Corruptio optimi pessima. Roughly translated, the Latin phrase means, “Corruption of the best is the worst.” The phrase is often used to describe the case when a member of our society in a position of great power and respect is revealed to have abused his or her position to further his or her own cause.
Such is the case with former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who recently pleaded guilty in federal court to lying to FBI agents. While Baca was leading the Sheriff’s Department, the FBI began investigating allegations that deputies routinely beat inmates and visitors in county jail. Baca and his staff allegedly sought to obstruct the investigation. By accepting the plea deal in which he admits to lying to federal officials, the retired sheriff will avoid the more serious charge of obstruction of justice and now faces a maximum of six months in federal prison.
Witness Hiding and Intimidation of Investigators
The crux of the charges against Baca stems from an interview in 2013 in which he misled FBI agents regarding his and his lieutenants’ involvement in the hiding of a key jail informant. Baca denied having any knowledge that his deputies interrupted the FBI’s interview with the informant to prevent further questioning.
Baca also falsely denied ordering his deputies to the home of one of the FBI investigators to intimidate her by threatening to arrest her. Baca reportedly told his deputies to do everything in their power short of arresting the agent in an attempt to dissuade her from pursuing the investigation.
Destroying the Public Trust
By virtue of the nature of the job, and when our justice system works as intended, we as a society exempt our law enforcement officers from obeying certain laws in an effort to keep us safe. For instance, we allow police the right to speed and cross through intersections on red lights when responding to an emergency, and to respond with force when a person poses a legitimate threat to the safety of others. Most police and sheriff’s deputies take their oath to uphold the law to heart, and limit their living above the law to only those few exceptions necessary to do their job.
Baca’s actions have done nothing but further erode the trust of the public in the L.A. Sheriff’s Department. This lack of trust is potentially dangerous, as people in fear of being assaulted by deputies will be more likely to resist arrest, putting the lives of both citizens and deputies alike in more unnecessary jeopardy.
Share Your Thoughts With Us
How do you feel about Baca’s guilty plea? Do you feel betrayed by a leader of the criminal justice system? We think this shows that even someone who is supposed to uphold the law can violate his oath and commit a felony. What do you think about Baca’s violation of trust? Please join the discussion in the comments section below.