[CN] – Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy Baca on Monday withdrew a guilty plea of lying to federal investigators, a decision that means he will face a trial and potential obstruction of justice charges.
Baca returned to U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson’s courtroom after the judge ruled two weeks ago that a six-month sentence would be too lenient for the official’s alleged part in a conspiracy to obstruct an investigation into jailhouse abuses.
After Baca’s attorney Michael Zweiback made clear that his client would not accept the option of a harsher sentence, Anderson asked Baca at a brief Monday afternoon hearing if he wanted to withdraw his plea.
“Yes, your honor,” said Baca, who stood before the judge wearing a gray pin-striped suit and pink tie.
Outside the courthouse, Baca told reporters that he had entered the plea to “avoid a lengthy and expensive trial and to minimize the court drama associated with this case.”
“I have made this decision due to the untruthful comments about my actions made by the court and the U.S. Attorney’s Office that are contradicted by the evidence in this case,” Baca said.
Baca said that though he had Alzheimer’s disease, he needs to “set the record straight” about the “misleading aspects” of the government’s investigation.
“I thank my friends and family for encouraging me to stand up for what is right,” Baca said, with a male supporter punctuating his words with “God bless you” and “We love you, sheriff.”
At his sentencing hearing two weeks ago, Anderson had said six months would not account for Baca’s culpability in a scheme that had involved the destruction of records, cover-ups, interference with a grand jury investigation, tampering with witnesses, and the threatening of an FBI agent.
In April, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was convicted as the ringleader of a conspiracy to hide informant Anthony Brown within the jail system after the discovery of an FBI phone in his cell. Tanaka was sentenced to five years in June.
Prosecutors said that Baca, who entered his plea agreement in February, “knowingly and willfully” made false statements to investigators during an interview in April 2013.
After jailers discovered the phone and concluded that Brown was cooperating with the FBI, Baca ordered Brown isolated from the rest of the jail population, prosecutors said.
In August 2011, Baca asked Tanaka to investigate how the phone had ended up with the inmate.
The following month, Baca allegedly instructed officials to “do everything but put handcuffs” on FBI agent Leah Marx, who was investigating the case.
In an infamous videotaped encounter, two Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau officers, Sgt. Scott Craig and Sgt. Maricela Long, threatened Marx — now known as Leah Tanner — outside her apartment complex after she returned home from work on Sept. 26, 2011.
Craig told Tanner she was the “named suspect in a felony complaint” and said he was “in the process of swearing out a declaration for an arrest warrant.”
Anderson set a trial date for Sept. 20, 2016, at 8:30 a.m.
Zweiback indicated that he would seek a continuance and told reporters outside the courtroom that he expected a superseding indictment to include similar obstruction of justice charges that were proven against Tanaka, though he went to pains to explain that he believes the cases are quite different.