The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors today appointed Orange County Sheriff's Department Undersheriff John Scott as an interim replacement for retiring Sheriff Lee Baca.
The board's 4-0 vote, the result of several closed-door meetings, came less than 48 hours before Baca's scheduled retirement date, which is noon Thursday.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who abstained from the vote, was not immediately available for comment.
Scott has 36 years of experience with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, last serving as its division chief of custody operations before retiring in 2005. He joined the Orange County force in 2008.
His wife, Alice, was a captain with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, but she has also retired.
"The Sheriff's Department is at a crossroads, and John has the necessary experience and skills to step in right away and lead in the interim," said Supervisor Don Knabe. "During his tenure with Orange County, John has been instrumental in turning around a department that faced similar conditions to those we face today in Los Angeles County."
Baca, 71, and his department have been under fire over allegations of mistreatment of jail inmates, capped so far by the indictment of 18 former and current sheriff's deputies in an ongoing federal investigation.
Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky noted Scott's experience in crisis management and said he expected changes.
"What we're looking for is someone who's not going to be a caretaker for the next 10 months, just marking time," Yaroslavsky said. Instead, he said, the board wants Scott "to begin the process of reforming" the sheriff's department and "teeing it up" for whoever voters elect as the next sheriff.
"He's got all the assets," Yaroslavsky said of Scott.
Supervisor Gloria Molina, a vocal critic of Baca, said Scott understands the kind of reform the department needs.
"He's no stranger to it," Molina said.
At an afternoon news conference, Scott said he was excited about the opportunity and anxious to get started.
"It's a great opportunity to come back to a department that I love," Scott said. "I can assure you, I'm not going to be a placeholder. I will begin the process, immediately, of restoring both the dignity to the men and women of L.A. County and the confidence and the trust of the public that they serve."
In announcing his retirement plans on Jan. 7, Baca said he wanted to go out on his own terms and cited department morale.
"The reasons for doing so are so many," Baca said at the time. "Some are most personal and private, but the prevailing one is the negative perception this upcoming campaign has brought to the exemplary service provided by the men and women of the Sheriff's Department."
Assistant Sheriff Terri McDonald took over management of the county jails last year in response to demands for reform from the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence. Baca suggested that she would make the best choice for interim sheriff, but McDonald did not meet the state qualifications for the job.
Scott said he'd already met with McDonald. "She's somebody that I can work with," he said.
Voters will elect a new sheriff either in a June primary or November run- off election to serve a term that begins in December.
The competitive field includes Long Beach police Chief Jim McDonnell, former sheriff's Cmdr. Bob Olmsted, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former Lt. Patrick Gomez, as well as Assistant Sheriffs Todd Rogers and James Hellmold and Los Angeles police Detective Lou Vince.
If one candidate gets a majority of the vote, eliminating the need for a run-off, the board will appoint that sheriff-elect to the interim position. Otherwise, Scott will serve until December.
Either way, he'll only be on loan from Orange County. During his leave of absence, Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens will rotate executive staff through the undersheriff's position every three months.
Knabe thanked Hutchens for the accommodation and said the Orange County sheriff told him, "'I will give him to you, but only until December."'
Knabe had kind words for Baca.
"He always put the department first, up to and right up until the end," Knabe said of the outgoing sheriff.
--Elizabeth Marcellino, City News Service