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Sheriff Baca disappointed with lawsuit ruling

April 30, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca says he's disappointed with a Supreme Court ruling that a former jail inmate's lawsuit against him can go to trial. The suit stemmed from a racially motivated jail brawl that left the inmate badly injured.

The U.S. Supreme Court decision is precedent setting. It means supervisors like Sheriff Lee Baca could be held accountable for racial gang violence in his jails.

When Dion Starr was awaiting trial at the Men's Central Jail in 2006, he claims three Latino gang members came into his cell with homemade knives.

"I was stabbed 23 times. My cellmate was injured real bad. I'm yelling for help, my cellmate is yelling for help, no one comes to help us," he said.

Starr and his attorney say someone had to let the inmates into the cell. Starr says a deputy watched the entire incident, and afterwards, kicked Starr in the face and broke his nose.

"When I came from the hospital, no one ever asked me one time who stabbed me. I never got interviewed, and I asked for an interview," he said.

The nation's highest court let stand a lower court ruling that Baca can be sued for alleged indifference to the inmate's rights. Baca supposedly knew about ongoing jailhouse violence. Yet according to the lawsuit, he failed to do anything to stop it.

"The U.S. Department of Justice is now investigating him. He has a multitude of lawsuits because of the conditions of the jails. He's now offering to close the jails because conditions are so bad," said attorney Samuel Paz.

Baca has taken steps to improve conditions. The jails now are safer than they have been in decades, according to the sheriff's department.

Baca's spokesman said the sheriff believes he will prevail when the lawsuit goes back to court.

"We're disappointed that the Supreme Court didn't take up the issue. We're ready to go forward to the next step, and we're ready to do that, and we're looking forward to doing that," said Steve Whitmore of the sheriff's department.

The lawsuit now goes back to a trial court, where Baca can be deposed and put on the witness stand.

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