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LA County Sheriff Candidates Spar In Public Debate

VAN NUYS ( — Six of the seven candidates for Los Angeles County sheriff sparred Wednesday night in the first public debate of the campaign.

Former Cmdr. Bob Olmsted, who is campaigning as a whistleblower, came out swinging at the forum, which was hosted by the Van Nuys Neighborhood Town Council.

"The fish rots from the head down," he said.

Olmsted charged that the mismanagement and corruption in the sheriff's department was tolerated by those at the highest levels.

"It's a complete embarrassment that we've seen over the last three years. We've read it in the paper about the poor hiring standards, the moving of the inmate, obstruction of justice, jail beatings," he said.

Olmsted was attacked by Asst. Sheriff James Helmold, who essentially argued that Olmsted isn't exactly "clean" either.

"The point that Mr. Olmsted makes is very curious because of the fact that he was in charge when all of this occurred, so he already tolerated maleficence," Helmold said.

Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell told the crowd that with some current and former sheriff's department officials in the running, maybe it's time for an outsider to fix the department.

"I think what we're looking for is fresh eyes, a fresh perspective, somebody to be able to come in and bring some positive leadership, set the tone from the top and reestablish public trust in the organization," he said.

Former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka was Lee Baca's second-in-command before leaving the department under fire. He agreed that leadership was the department's problem.

"The fact of the matter is, there is a failure of leadership. And there are many folks at the top," he said.

Former Lt. Patrick Gomez and LAPD Det. Lou Vince also participated in the debate.

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