For­mer deputy tells of jail beat­ing

‘You don’t go against your part­ners,’ he says of al­leged plot to con­ceal as­sault.

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - By Joel Ru­bin

Pan­tamitr Zunggeemoge said he stuck to the script.

Af­ter he and other Los An­ge­les County sher­iff ’s deputies beat a hand­cuffed man in a jail visi­tors’ cen­ter, he said, they hud­dled with their sergeant, who came up with a plan. Each of them would claim the man had at­tacked when one of his hands was un­cuffed for fin­ger­print­ing.

On Wed­nes­day, Zunggeemoge told a down­town fed­eral jury that he and the other deputies had used ex­ces­sive force on the jail visi­tor and then fab­ri­cated re­ports and tes­ti­mony to jus­tify the beat­ing.

From the out­set, it was un­der­stood among the deputies that they would keep to the same story, he told jurors.

“We were all part­ners,” the for­mer deputy said in the crim­i­nal trial of three of his for­mer Sher­iff ’s Depart­ment col­leagues. “There’s a bond. And you don’t go against your part­ners.”

Zunggeemoge’s tes­ti­mony marked the first public ac­count­ing by a deputy of the use of ex­ces­sive force since fed­eral of­fi­cials opened a wide-rang­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tion into abuse and cor­rup­tion in­side the county’s jail sys­tem more than four years ago. He tes­ti­fied for six hours Wed­nes­day, en­dur­ing an on­slaught of ques­tions from de­fense at­tor­neys who tried to raise doubts about his cred­i­bil­ity

and poke holes in his de­tailed ac­count.

The case cen­ters on the Fe­bru­ary 2011 beat­ing of Gabriel Car­rillo, who had come to the Men’s Cen­tral Jail with his girl­friend, Grace Tor­res, to visit his brother, an in­mate.

Both sides agree about the events that led up to the vi­o­lent en­counter: Af­ter Tor­res and Car­rillo were dis­cov­ered in the visi­tors’ wait­ing area car­ry­ing cell­phones in vi­o­la­tion of jail rules, deputies hand­cuffed them and brought them into a sep­a­rate room. An an­gry Car­rillo mouthed off re­peat­edly to the deputies.

Deputies Sussie Ayala and Fer­nando Lu­viano and for­mer Sgt. Eric Gon­za­lez, a su­per­vi­sor at the jail visi­tors’ cen­ter, face charges of ex­ces­sive force and fal­si­fy­ing records. They have pleaded not guilty, in­sist­ing that Car­rillo was un­cuffed, fought with deputies and that the force used on him was nec­es­sary to sub­due him. Ayala and Gon­za­lez are also ac­cused of con­spir­ing to vi­o­late Car­rillo’s civil rights.

In the months lead­ing up to trial, pros­e­cu­tors man­aged to turn Zunggeemoge and another deputy, Noel Wo­mack, who also faced charges in the Car­rillo case.

Zunggeemoge ac­knowl­edged in court that as part of his deal with pros­e­cu­tors, he pleaded guilty to mis­de­meanor counts of con­spir­acy and de­pri­va­tion of Car­rillo’s rights and has been banned from work­ing in law en­force­ment. He could be sen­tenced to up to two years in prison.

Wo­mack, who ear­lier this month pleaded guilty to a felony of ly­ing to fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tors, is ex­pected to tes­tify later this week.

Un­der ques­tion­ing from As­sis­tant U.S. Atty. Lizabeth Rhodes, Zunggeemoge de­scribed the en­counter with Car­rillo, say­ing re­peat­edly that the man had been hand­cuffed through­out.

Zunggeemoge re­called con­fronting Car­rillo in the jail’s vis­it­ing cen­ter over car­ry­ing a cell­phone. He said he cuffed both of Car­rillo’s hands be­hind his back and brought him to a side room that deputies use as a break room. Zunggeemoge shoved the visi­tor up against a re­frig­er­a­tor and started pat­ting him down, he tes­ti­fied.

An­noyed that Car­rillo ques­tioned him about why he had been de­tained, Zunggeemoge said he lifted the visi­tor’s hand­cuffed hands up­ward be­hind his back dur­ing the pat down “so he could feel some pain.”

Af­ter re­triev­ing the cell­phone, Zunggeemoge said, he left the room to run Car­rillo’s name through a crim­i­nal data­base and when he re­turned, he found Lu­viano try­ing to re­strain Car­rillo as Ayala and Gon­za­lez watched.

Zunggeemoge tes­ti­fied that he was un­cer­tain of what was hap­pen­ing and rushed to help Lu­viano. To­gether, the deputies took Car­rillo to the ground, his face slam­ming into the floor, Zunggeemoge said. Once on the ground, Zunggeemoge said, he re­al­ized Car­rillo was still hand­cuffed. The beat­ing con­tin­ued nonethe­less, he said, as Lu­viano re­peat­edly struck Car­rillo’s face and Zunggeemoge punched Car­rillo’s legs, lower back and ribs.

Rhodes asked whether there was “any le­git­i­mate law en­force­ment pur­pose” for the blows. Zunggeemoge replied that there was not.

“And did the force ex­ceed what was nec­es­sary at the time?” Rhodes asked.

“Yes, ma’am,” the for­mer deputy said.

Lu­viano used pep­per spray on Car­rillo’s face, prompt­ing him to be­come teary and start moan­ing, Zunggeemoge tes­ti­fied. Mu­cus ran down Car­rillo’s nose and face and he had trou­ble breath­ing, Zunggeemoge said. When Car­rillo turned his face in Zunggeemoge’s di­rec­tion to shield it from the spray, Zunggeemoge punched Car­rillo twice in the face.

Af­ter the in­ci­dent, Zunggeemoge, Gon­za­lez, Lu­viano and Ayala gath­ered to dis­cuss the ac­count they would con­coct to jus­tify the force, Zunggeemoge said. Gon­za­lez, he said, was the driv­ing force be­hind the strat­egy and stood next to him as Zunggeemoge wrote his re­port at a com­puter ter­mi­nal.

“He was ba­si­cally telling me what to write,” Zunggeemoge said.

Gon­za­lez, sit­ting at the de­fense ta­ble, shook his head as he lis­tened to the tes­ti­mony.

Along with the re­port, Zunggeemoge said, he lied dur­ing a pre­lim­i­nary hear­ing af­ter Car­rillo was charged with as­sault.

“I didn’t want to be the one who told the truth about what re­ally hap­pened,” Zunggeemoge said when asked why he had lied. “Ev­ery­one was go­ing to go with the story we made up.”

He said he also lied dur­ing the sher­iff ’s in­ter­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion be­cause he knew he could lose his job and face pros­e­cu­tion if he told the truth.

At­tor­neys for the three de­fen­dants took turns ques­tion­ing Zunggeemoge, try­ing to ex­pose in­con­sis­ten­cies be­tween his tes­ti­mony and ear­lier state­ments he made to pros­e­cu­tors.

Zunggeemoge gen­er­ally ap­peared to be un­trou­bled un­til Pa­trick Smith, Ayala’s at­tor­ney, flum­moxed him some­what when he got Zunggeemoge to ad­mit that he be­lieved he was jus­ti­fied in punch­ing Car­rillo in the face be­cause he feared the man would spit blood and saliva onto him if he hadn’t. Smith pressed on, ask­ing Zunggeemoge if he was “just telling the pros­e­cu­tion what they want to hear?”

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

‘I didn’t want to be the one who told the truth about what re­ally hap­pened. Ev­ery­one was go­ing to go with the story we made up.’

— Pan­tamitr Zunggeemoge

on plan to con­ceal beat­ing

Allen J. Schaben Los An­ge­les Times

GABRIEL CAR­RILLO, cen­ter, and in the photo at right show­ing in­juries from beat­ing, as at­tor­ney Ron­ald Kaye dis­cusses a 2014 civil set­tle­ment.

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