LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca has responded to criticism regarding the hiring of deputies with questionable backgrounds.
Baca told KCAL9's Dave Lopez he did not authorize a special hiring program called "Friends of the Sheriff", which critics allege catered to people he knew or people who had a connection to the department.
"I never authorized some organizational structure called 'Friends of the Sheriff'," he said, adding that acting as a "hiring practitioner" is not part of his job function.
"I do not know any of them," Baca said.
Lopez asked Baca about his nephew, Justin Bravo, who became a deputy through the program. But the sheriff said Bravo "never" came to him asking for special treatment.
"He was very candid about himself," Baca said.
A report from the Office of Independent Review dated February 18, 2009 addressed to the Board of Supervisors about the FOS program supports Baca's argument.
"While FOS stands for 'Friends of the Sheriff,' the Sheriff himself actually knows virtually none of the individuals on the list," it reads, continuing: "In analyzing personnel files of a sample of the applicants on the FOS list, OIR has determined that there is no evidence that the applicants routinely receive preferential treatment during the background investigation process. If anything, these applicants received greater scrutiny."
Baca meanwhile vowed to run a vigorous 2014 re-election campaign.
"My job right now is to explain my side of the story," he said. "Leaders do not ever not have problems or controversy."
Baca's two opponents, Robert Olmsted and Paul Tanaka, are one-time assistant sheriffs who were once part of his inner circle.
Without mentioning the men by name, he referred to both of them Thursday.
"My opponents - one is bitter and one is actually a quitter and bitter. And so here you've got another one who is bitter but should have been a quitter," he said.
Olmsted and Tanaka fired back at the comments Thursday during interviews with KCAL9's Dave Bryan.
"I think that is from a desperate man with his back up against the wall, and he is upset that all of a sudden he is being challenged about all the corruptions and misgivings going on in the department," Olmsted said.
Olmsted, a former commanding officer for L.A.'s jails for much of his career, said he found a problem with the FOS program when he discovered Baca's nephew was hired through it.
"I had to discipline him and I found out at that particular time he was the sheriff's nephew," Olmsted said.
Tanaka, meanwhile said he was "deeply disturbed" by Baca's earlier comments.
"You know the Sheriff of Los Angeles County, by law, is the top law enforcement official in the county. And as such, has an obligation and a responsibility to follow the rules, to set policies that are sensible. Based on what has been reported, it appears that he egregiously violated his own hiring practices and policies," he said.
Tanaka also denied ever applying pressure on behalf of a friend who wanted to join the department.
"I have never asked anyone to hire someone who was not qualified to be a member of the law enforcement community," Tanaka said.
The election is next June.
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