LOS ANGELES (MCT) — A federal jury has found Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca personally liable in a case involving abuse of an inmate in the Men's Central Jail, meaning the sheriff could be required to pay $100,000 out of his own pocket.
It is the first time a jury has held Baca personally at fault in a deputy use-of-force case. Sheriff's Department officials called the verdict a "huge mistake" and said they would appeal.
Plaintiff Tyler Willis alleged in a federal lawsuit in October 2010 that deputies severely beat him in 2009 while he was an inmate awaiting trial.
Willis alleged that he was punched and kicked repeatedly, shot with a Taser multiple times and struck "numerous times" in the ankle with a heavy metal flashlight, causing fractures and head injuries.
After a weeklong trial, the jury returned last week with a verdict in Willis' favor. They found that the conduct of Deputies Anthony Vasquez, Mark Farino and Pedro Guerrero, Capt. Daniel Cruz and Baca had been "malicious, oppressive or in reckless disregard" of Willis' rights.
The defendants agreed this week to divide $165,000 in punitive damages among themselves, with Baca paying $100,000.
"I think it speaks volumes that members of the jury heard the evidence and said, 'This goes all the way to the top,' " said Mark Pachowicz, one of Willis' attorneys.
Attorneys who represented the Sheriff's Department in the case did not respond to messages seeking comment, but spokesman Steve Whitmore said the department plans to appeal the verdict.
He said that the use of force was "brought on by the inmate" and that deputies had acted within policy. He also contended that the jury had erred in considering the jail commission findings when they decided Baca was personally liable.
"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." ___ (c)2013 Los Angeles Times Distributed by MCT Information Services