LOS ANGELES – An attorney for disgraced former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca Tuesday filed papers with a federal appeals panel seeking to overturn a judge’s denial of a bid to have the ex-lawman released from federal prison in Texas due to fears he might contract the coronavirus.
U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson wrote Sunday that “there is no safe location” where Baca would not be at risk of contracting COVID-19, and releasing him from prison would not ensure his safety.
Baca’s lawyer Tuesday filed notice of appeal with the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the panel would be asked to reverse the judge’s ruling.
The defense attorney did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Baca is behind bars at a low-security federal prison in El Paso, Texas, serving a three-year term for obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI.
The 77-year-old former sheriff, who has Alzheimer’s disease, was sentenced in May 2017, but had remained free until February 2020 pending appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which ultimately rejected Baca’s last-ditch bid to review his appeal.
Baca was convicted of charges of conspiracy to obstruct justice, obstruction of justice and making false statements. During his two trials, prosecutors described the ex-lawman as being the top figure in a multi-part conspiracy, which also involved his former right-hand man, Paul Tanaka, and eight deputies who took orders from the sheriff.
Baca — who ran the nation’s largest sheriff’s department for more than 15 years — was first tried in December 2016 on obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice counts, and prosecutors had planned a second trial on the false statements count.
But a mistrial was declared after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of acquittal, and the judge in downtown Los Angeles combined all three counts in the retrial that ended with Baca’s conviction. Baca did not take the stand in either trial.
Baca was elected sheriff in 1998 and re-elected three times. He was poised to run again in 2014, but federal indictments unsealed in December 2013, related to excessive force in the jails and obstruction of that investigation, led him to retire the following month.
In addition to the 10 people convicted in connection with the Baca conspiracy case, 11 other now-former sheriff’s department members were also convicted of various crimes uncovered during the FBI investigation.
In rejecting Baca’s latest bid for release, due to coronavirus fears within prison walls, U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson wrote that “Sadly, there is no safe location” from the disease. He also rejected Baca’s request to have his conviction and sentence vacated.
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