Crime & Justice

Los Angeles sheriff's deputies found guilty in jail beating

Gabriel Carrillo, 30, says he was beaten up by LA County Sheriff's Deputies while visiting his brother in jail — one of dozens of cases of abuse that prompted the latest reforms. A federal jury found two deputies guilty on Wednesday, June 24, 2015, of deprivation of rights in Carrillo's 2011 beating.
Gabriel Carrillo, 30, says he was beaten up by LA County Sheriff's Deputies while visiting his brother in jail — one of dozens of cases of abuse that prompted the latest reforms. A federal jury found two deputies guilty on Wednesday, June 24, 2015, of deprivation of rights in Carrillo's 2011 beating.

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Two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies and a sergeant were found guilty Wednesday in the backroom beating of a jail visitor who fellow guards testified was handcuffed on the ground and covered in blood.

Sgt. Eric Gonzalez and Deputy Sussie Ayala were found guilty of conspiracy to violate constitutional rights, deprivation of rights and falsification of records in the 2011 beating of Gabriel Carrillo.

Deputy Fernando Luviano was found guilty of deprivation of rights and falsification of records.

Prosecuting attorney Lizabeth Rhodes said she felt justice had been done. 
“I believe that an individual who carries a badge and a gun and who uses their authority and power to violate people’s constitutional rights, as was the case here, is one of the worst kind of criminals,” Rhodes said.  

“If there is Karma in the world, this is it,” said ACLU Attorney and jail watchdog Peter Eliasberg. He said the case sends a strong message to deputies who are willing to lie about their actions, potentially sending a person to prison for their actions. 

“Now the shoe is on the other foot," he said. "And they are going to federal prison, which is where they deserve to be.”

Two other guards charged in Carrillo's beating previously pleaded guilty in the case and testified against their former co-workers.

Prosecutors told jurors the deputies unnecessarily beat Carrillo and tried to cover it up under their sergeant's direction.

Defense attorneys argued that Carrillo became combative as deputies tried to handcuff him and needed to use force to get him under control, the Associated Press reports.

Attorney Patrick Smith, who represented Deputy Ayala, said he was disappointed with the decision. 

“There was a difference in the swelling in each wrist”  he said, adding that was proof one of Carrillo hands was free and that he was fighting with deputies.

Noel Womack, one of the guards who previously pleaded guilty, described a culture of excessive force and cover-ups at the visitation center of the Men's Central Jail near downtown Los Angeles, according to his plea agreement with prosecutors.

Womack said Carrillo, who had been at the jail to visit his brother, was handcuffed, on the ground, and bleeding during the beating. Carrillo had been detained on suspicion of sneaking in a prohibited cellphone.

Womack acknowledged unnecessarily punching Carrillo five times in the leg after hearing another deputy yell, "Stop spitting."

"The punches were retaliation and intended to inflict pain, and were made because defendant Womack thought he could get away with such action," according to a statement as part of Womack's plea agreement.

Defense Attorney Joseph Avrahamy, who represented Sgt. Gonzalez, said Womack's testimony had a "tremendous" impact on the court. 

“Certainly when you have two people who were in the room [where Carrillo was beaten] in a manner that supports the prosecution, that’s not going to be helpful to the defense,” he said.

Jury foreman Tony Tran, 35, of Diamond Bar, told KPCC there was little debate about the verdict and that no one entered deliberations saying the defendants were innocent.

It was "pretty much obvious" that Carrillo was handcuffed, Tran said. "Both wrists had injuries — that kind of indicated both hands were handcuffed."

Tran told KPCC he was "definitely disturbed by the excessive force," referring to photos of Carrillo's severely bruised face.

When writing his report justifying the use of force, Womack said knew he would have to lie and say that Carrillo wasn't handcuffed, according to the statement.

The statement blames much of the beating on Gonzalez, saying he directed deputies to "snatch up" and arrest anyone who looked suspicious. The indictment in the case also accused Gonzalez of urging deputies to use force on visitors who disrespected them.

Gonzalez "encouraged and tolerated abuses of the law," including unreasonable searches and seizures, unlawful arrests, unjustified force and falsified reports, according to the indictment.

Avrahamy, Gonzalez's attorney, argued that when Gonzalez took charge of the visitation center at the jail in March 2010, "the place was a mess," with convicted felons and gang members being allowed to visit inmates against policy.

Gonzalez was cleaning things up by arresting prohibited visitors, Avrahamy said earlier this month. He said Womack and another deputy who reached a plea agreement in the case in February, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, were only turning against Gonzalez and fellow deputies to save themselves.

The jury foreman saw it differently.

"I didn’t have any trouble believing [the deputies'] testimony," Tran told KPCC. He added that Gonzalez' attempts to cover up the abuse by falsifying reports "really irritated" him.

"Here he is a sergeant, one of the higher ranking officers overseeing the entire process, and he just let it happen," Tran told KPCC.

Tran said the judge directed jurors to isolate this case from other cases of police brutality that have unfolded recently across the country, but he said it certainly occurred to him that this was part of a trend.

Tran said that while it wasn't his intent to send a message to law enforcement with this verdict and that it was hard to convict a police officer, he does hope the message goes out "that this code of silence, this culture of police violence and getting away with violating our rights with impunity needs to definitely stop."

This story has been updated.