Crime & Justice

2 former Los Angeles Sheriff's deputies sentenced in jail beating

This undated evidence photo provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office shows a mug shot of Gabriel Carrillo taken by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Two former deputies were sentenced Monday to federal prison in the backroom beating of a jail visitor who fellow guards testified was handcuffed on the ground and covered in blood.
This undated evidence photo provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office shows a mug shot of Gabriel Carrillo taken by the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. Two former deputies were sentenced Monday to federal prison in the backroom beating of a jail visitor who fellow guards testified was handcuffed on the ground and covered in blood.
U.S. Attorney's Office via AP

Two former Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies were sentenced Monday for beating a jail visitor who fellow guards testified was handcuffed on the ground and covered in blood.

Sussie Ayala was sentenced to six years in federal prison, while Fernando Luviano was sentenced to seven years, the Associated Press reported.

Ayala was found guilty in June of conspiracy to violate constitutional rights, deprivation of rights and falsification of records in the 2011 beating of Gabriel Carrillo in a backroom of Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles. Former Deputy Fernando Luviano was found guilty of deprivation of rights and falsification of records in the same incident.

Eric Gonzalez, a former sheriff's sergeant, was sentenced in November to eight years in federal prison for his role in the case. Other deputies involved in the incident pleaded guilty and testified against their former co-workers.

The convictions in Carrillo's beating came as part of a federal investigation into civil rights abuses and corruption in the nation's largest county jail system.

Nearly two dozen members of the department, including the former second-in-command, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, have been charged with crimes ranging from excessive force to obstruction of justice.

In the Carrillo beating, prosecutors told jurors the deputies unnecessarily beat the man and tried to cover it up under their sergeant's direction.

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

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, 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 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 he knew he would have to lie and say that Carrillo wasn't handcuffed.

Womack also blamed 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."

Los Angeles County paid Carrillo $1.2 million to drop a civil rights lawsuit stemming from the beating.

This story has been updated.