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No legal shield for Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca in jail racial violence case

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca in 2010.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca in 2010.
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

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A U.S. Supreme Court ruling could see Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca sued for racial gang violence in jails he oversees. This is the latest turn of events in a case brought by former inmate Dion Starr. He claims he was stabbed 23 times by Latino gang members while in custody at Men’s Central Jail in 2006 while a guard watched.

Sheriff Baca and a number of deputies are named in Starr's suit. County lawyers appealed against Sheriff Baca's naming in the case, arguing that he could not be held personally liable for the incident. Yet the U.S. Supreme Court today decided not to hear the case, letting an earlier U.S 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision stand. That ninth circuit stated that the Los Angeles County Sheriff can be sued for "deliberate indifference" to Dion Starr's rights for failure to take action to stop such attacks.

U.S. District Judge George Wu previously threw out the case in 2008, saying there was not enough evidence to link Sheriff Baca to the 2006 incident.

Should heads of agencies be held liable for the actions of their staff? What other mechanisms could be put in place to deal with inmate complaints where gang violence is suspected? Does naming the head of an organization detract from the process of justice in such cases as these?


Steve Whitmore, Spokesman for Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca

John Eastman, Professor of Law, Chapman University School of Law

Sonia Mercado, Civil Rights Attorney representing Dion Starr in the case against Sheriff Lee Baca