Los Angeles, CA — As the Free Thought Project has reported extensively, police officers, even when found at fault for their abusive actions, are almost never held personally liable. It is the taxpayers who foot the bill. However, a new trend in accountability seems to be on the rise, and will be massively more effective at curbing police brutality than any system in place right now.
The most recent case of a police officer being held personally liable comes out of Los Angeles, where former Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca must decide within a week whether to pay $100,000 in damages -- stemming from a civil lawsuit involving an inmate abuse case -- or face liens on his assets, an attorney for the inmate said Friday, according to the LA Times.
The damages are from a 2013 judgment against Baca, three other deputies, and a captain. In that case, inmate Tyler Willis proved to a jury 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 brief trial, the jury returned a verdict in Willis' favor and held Baca personally liable. However, Baca, with the power of the police union, fought the ruling for the last 4 years, calling the idea of a police officer being held personally liable a "huge mistake."
When police officers actually fear the loss of their own money, they may think twice before savagely beating a handcuffed woman or breaking into the wrong house and killing the innocent owner.
In spite of never winning an appeal, Baca has refused to pay and now Willis' attorney is going one step further.
“Baca has to pay up or we will proceed to collect in debtors court,” Samuel Paz, an attorney for Willis said. “If necessary we will go forward with proceedings to identify his assets and place liens to collect on the debt.”
For those unfamiliar with the former sheriff, he was forced to resign in 2014 amid a massive scandal involving the horrendous abuse of inmates in his jail. While Baca quietly retired and skated out on punishment, more than two dozen of his underlings were convicted on criminal charges for their role in the abuse. Baca claims he had no idea that dozens of his employees were carrying out the abuse right under his nose for more than a decade.
Baca wasn't the only officer held personally responsible in the 2013 lawsuit either. Anthony Vasquez, Mark Farino and Pedro Guerrero, and Daniel Cruz were found to be “malicious, oppressive or [act] in reckless disregard” of Willis’ rights.
Last week, all four of the officers agreed to pay $65,000 — their portion of the $165,000 lawsuit. However, Baca has continued to refuse.
It seems that Baca, who is currently drawing a $328,000 annual pension for the rest of his life — in spite of being a terrible cop — is holding out for the county to use taxpayer money.
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However, in court documents, the county has noted that they have no intention of paying for Baca's abuse.
This is the second such case in only weeks, in which cops are being forced to come out of pocket after being found at fault in a lawsuit. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Lin's case was a bit more extreme than Baca's, however.
In 2013, Lin spotted 19-year-old Dontrell Stephens in a “high-crime area” — the man’s own low-income neighborhood — riding a bicycle in a manner the deputy found suspicious.
Lin stopped the youth, who dismounted the bike with a cell phone in his hand and slowly approached the officer. Just outside the range of dash cam video, the officer shot Stephens four times — claiming he was in fear for his life — but footage and evidence clearly showed the claim to be baseless.
Three of the bullets remain lodged in Stephens’ body, according to the Sun Sentinel — two in his arm and one in his spine, which left him paralyzed and dependent on a wheelchair for mobility.
Stephens won a massive $22.4 million settlement and U.S. Magistrate Judge Barry Seltzer ruled that Lin should foot at least a portion of the bill. Last month, nearly everything this officer owned was seized to pay back Stephens — including everything from his furniture to his clothing.
Lin will most assuredly think twice before shooting another unarmed teen.
As for Baca, however, it appears he has yet to learn his lesson and will have to be forced by the court to pay.
Imagine, for a moment, the result of all police officers being held personally liable for their actions. In nearly every other profession on the planet, if someone hurts someone else while on the job, they are held liable — personally. Why can't cops carry personal liability insurance just like doctors?
As instances of police brutality and police killings continue to be exposed, there is no doubt that the US is in dire need of reform. The simple requirement for police to be insured for personal liability is an easy fix -- especially to remove repeat offenders from the force.
All too often, when a tragic death such as Tamir Rice occurs, months later we find out that the officer should have never been given a badge and a gun in the first place because of their past. However, insurance companies, who can't fleece the taxpayers to pay for problem cops, would have to come out of pocket to pay for them and would make sure that these officers are uninsurable.
If the officer becomes uninsurable, the officer becomes unhirable -- simple as that.
There are likely many cops out there right now who would be denied insurance coverage by any company, due to their track records. A requirement for personal liability insurance would, quite literally, weed out problem officers — almost overnight.