Some Wonder if Baca’s on Governor’s Team

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Los Angeles Times

Some of Arnold Schwarzenegger‘s political foes are wondering if Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is going a bit too far in his support of the governor.

On Feb. 6, a plane towing a banner that read “It’s No Party for Nurses, Patients and Students —” flew over Schwarzenegger’s Brentwood mansion while the governor hosted a Super Bowl party.

Groups representing nurses and consumers have criticized Schwarzenegger’s opposition to proposals for expanding healthcare coverage, and they have been angered over what they say is the rollback of safety rules to assure minimum safe staffing in California hospitals.

Jerry Flanagan of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights, one of the groups that hired the plane, said a Sheriff’s Department helicopter intercepted the plane over Los Angeles and persuaded the pilot to abort his mission.

The pilot, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that a sheriff’s helicopter started buzzing around him, and a pilot identifying himself as being with the Sheriff’s Department said there had been some noise complaints and asked the plane to fly at a higher elevation, which would have put it in the cloud cover.

“I asked him: ‘Are you politely asking me to leave?’ and he said: ‘That’s what the neighbors would like,’ ” the pilot said, adding that he cut his flight short to avoid getting in trouble with authorities, even though he said he was flying legally.

Two days later, some nurses were staging a protest near the state Capitol when Donna Gerber of the California Nurses Assn. noticed two men with green Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department polo shirts and guns on their belts taking pictures of protesters.

When confronted, one of the men said enigmatically, “This is for background,” and then the two men left in a marked Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department vehicle.

Gerber and Doug Heller, executive director of the taxpayer foundation, said they were concerned that in both instances it appeared that L.A. County deputies were outside their jurisdiction.

“I think we’ve got Lee Baca providing a private security force for the governor,” Heller said.

Sgt. Mark Utley of the Sheriff’s Department confirmed that one of its helicopters contacted a plane that was flying too low over the governor’s house, but said the pilot was simply asked to increase his altitude.

Steve Whitmore, a spokesman for Baca, said he had no information about sheriff’s deputies getting involved in monitoring the Sacramento protests against the governor.

He said the only deputies he knows about in Sacramento are two legislative aides who “advocate for legislation we feel is important,” but are not assigned to monitor protests against Schwarzenegger.

“He has his own detail,” Whitmore said.

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