County approves $722,000 settlement in jail inmate lawsuit

Grant Slater/KPCC

L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca has been found liable in two cases of alleged abuse by deputies at the Central Jail.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday approved a $722,000 payout to Dion Starr, who was an inmate in Men's Central Jail in 2006.

According to the lawsuit, Starr, awaiting trial at the time, was attacked and repeatedly stabbed by fellow inmates. The suit also alleges a sheriff's deputy responding to the incident kicked Starr in the face, breaking his nose.

Starr sued the sheriff's department, claiming his attackers should have not been let into his cell and that deputies used excessive force. He also named Sheriff Lee Baca in the case, alleging the sheriff's indifference to issues in the jail enabled the incident.

The case stalled for years as Baca and the county appealed, arguing the sheriff could not personally be held liable in a case of alleged jail abuse. But the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals eventually sided with Starr, potentially paving the way for future lawsuits holding Baca personally liable for the actions of his deputies. Since the case was settled, the county will pay the full amount.

Earlier this month, in the case of another jail inmate, Tyler Willis, a jury held Baca responsible for a $100,000 payout. The sheriff, through a spokesman, has said he'll appeal. 

Sam Paz, an attorney who worked on both cases, said juries and judges are starting to decide "that there should be responsibility when somebody, even when they're in a high position, failed to follow their basic duties." 

Sheriff's Department Spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department disputes the facts in the Starr case, and that a settlement does not equate to a concession that the case had merit. He said a use of force investigation found deputy actions were within department policy, and that the sheriff has worked hard over the past years to correct issues in the jails. 

 

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