In a middle finger to all those journalists and civil libertarians in town who have accused the L.A. County Sheriff's Department of allowing unjust beatings of jail inmates to persist during the last decade or so, the National Sheriffs Association has named Lee Baca its Sheriff of the Year.
Baca has been under fire for violence in his jails, sometimes at the hands of alleged gang-like cliques of deputies. He has said he wasn't aware of the situation but will now work on a fix.
The association says this about Baca:
The Los Angeles County Sheriff Office's service area has one of the nation's lowest crime rates for a major metropolitan area.
The NSA statement also notes that Baca … is on its executive committee and was elected to the group's board of directors in 2005.
(Way to give yourself an award).
In 2011 we brought you the story of how even some visitors to the county jail claimed they had been beaten by deputies.
And late last year we published a story about how, despite years of criticism, Baca let his second-in-command, Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka, run the sheriff's 20,000-inmate jail system.
An ACLU report on jail violence last year said this:
In recent years, Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies have stomped on inmates' heads, even after shackling those inmates' hands. They have bashed inmates' faces into concrete walls. They have fractured inmates' facial bones — noses, jaws, cheekbones or eye sockets. The ACLU is aware of least 11 inmates who have had their facial bones broken by LASD deputies in the past three years. One inmate has lost vision in one eye. Others have undergone surgery …
The ACLU even sued the department and asked Baca to resign.
Peter Eliasberg, ACLU of Southern California's legal director, notes that the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence found much fault with Baca's leadership in its final report on the situation last year.
The commission included respected judges, civil rights leaders and even Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell. Eliasberg told us this:
Baca has been excoriated by a blue-ribbon committee of some very serious people.
He said of the award, “It's surreal, it's ironic. It's as if the police chiefs association gave Daryl Gates an award in the wake of the Rodney King beating.”
The NSA, however, thinks Baca's leadership has done far more good than harm:
Sheriff Baca developed Education-Based Incarceration (EBI) to address the high rate of offender recidivism in Los Angeles County. EBI uses innovative, evidence-based strategies to deliver education and life skills that provide hope and opportunity to offenders who want to live a better life and become contributing members of their communities.
Baca will get to pick up his award June 23 at NSA's annual convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.