LA County Sheriff Lee Baca Found Personally Liable In Inmate Beating Case

Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca could be on the hook for $100,000 of his own money, following a recent federal jury verdict. The jury concluded that the sheriff was personally liable in a case surrounding the abuse of inmate Tyler Willis at the Men’s Central Jail back in 2009.

Willis filed a civil rights lawsuit in 2010, claiming he had been severely beaten with a flashlight and tased by deputies at the jail, where he was awaiting trial. Jurors ruled in favor of the plaintiff, concluding that Deputies Anthony Vasquez, Mark Farino, and Pedro Guerrero, as well as Captain Daniel Cruz and Sheriff Baca, had acted in “malicious, oppressive or in reckless disregard” of Willis’ rights.

The defendants have agreed to divide $165,000 in punitive damages amongst themselves, with the remaining $100,000 to be paid by Baca. Willis’ attorneys have accused Baca of ignoring repeated warnings regarding deputies’ use of heavy flashlights to subdue inmates at the jail and have cited a report issued last year by the Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence, which faulted Baca for failing to control use of force in the facilities.

This is the first time a jury has held Baca personally liable in a use-of-force case.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department would appeal the verdict.

"We respect juries, but they made a mistake," Whitmore said. "This is a mistake that needs to be rectified, and rectified quickly, and we will."

Whitmore said Willis was the instigator in the 2009 incident and that the jury should not have taken last year’s commission findings into consideration when deciding to find Baca personally liable.

Read more about the grand jury’s findings here.

Tips, Opinion and Feedback

Have feedback, comments or a opinion piece you'd like to submit?

Get in touch with us and see our opinion guidelines here