It seems that Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca just can't catch a break, at least not when it comes to the county's jail system. The Board of Supervisors created a civilian oversight commission to look into allegations of violence and abuse inside the lockups. Federal officials are conducting their own probe into deputy misconduct. And on Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court let stand a Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that found Baca can be sued in connection with jailhouse violence.
Dion Starr is suing Baca, alleging that the sheriff showed "deliberate indifference" to complaints of violence inside the Men’s Central Jail. Starr says he was stabbed 23 times by Latino gang members in 2006.
So what does this mean for Baca? County lawyers had asked the high court to step in, arguing that the sheriff shouldn't be held personally liable because he had no personal involvement. Under state law, Baca is likely indemnified, meaning the county picks up the check for legal claims. But that doesn't mean that the sheriff can't be questioned by Starr’s attorneys.
And no doubt the question of what Baca knew or didn't know will come up. Baca has repeatedly blamed his command staff in the matter, saying deputies shielded him from learning about problems inside the jails. But presumably Baca wasn't shielded from a 2005 report by Special Counsel Merrick Bobb. In that report, Bobb spelled out how the county jail was "so outdated, understaffed, and riddled with security flaws that is jeopardizes the lives of guards and inmates."