Calif. Sheriff Takes a Tougher Stand on Deputy Discipline

Sheriff Lee Baca is taking a tougher stand against deputies accused of breaking the law.

In a recent policy shift, Baca no longer will wait until the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office completes its investigations of deputy misconduct before his department launches its own internal probes of the allegations, his spokesman said.

"The sheriff is not going to wait anymore," spokesman Steve Whitmore said. "When there are indications that the department should move forward in an appropriate fashion, Sheriff Baca will do so."

Two recent misconduct cases involving deputies from local stations illustrate the policy change.

In one, the department immediately launched an internal investigation after a deputy from the Temple Station was accused of assaulting his ex-fiancee's boyfriend with a handgun.

Rather than wait for the prosecutors to complete their probe and file criminal charges against Deputy Reymundo Lainez, 42, of Los Angeles, the Sheriff's Department immediately completed its own investigation of the case in January, Whitmore said.

"This was one of the first times - not the first time - where this has occurred," he said.

Two months later, on March31, prosecutors charged Lainez, who no longer works as a deputy, with burglary, assault with a firearm, battery and making a criminal threat. He faces more than 16 years in prison if convicted as charged.

District attorney's spokeswoman Jane Robison said Lainez allegedly broke into his ex-fiancee's Pasadena home in April 2010, threatened her boyfriend with a gun, then punched him in the face.

In a second case, sheriff's officials immediately launched an internal probe after six deputies were accused of fighting at a Dec. 10 Christmas party at the Quiet Cannon banquet hall in Montebello.

Last month, officials announced they completed the probe and the six deputies would be fired.

The D.A.'s investigation of the incident, however, remains ongoing and no criminal charges have been filed to date.

Moving quicker to discipline or fire deputies accused of misconduct could send an administrative message that such behavior will not be tolerated in the department, said Attorney Michael Gennaco, head of the County of Los Angeles Office of Independent Review, a civilian agency that oversees the Sheriff's Department.

"All in all, I support the move," he said. "I think it's important for the intervention on the administrative side to happen sooner rather than later."

The policy shift also allows the Sheriff's Department to act at its "own pace," instead of waiting - sometimes for months - for prosecutors to wrap-up their criminal investigation, Gennaco said.

While the department is moving more quickly to get to the bottom of cases of clear-cut deputy misconduct, it's also leaving itself room to weigh such cases on a case-by-case basis, he said.

"Sometimes it's provident to wait" for the criminal investigation to be completed, Gennaco said.

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