Trial of 3 deputies be­gins in jail beat­ing

A pros­e­cu­tor fo­cuses on the is­sue of whether the vic­tim was fully hand­cuffed.

Los Angeles Times - - LOS ANGELES - By Joel Ru­bin joel.ru­bin@latimes.com

The crim­i­nal trial of three Los An­ge­les County sher­iff ’s deputies ac­cused of beat­ing a man and ly­ing to cover up their ac­tions be­gan Tues­day in fed­eral court with pros­e­cu­tors and de­fense at­tor­neys of­fer­ing starkly dif­fer­ent ac­counts of what oc­curred.

Af­ter a morn­ing of last­minute pro­ce­dural wran­gling and jury se­lec­tion, As­sis­tant U.S. Atty. Lizabeth Rhodes made her open­ing state­ment, telling jurors the case “is about a beat-down in a closed room and de­fen­dants who thought if they all tell the same lie, they could get away with it.”

The claims were the first volley in a le­gal bat­tle that comes four years af­ter a Fe­bru­ary 2011 in­ci­dent at the Men’s Cen­tral Jail. Pros­e­cu­tors al­lege that deputies hand­cuffed and beat Gabriel Car­rillo, who had come to visit his brother, af­ter Car­rillo was found car­ry­ing a cell­phone in vi­o­la­tion of jail rules.

On trial are Deputies Sussie Ayala and Fer­nando Lu­viano and Sgt. Eric Gon­za­lez, a su­per­vi­sor at the jail visi­tor cen­ter. All three are ac­cused of us­ing un­rea­son­able force on Car­rillo and fal­si­fy­ing records to ob­struct jus­tice. Ayala and Gon­za­lez also face charges of con­spir­ing to vi­o­late Car­rillo’s civil rights.

All have pleaded not guilty.

From the out­set, it was clear that the case will hinge largely on Rhodes’ abil­ity to con­vince jurors that Car­rillo was hand­cuffed at the time of the beat­ing. She re­ferred to the hand­cuff­ing re­peat­edly in her open­ing state­ment, say­ing that the deputies con­cocted “a phony story” af­ter the beat­ing that Car­rillo at­tacked them when one of his hands was freed for fin­ger­print­ing.

Rhodes also ze­roed in on a text mes­sage Gon­za­lez sent to another deputy that in­cluded a photo of Car­rillo’s blood­ied and bruised face. In the mes­sage, Rhodes said, Gon­za­lez joked and bragged about the beat­ing.

At­tor­neys for the three de­fen­dants in­sisted in their open­ing state­ments that only one of Car­rillo’s hands was cuffed and that he had swung the loose re­straints like a weapon. They added that the deputies were rightly con­cerned that Car­rillo’s at­tempt to carry a cell­phone into the fa­cil­ity was pos­si­bly a part of larger plot to as­sist in­mates and were jus­ti­fied to sub­due him as they did. Their re­ports and state­ments on the in­ci­dent af­ter­ward were ac­cu­rate, the at­tor­neys said.

“They will not be able to prove that Mr. Car­rillo was hand­cuffed in the man­ner they say he was,” Ayala’s at­tor­ney, Pa­trick Smith, told jurors. “You are go­ing to see noth­ing but lies from ev­ery sin­gle wit­ness the pros­e­cu­tion puts on the stand who were at the scene.”

Rhodes wasted no time call­ing one of those wit­nesses, Pan­tamitr Zunggeemoge, a deputy who was in­volved in Car­illo’s ar­rest. When the case re­sumes Wed­nes­day morn­ing, Rhodes is ex­pected to lead him through the in­ci­dent and, pre­sum­ably, have him say Car­rillo was hand­cuffed.

A fed­eral grand jury ini­tially in­dicted Zunggeemoge and another deputy, Noel Wo­mack. But both men pleaded guilty to lesser charges as part of deals they struck with pros­e­cu­tors, which in­cluded an agree­ment to tes­tify.

In the state­ment he gave pros­e­cu­tors as part of his plea deal, Wo­mack ac­knowl­edged Car­rillo was hand­cuffed dur­ing the beat­ing. He also said he copied another deputy’s re­port of the in­ci­dent to make sure his ac­count was in line with the oth­ers, court records show. He added that he watched as Gon­za­lez laid out all the deputies’ re­ports on a ta­ble to com­pare them and “en­sure their con­sis­tency.”

De­fense at­tor­neys have in­di­cated that they will at­tack the cred­i­bil­ity of the two men, that they are now ly­ing about what hap­pened in an at­tempt to avoid lengthy prison sen­tences.

The two sides do not dis­pute what oc­curred be­fore the beat­ing: Car­rillo and his girl­friend were dis­cov­ered try­ing to bring con­cealed cell­phones into the visi­tor cen­ter. They were taken into a side room deputies used dur­ing rest breaks, where an an­gry Car­rillo mouthed off re­peat­edly.

Car­rillo faced crim­i­nal charges for as­sault­ing law en­force­ment of­fi­cers based on the deputies’ ac­count of what hap­pened. Car­rillo’s at­tor­ney, how­ever, found ev­i­dence that he said showed Car­rillo had suf­fered in­juries on both wrists con­sis­tent with be­ing hand­cuffed dur­ing the strug­gle.

The dis­trict at­tor­ney dropped the charges, and the county later paid Car­rillo $1.2 mil­lion to set­tle a civil law­suit.

Ayala and Lu­viano have been re­lieved of duty pend­ing the out­come of the trial. Gon­za­lez left the depart­ment in 2013.

Don Bartletti Los An­ge­les Times

GABRIEL CAR­RILLO and Grace Martinez show a photo she took a few days af­ter Car­rillo was beaten.

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