LOS ANGELES (CBS) — Attorneys for Los Angeles County failed to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn their ruling that Sheriff Lee Baca could be held personally liable for racial gang violence in county jails.

KNX 1070’s Pete Demetriou reports Baca’s lawyers had argued that cannot be held personally liable for the stabbing of an inmate since he had no personal involvement in the incident — an argument which the justices rejected without comment.

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The original lawsuit filed by Dion Starr focuses on a 2006 incident where he was stabbed 23 times by Latino gang members in the Men’s Central Jail and names Sheriff Lee Baca as one of the defendants, claiming that he was aware of gang violence in the jail but did little to stop it.

A divided U.S. 9th Circuit Court had held that Baca or any other police chief or top-ranking official could be held liable in civil court.

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Legal experts have called the decision somewhat unusual, since in 2009 the Supreme Court had ruled that top officials — specifically US Attorney General John Ashcroft — were not subject to individual civil suits against them.

“The head of any large agency is an enormous target, you can begin to sue an individual for just about anything,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Steve Whitmore. “So we are disappointed that the court did not take up the issue.”

Whitmore said the department he still expects to be vindicated at trial, but will allow the judicial process to run its course.

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“We’ll go back to the 9th and then the 9th will send it back to the District Court, where the trial will move forward, and we look forward to telling the whole story in the proper arena, which is a courtroom,” he said.