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Baca can be sued over jail violence, appeals court rules

February 11, 2011 |  3:03 pm


Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca isn't immune from a lawsuit brought by a former county jail inmate who says he was stabbed 23 times in a racial attack abetted by jailhouse deputies, a federal appeals court ruled Friday.

In a 2-1 decision, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said former prisoner Dion Starr had sufficiently argued in his complaint that Baca showed "deliberate indifference" to dangerous conditions in the jail.

Starr said in his complaint over a 2006 attack by Latino gang members that a deputy unlocked the door to his cell after the inmates converged on him and his cellmate, a fellow African American.

Another deputy used racial epithets against Starr after the attack as he lay on his cell floor bleeding and in pain, he said in the suit, which was dismissed three years ago by a district court judge.

In the complaint, Starr detailed numerous incidents of inmate-on-inmate violence, including five killings during a six-month period about a year before the attack he suffered at the Men's Central Jail.

Unless appealed to a larger panel of the court, the 9th Circuit ruling sends Starr's case back to the district court for trial.

Starr's attorney, Sonia Maria Mercado, said the ruling was an important victory in an effort to hold Baca accountable for persistent rights violations in the county jail that have been brought to his attention after previous deaths and injuries.

Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said Baca would review the ruling and probably ask for a full 11-judge panel to reconsider the case.

Whitmore described Starr's allegations of deputies' complicity in the attack as "heinous" and inaccurate.

-- Carol J. Williams

Photo: Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca

Credit: Los Angeles Times