Politics, government and public life for Southern California

LA Sheriff Baca held liable in jail inmate abuse case

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A federal jury found LA County Sheriff Lee Baca personally liable in the excessive use of force against a jail inmate. "The Sheriff didn’t care" to address abuse problems, said attorney Mark Pachowicz. (File photo)

In an unusual decision, a federal jury in Los Angeles has found Sheriff Lee Baca personally liable for the excessive use of force against an inmate at Men’s Central Jail.

The jury found the conduct of Baca, Captain Daniel Cruz and three deputies to be “malicious, oppressive, or in reckless disregard” of inmate Tyler Willis in a 2009 incident.

Willis was repeatedly kicked and punched in the face, head and upper body, electrically shocked with a Taser, and struck numerous times with a metal flashlight, according to his attorneys. They argued Baca had failed to address reports that deputies were using too much force at the jail, especially in their use of metal flashlights.

Attorney Sonia Mercado praised the jury for “holding Sheriff Baca personally accountable for his misconduct in condoning his subordinates’ blatant disregard for the law."  She called it "an important step in bringing about much needed change to the barbaric misconduct."

Baca will personally pay $100,000 in punitive damages, according to Mercado. The other four defendants will share the remaining $65,000 in punitive damages.

A spokesman for the sheriff was not immediately available for comment.

The decision comes as the FBI and U.S. Justice Department conducts an investigation into a possible pattern and practice of inmate abuse inside LA County jails.

Last year, the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence found there has been a “persistent pattern of unreasonable force” by Sheriff’s deputies against inmates. The report said the problem “dates back many years” and blamed Baca and his former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka.

The sheriff has implemented a series of reforms since then. He says deputies are using less force now. 

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