abuse was rarely punished. The Board of Supervisors has yet to appoint an interim successor to Baca, who announced on Jan. 7 that he will retire. The sheriff plans to leave at the end of the month. Baca himself suggested that McDonald take the spot until voters elect a new sheriff in a June 3 primary or November run-off.

But Drooyan seemed to warn the board against that possibility, though he never explicitly mentioned succession. "I think it is absolutely imperative that there be a single assistant sheriff with the corrections and custody experience who has the sole responsibility for custody operations -- doesn't have other divisions, other operations, but is solely focused on custody operations,'' Drooyan said. If McDonald got the board's blessing to step into the larger role, it's not clear who might step up to manage the jails. No one seemed to fill that bill last year, when Baca pulled McDonald from the ranks of state corrections officials.

As for the race to fill Baca's shoes long-term, the Citizens' Commission has endorsed one of its own members, Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell. McDonnell's decision to run pits him against assistant sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold -- both of whom Baca has cited as "highly qualified'' -- as well as two former members of the Sheriff's Department campaigning for the job -- former Cmdr. Bob Olmsted and ex-Undersheriff Paul Tanaka. The new sheriff will inherit the fallout from an ongoing federal investigation into the abuse of inmates and jail visitors, which has already resulted in the indictment of 18 former and current deputies.

A Los Angeles Times investigation has also revealed that dozens of public safety officers with records of misconduct were hired on by the department. Drooyan told the board that the situation in the jails is improving, and that many of the changes recommended by the commission have already been made. "Overall, I think the department has made significant progress,'' Drooyan said. "But it remains a work in progress.'' In addition to reorganizing custody operations, some of the most significant changes over the past year have been the development of a new use-of-force policy, a dual-track career path for jail guards and patrol deputies, and enhanced penalties for excessive force and dishonesty, he told the board.

Drooyan said he was frustrated by how long it has taken to get body scanners approved for the jails. Bids and orders were delayed and it was just last month that the department started testing two scanners, the attorney said, despite the fact that many supervisors have told him that the equipment -- useful in cutting down on smuggled contraband -- would help reduce jail tensions and use-of-force incidents.

"Unfortunately, equipment that is this expensive and this complex, in this kind of bureaucracy, doesn't happen quickly,'' McDonald told the supervisors. Going forward, the department still needs more supervisors, more custody assistants and a stronger internal audit division, Drooyan told the board. Supervisor Gloria Molina said the real issue was management. "Once management starts falling apart, the system falls apart,'' Molina said.

She read aloud from an anonymous letter apparently written by a detective from another law enforcement agency working on an auto theft task force with sheriff's deputies. The letter writer complained about mismanagement, misconduct and a revolving door of sheriff's captains assigned to the task force. Molina said she had nowhere to get straight answers to such complaints, though Supervisor Don Knabe suggested that the newly established Office of Inspector General might be the place to start. The board has scheduled a meeting, closed to the public, for 2 p.m. Thursday Jan. 23, to discuss potential candidates for the job of interim sheriff.

Last Updated on Thursday, 23 January 2014 17:33