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Los Angeles County Pays $900,000 to Parents of Murdered Informant in Jail

The County of Los Angeles (L.A.) agreed to pay $700,000 to the mother, and $200,000 to the father, of a 20 year old county jail prisoner murdered in his cell by a free-roaming prisoner against whom he had just testified in a murder trial.

Raul Tinajero, a car thief, had been called to testify against Santiago Pineda, 23, in Pineda's murder trial, wherein Tinajero had witnessed Pineda run over his victim with a car. The court had ordered Tinajero to be placed in protective custody, but the county jail's security was so lax that Pineda, a jail trusty," was free to roam for hours through the jail, be admitted through a double-door sallyport into Tinajero's protected" module, strangle him, stay in the cell with the body until the next day, and then leisurely retrace his steps through security" back to his own cell. Pineda is now charged with Tinajero's murder.

Tinajero's mother and father, represented by Edward Torres of Pasadena, brought separate suits in U.S.D.C. (C.D Cal.) against L.A. County and its Sheriff, Lee Baca, alleging violation of Tinajero's civil rights, negligence, failing to properly supervise staff and other misconduct. Their consolidated claims for $35 million were settled before trial for $900,000 on June 30, 2005, in an F.R.Civ.P. Rule 68 offer.

The lax supervision and security at the L.A. County Jail resulted in five murders, including Tinajero's, in a six-month period. (See: PLN, Apr. 2005, p.16.) As a result, L.A. District Attorney Steve Cooley set up a task force to establish a witness protection unit. Sheriff's spokesman Steven Whitmore said that internal jail security has been tightened since the slayings. There's no doubt that it's working because we haven't had an inmate murdered since that time," he added. (An outbreak of riots and murders since rebuts this claim.)

But L.A. County hasn't finished paying for its jail security breaches. Consolidated cases are still pending on similar claims in Sloan v. City of Los Angeles, Case No. CV 0501510 SLO(JTx) and Palacol v. City of Los Angeles, Case No. CV-05-01511 SLO (JTx). See: Estate of Raul Tinajero v. County of Los Angeles, U.S.D.C. (C.D. Cal.), No. 2:04-CV-07033-SJO-FMO.

Other sources: Los Angeles Times, Sacramento Bee.

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Related legal case

Estate of Raul Tinajero v. County of Los Angeles