That’s a question that we’ll never know the answer to because tragically, the then 24-year old Mitrice Richardson disappeared after being in the custody of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s only to be found dead nearly a later. However, it’s a question that we owe her memory as well as ourselves to ask and answer to ensure that we do not elect a carbon copy of what we’ve had for the past 32 years under both Sheriff Lee Baca and his predecessor Sheriff Sherman Block.
It’s a mystery that will haunt me to the end of my life. A young girl in the prime of her life goes into a swanky Malibu restaurant and orders a meal. She is detained by the by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department after not paying the bill and being found to have less than an ounce of personal use marijuana. She is then released from custody in the middle of the night never to be seen alive again. 11 months later, what was left of Mitrice Richardson’s body was discovered in a Malibu Canyon
To date, no one has been charged with her murder and the sheriff’s department has seemingly washed its hands of her death and moved on with business as usual.
Flash forward five years and on June 3, Los Angeles County residents will go to the polls to elect a new sheriff to replace former top Sheriff Lee Baca. Baca unexpectedly stepped down earlier this year amid several scandals in the Sheriff’s Department came to light and after federal prosecutors filed criminal charges against 18 current and former sheriff’s deputies accused of beating jail inmates and visitors and trying to obstruct the FBI in an investigation of corruption inside the nation’s largest jail system.
Running to replace to Baca are seven candidates—six of which who already have ties with the troubled law enforcement agency that is responsible for patrolling the county’s unincorporated areas and 42 of its 88 incorporated cities including Lynwood and Compton. The LASD also secures courthouses — where deputies serve as bailiffs — community colleges, government buildings, parks, marinas and the vast network of buses and trains operated by the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metrolink. Its jail system — the largest in the world — holds an average of 18,000-20,000 inmates a day, about 17 percent of whom are believed to have mental illness.
So let’s take a closer look at the candidates.
Gardena Mayor Paul Tanaka, a 31-year-veteran, was once Baca’s second-in-command, his Undersheriff and right-hand man, that is until they had a very bitter public falling out culminating with Tanaka’s retirement under pressure amid a federal probe over inmate abuse.
Assistant Sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold were both Baca insiders and represent two of only four Assistant Sherriff’s in the department. A longtime confidant of Baca and once his former driver, Hellmold was the deputy mentioned in the L.A. Times’ story on the lead-up to Baca’s retirement decision as one of those who advised his boss to step down.
Retired Sheriff’s Department Lt. Patrick Gomez ran against Baca in 1998 and 2002. He once sued the department for denying him promotions and harassing his family, supposedly because he challenged Baca. He ended up winning a nearly $1 million payout
Los Angeles Police Department Senior Detective Supervisor Lou Vince volunteered in the LASD as a reserve deputy sheriff for four years.
Retired Sheriff’s commander Bob Olmstead was with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for more than three decades. Olmsted touts himself as the “whistle-blower” who alerted the FBI about the misconduct at the jails. During his tenure, Olmsted commissioned internal audits that concluded some deputies used unnecessary force against inmates in the nation’s largest jail system and testified before the Los Angeles Citizens Commission on Jail Violence in May 2012.
Lastly, Jim McDonnell is currently the chief of police for the Long Beach Police Department. McDonnell is the only one considered a department outsider in the race having spent the bulk of his career at the Los Angeles Police Department where he was second-in-command to former Chief William Bratton.
Now, what should you be asking yourself after reading this and ahead of the June 3 election?
All of the candidates have the experience in law enforcement that voters traditionally feel is needed for a position like this. That’s not the issue. All of the candidates have talked about the need for strong leadership, transparency, and accountability. Again, that’s not hard to do and would be expected of anyone in their position.
When it comes to the LASD insiders running to be the next sheriff, this is the question that must be asked: if they couldn’t demonstrate strong leadership, transparency, and accountability when Baca was in office and when it was needed the most, why should we trust them now?
A leader to me is someone who stands up and speaks out no matter who their boss is. It means taking the right position no matter how unpopular it’s going to be with your colleagues and weathering the storm after doing so. Being a leader is not rubber-stamping your boss’s bad decisions or looking the other way when you know what is happening is wrong. And frankly, that’s what a lot of the candidates running to replace Baca have spent their careers doing, going along to get along and you see where that’s got us.
For Tanaka, Rogers, Hellmold, and Gomez, it’s clear that throughout their respective careers in the LASD, they have for the most part sat by and either done nothing or actually participated in the misconduct. And people, that’s not a sign of better things to come if either of them is elected.
I will give Hellmold credit for getting quoted in the L.A. Times as having told his former boss Baca he should step down. The problem is, he should have done that a long time ago.
But what I can’t go for is that when it comes to Rogers and Hellmold, they come before us with the kiss of death after being named by Baca as both being potentially “highly qualified” successors. No thank you.
While its admirable that retired Sheriff’s Department Lt. Patrick Gomez ran against Baca twice, he did nothing to demonstrate that he was willing to expose the corruption and misconduct going on inside of the department. Instead, he opted to sue the department to the tune of $1 million dollars for his own mistreatment and harassment.
Which brings me to the only three candidate’s I would consider voting for—Lou Vince, Bob Olmstead and Jim McDonnell.
LAPD Senior Detective Supervisor Lou Vince willingly volunteered in the LASD as a reserve deputy sheriff for four years and voters like myself want to know why. He wrote that he has had “many disagreements with Sheriff Baca” regarding what he says were the sheriff’s mismanagement of the department and that the department needs a hands-on leader who is aware of all aspects of operations and not connected to the current LASD administration.
Even though he waited until after he retired to blow the whistle on the corruption inside of the Men’s Central Jail system, Bob Olmstead blew it. He spoke openly and unabashedly about the widespread dysfunction taking place which resulted in multiple federal investigations, indictments, and blew the lid on a long string of now very public departmental scandals. Olmstead has demonstrated to some degree that he has a conscious, ethics, and integrity—qualities that the next top sheriff should possess and be willing to use.
I know of Jim McDonnell from his days as LAPD Chief Bratton’s number two. McDonnell brings to the race his perspective and insight as an outsider having spent the bulk of his career in the LAPD. That’s a good thing. He also brings to the position if elected, the experience of working with and under civilian oversight, something the LASD has managed to evade for years but it is now likely soon a coming after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors finally voted to at least study creating a civilian body to monitor the beleaguered department.
Even more valuable could be McDonnell’s understanding of and experience operating under a federal consent decree from his time with the LAPD. McDonnell, because he was in the LAPD, is also likely to be more open to and at ease in holding community meetings on hot button issues than Baca who was often seemingly forced via the media and public outrage to come face to face with the community his department was accused of abusing and killing.
On April 30th Mitrice Richardson would have been 29-years-old. We owe it to her memory, ourselves, and our community to take a close and critical look at the candidates vying to be L.A.’s next sheriff.
The deadline to register to vote in the June 3 California Primary Election is May 19.