Jury Finds L.A. Sheriff Baca Liable in Excessive Force Case

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A federal jury has found Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca liable in a civil rights case stemming from an altercation between an inmate and deputies at the Men’s Central Jail.

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca.

In the lawsuit, Tyler Willis claims he was repeatedly kicked, punched, tasered and beaten with heavy flashlights by deputies while he was incarcerated in 2009.

A video that was introduced as evidence in the case shows Willis with a bruised and swollen face after the incident, laying on a medical bed as he questioned by deputies during a use-of-force inquiry.

“You have the right to remain silent,” a deputy says to Willis, who was charged with assault and resisting arrest. “Do you hear me? Do you hear me? Tyler, sit up. Sit up.”

Yet after notifying Willis of his Miranda rights, sheriff’s officials ask for his side of the story.

“This is Detective Aguilera … advising inmate Tyler Willis this is an administrative investigation,” an investigator says in the video. “This is your opportunity to tell us what happened. Do you want to speak? Yes or no?”

The deputies who conducted the inquiry concluded that the use of force against Willis was justified, and the incident was not referred to Internal Affairs for further investigation.

“This inmate caused this problem. He was combative, uncooperative and our deputies had to stop it – and they did,” Steve Whitmore, spokesman for the sheriff’s department, said in an interview.

“That’s what did happen,” he added.

A federal jury, however, found Los Angeles County and the deputies at fault for excessive force. Baca, who was found personally liable in the case, may be required to pay $100,000 in punitive damages.

According to a recent government investigation, repeated warnings and recommendations made to Baca about dangerous deputy practices “fell on deaf ears,” said Peter Eliasberg, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union in Southern California.

“If he’s being warned and does nothing, then he bears some responsibility,” Eliasberg said.

Whitmore insisted that the sheriff’s department would ultimately be vindicated in court.

“We’re going to appeal,” Whitmore said. “That appeal is moving forward as we speak, and we’re going to prevail in that appeal.”