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Sources: Embattled LA Sheriff Baca to Retire Amid Federal Probe

Embattled Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca is expected to announce Tuesday that he will not run for a fifth term as the county's top cop and step down from his post by the end of the month, sources familiar with the decision told NBC News.

His decision to retire comes weeks after Andre Birotte Jr., the U.S. Attorney for California's Central District,announced charges against 18 current and former deputies assigned to the Los Angeles County jails in connection with “a wide scope of illegal conduct,” including allegations of unjustified beating of inmates, unjustified detentions and a conspiracy to obstruct a federal investigation.

Separately, the U.S. Justice Department found that deputies patrolling the Antelope Valley in northern Los Angeles County repeatedly harassed and intimidated blacks and Latinos including using racial profiling and excessive force. And the Los Angeles Times reported last month that Baca's Sheriff's Department hired dozens of officers even though investigators found they had committed serious misconduct both on and off the job.

At the time, Baca said he was troubled by the charges and called it a sad day for his department.

One source, who like the others spoke on condition of anonymity, said the 71-year-old Baca, who has served 15 years as County Sheriff, made “a difficult decision,” but one that was “in the best interests of the department and people of Los Angeles County.”

“This was one of the most difficult decisions of the sheriff's professional career,” said the source. “He made it clear that he was doing this to remove any distractions from the positive work that the L.A. County Sheriff's Department is doing on behalf of the county.”

A formal announcement will be made in the morning, a source said.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors chooses an interim sheriff with input from Baca.

Baca's retirement leaves the race for his successor wide open. Those running include Sheriff's Cmdr. Bob Olmsted, who oversaw the troubled county jails, as well as under-Sheriff Paul Tanaka, who ran operations for the Sheriff's Department until last Summer when he stepped down amid a bitter and public falling out with his former boss.

Long Beach Police Chief and former LAPD Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell initially expressed interest in running for sheriff but decided against it at the time because amassing the money necessary to take on a longtime incumbent would have been a distraction from his primary job.

Another law enforcement source, who asked not to be identified, said late Monday that McDonnell would be open to reconsidering his position given recent developments.

During his four terms in office, Baca won praise for programs that benefited the homeless and inmates. He was one of the driving forces - along with then LAPD Chief William Bratton and former District Attorney Steve Cooley -- behind the new state-of-the-art crime lab that that opened at Cal State Los Angeles.

The department grew from 14,000 to 19,000 employees under Baca as crime fell to the lowest levels in a generation. In addition, it absorbed the troubled Compton Police Department, drastically reducing crime in that city.

Baca also created the Office of Independent Review, headed by former federal prosecutor Michael Gennaco, to oversee the department's internal investigations.

Early in his tenure, Baca had a knack for getting ahead of public controversies including a spate of murders in the Los Angeles County Jail, a contagious fire incident in Compton when deputies unloaded 120 rounds at a car-chase suspect in a residential neighborhood; an uproar about early release of inmates and even a decision to release socialite Paris Hilton early from jail.

But a series of recent controversies began to weigh heavily on the department. In the most signifcant of the missteps, sheriff's deputies learned about an informant at the Men's Central jail who was assisting FBI agents with an investigation and had received a cell phone.

The officers, who were named in a grand jury indictment last month, then allegedly attempted to hide the informant from the FBI and the U.S. Marshals Service. Two sergeants named in the case allegedly confronted an FBI agent at her home in order to intimidate her into divulging details of the investigation.