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Supervisors Vote to Indemnify LASD Members Involved in Jail Beating

Taylor Walker
Written by Taylor Walker

In 2013, a federal jury found then-Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, as well as three deputies and one former captain, personally liable for punitive damages in an inmate abuse case. Last week, the LA County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to pay the damages on behalf of the deputies and the captain. The board chose not to cover the damages owed by Baca. The Supes’ decision to indemnify those involved in the beating garnered criticism during this week’s board meeting.

The plaintiff, Tyler Willis, claimed that deputies brutally beat him in 2009 while he was awaiting trial in Men’s Central Jail. Willis said that without any provocation, the deputies strip searched and humiliated him in a very public setting. Then, the deputies involved moved him to a different location and proceeded to kick, punch, hit with a flashlight, and repeatedly shocked with a Taser. During the beating, Willis’ leg was broken in two places, requiring a full leg cast. Willis also suffered multiple head wounds, face wounds, taser burns, and large bruises all over his body, and a displaced fracture of the bone behind his nose. (Read the complaint: here.)

The jury found that the involved deputies, Anthony Vazquez, Mark Farino, and Pedro Guerrero, their supervisor, former-Captain Daniel Cruz, and Sheriff Baca, acted in a way that was “malicious, oppressive or in reckless disregard of [Willis’] rights.”

Specifically, Baca was assessed $100,000 in punitive damages, Cruz was assessed $35,000, and the three deputies who beat Willis were asked to pay $10,000 each.

Willis sued Baca “in his personal and individual capacity as a supervisory official for his own culpable actions or inactions. The sheriff was “responsible with the administration of the defendant LASD and its employees, and for the supervision, training, and hiring” of department members, including the deputies responsible for Willis’ beating, according to the complaint.

The supervisors voted to authorize the payment of $65,000 in damages on behalf of the deputies and former captain. Baca will remain on the hook for his portion.

Misconduct and brutality at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has resulted in criminal convictions for 21 department members, including Baca, who will be sentenced on May 12. In March, a jury found the former sheriff guilty of obstruction of justice, conspiracy to obstruct justice, plus a single count of lying to federal investigators. (Read more about the Baca trial in WitnessLA’s Series section.)

On Tuesday, Willis’ lawyers, Sonia Mercado and R. Samuel Paz, asked the board to reconsider its decision to pay the punitive damages for the deputies and Cruz, arguing that the board’s indemnification of the three deputies and captain would be “overthrowing” the jury’s verdict and “overruling” the 9th Circuit Appeals Court’s affirmation of that verdict. According to Mercado, while the supervisors have the authority to pay for the “malicious conduct” of the sheriff’s department members, the authority is “not unfettered.” The supes, according to Mercado, must find that the officers acted without malice, in order to indemnify them.

“It’s hard to get a punitive damage award against deputies. It’s even harder to get it against a captain of a jail,” Samuel Paz added. The lawyer pointed out that the judgment against Baca appeared to be unprecedented.

“I think this was the first time in California’s history where a sitting sheriff had punitive damages awarded against him,” Paz said. “So I would join in the request to have you reconsider your vote of last week.”

As of Thursday morning, there had been no change to the board’s decision to pay the damages.

9 Comments

  • Yeah it’s another bill for taxpayers to note, but nothing to cry about. Mere coins compared to the millions & millions paid out annually of the resident’s dime. Just another day in the County of Los Angeles.

  • Laughing my ass off. Dan Cruz hand picked by PT for MCJ. Knowing he was incompetent, Tanaka rigged the promotional movement to give Cruz all the help he needed, oh as long as he followed what Tanaka wanted. The BOS should have made Cruz pay. This is like a bad dream on ground hog day. This crap continues to repeat itself. PT gets how many years and damaged the department for, let’s say decades.

  • Message to LASD personnel: Get involved in jail beatings and the county will pick up the tab from the lawsuit. Wow, only in America !!

  • The truth of the matter is this…
    The County Sheriff’s Department would have paid much more if they balked at such a miniscule amount which would ultimately garner another big payout. It’s funny how the BOS felt that the assaults were without malice. Of course not, the beating s are classified under “Business as usual”

  • Now that the County is paying for personal damages assessed from the Willis civil lawsuit, to not do so in similar current and future cases may become cause for claims of employment discrimination.

    There is also an argument that a County transfer of funds to satisfy a personal civil court debt of a county employee must be properly recognized as income to the employee.

    This will require the County to allocate a total amount needed to satisfy the court debt plus the federal and state remittances for FICA, MedCAl, CA UnempIns plus the withholding to cover income taxes plus the contributions owed for any Pension or Retirement Plan due to the bonus wage payment.

    Its also reasonable for the County to expect a demand for payment of an equal amount as a retroactive bonus to each and all full-time LASD deputy positions employed in custody division in 2009 who weren’t involved in beating Tyler Willis.

  • Too bad they let that worthless POS Cruz off the hook. Since he is currently enjoying a pension he did not earn, having the taxpayers pick up the tab for the bill he DID earn is an insult.

  • Lots of uninformed comments from those who would themselves love to cash in. Inside Voice… well, what can I say…

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