The newly named interim sheriff of Los Angeles County, current Orange County Undersheriff John L. Scott, said Tuesday that he would continue the momentum of reform in the beleaguered department.
Flanked by four of the five county supervisors, Scott said, "I can assure you, I'm not going to be a place-holder here in L.A. County. I will begin the process immediately of restoring both the dignity to the men and women of L.A. County and the confidence and trust of the public that we serve."
After two closed-door meetings earlier in the day, the supervisors announced that they had selected Scott to take over for the resigning Lee Baca until voters select a new sheriff later this year, either in June's primary election or November's runoff. Baca, who had been favored to win reelection despite receiving frequent public criticism, announced unexpectedly early this month that he would drop out of the race and retire. His last day will be Thursday.
The Sheriff's Department has been beset by allegations of poor hiring and abuses in managing the nation's largest jail system. Late last year, investigations culminated in federal criminal charges against 18 current and former department employees.
The supervisors said it was a priority to find an interim sheriff who would continue to implement reforms recommended by a county commission that studied jail violence. Scott will also be involved in the initial phases of long-term planning for the jail facilities, including a proposal to replace the aging Men's Central Jail.
Baca had recommended Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald for the interim post, but that suggestion was scuttled when county officials learned that McDonald -- who came from the state corrections department last year specifically to oversee the jail system -- lacked the required certifications or field experience to hold the sheriff's post.
However, Baca spokesman Steve Whitmore said the sheriff considered the decision to appoint Scott "a very wise move," noting that he was qualified because he has worked for the Sheriff's Department and an outside agency.
Scott began his law enforcement career as a deputy with Los Angeles County's Lakewood sheriff's station in 1969, and rose to the rank of division chief, retiring in 2005.
He then went to work at the Orange County Sheriff's Department in 2008, serving as undersheriff to Sheriff Sandra Hutchens, who had also been with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. At the time, the Orange County department was reeling from the indictment of former Sheriff Mike Carona on corruption charges.
Supervisor Gloria Molina praised Scott's track record in Orange County, saying that he has the right qualities to head Los Angeles County's troubled department.
"He's understanding of the kind of reform this department needs," she said.
Other supervisors said Scott's knowledge of the Los Angeles County department would allow him to quickly transition into the new role. Board Chairman Don Knabe said Scott would be able to "hit the ground running."
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky said, "Looking for an interim, we were looking for someone who would not be a caretaker, would not just be marking time for the next 10 months."
Officials who worked with Scott and are still at the Sheriff's Department told The Times that he is generally well-respected, and considered a strong steward until voters choose a permanent replacement.
Two officials, who spoke on the condition that they not be identified because they were not authorized to speak publicly, said that when Scott left the department, he had grown disillusioned with the subordinates whom Baca was empowering, and warned the sheriff that he was headed for trouble if he stayed on the same course.
Whitmore declined to discuss that assertion, saying, "I'm not going to get into the pettiness."
The vote to appoint Scott was 4 to 0, with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas abstaining. Ridley-Thomas did not appear with the other supervisors at a news conference where Scott appeared and did not respond to a request for comment.
Scott will take over immediately upon Baca's departure and will earn the same annual salary, about $300,000, as the former sheriff. He will take a leave of absence from Orange County and return to his post there once a new sheriff is chosen.
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McClatchy-Tribune News Service