LOS ANGELES, Calif. (FOX 11 / CNS / AP) - With jurors saying they were hopelessly deadlocked, a judge declared a mistrial Thursday in the federal corruption trial of former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.
The mistrial came on the fourth day of deliberations by the six-man, six-woman jury in downtown Los Angeles. Earlier in the day Thursday, attorneys in the case had a nearly hour-long series of private, sidebar discussions with the judge that at times included one of the jurors and Baca.
At the time, there was no public announcement of what the discussions entailed, despite objections from some members of the media in the courtroom audience.
The jury went back into the deliberations room around 2 p.m., and within 30 minutes, they sent a note to U.S. District Judge Percy Anderson, who brought the panel into court. Jurors announced they were hopelessly deadlocked.
Anderson asked the panel if additional deliberations might break the logjam, but jurors unanimously indicated that further discussions would be fruitless.
Anderson then declared the panel "hopelessly deadlocked" and dismissed the jury. Prosecutors will have to decide whether to seek a retrial on the charges of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice.
There was no immediate word on how the jurors were split, or whether they were leaning toward conviction or acquittal.
Baca is accused of conspiring to commit, and committing, obstruction of justice from August to September 2011, partly stemming from the incident in which two sheriff's investigators confronted the FBI agent in the driveway
leading into her apartment and falsely told her that they were in the process
of obtaining a warrant for her arrest.
The charges against Baca focus on a period of time five years ago when sheriff's deputies based at the Men's Central Jail stumbled upon the FBI's secret probe of alleged civil rights abuses and unjustified beatings of inmates
within jail walls.
After guards discovered that inmate Anthony Brown was secretly working as an FBI informant, they booked him under false names and moved him to different locations in order to keep him hidden from federal investigators who wanted to use him as a federal grand jury witness.
Prosecutors contend Baca so resented the federal government's secret jails probe that he attempted to force the FBI to back down by illegally having deputies confront the agent. The prosecution also alleges that Baca ignored
years of complaints about excessive force used illegally against jail inmates in county facilities managed by the Sheriff's Department.
Baca, 74, also faces a third count -- making false statements to federal investigators in April 2013, which will be the subject of a second trial. Prosecutors contend Baca lied to the FBI about his knowledge of department
efforts to subvert a federal probe into corruption and inmate abuse in the jail system.
The judge split the trial into two parts after he agreed to allow testimony by an expert on dementia -- but only as it relates to the false-statements charge. Anderson agreed to hold a separate trial on those counts so
the jury could hear the medical testimony. Baca is in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease.
In closing arguments in the trial, a prosecutor told jurors that Baca "authorized and condoned" the conspiracy, but the defense threw blame on Baca's former second-in-command.
In his summation, Assistant U.S. Attorney Brandon Fox told the six-man, six-woman panel that during Baca's years as sheriff, he "abused the power given to him by the people of Los Angeles County" by ignoring evidence of brutality against jail inmates and working to ensure "dirty deputies" were not brought to justice.
"He wanted to ensure that no outside law enforcement would police the jails," Fox said.
Jurors also heard accusations from the prosecution that the retired lawman was the "heartbeat" of the sheriff department's illicit response to the federal grand jury probe. Defense attorney Nathan Hochman countered that it was former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka who was to blame for the department's actions.
The then-sheriff "was not the driving force," Hochman said, telling jurors that Baca had no idea that Tanaka was running things. Tanaka was sentenced to five years in prison and is expected to begin serving his time next month.
Hochman told the jury that the government had "completely failed" to prove its case and had included graphic testimony of jail violence "to poison your mind" against his client.
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