Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were sentenced to federal prison Monday for their roles in the beating of a handcuffed jail visitor and a scheme to cover up the assault.
In successive hearings held in his downtown courtroom, U.S. District Judge George H. King rejected last-ditch requests for leniency from lawyers for Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano. The judge gave Ayala a six-year sentence, and Luviano received seven years.
Ayala, 30, and Luviano, 37, were convicted in June alongside their supervisor at the county’s main jail facility. A jury found that the three had violated the civil rights of Gabriel Carrillo, who was left badly bloodied in the 2011 beating and was then arrested on trumped-up charges.
The supervisor, former Sgt. Eric Gonzalez, was sentenced last month to eight years in prison.
Though Ayala declined the chance to address King before she was sentenced, Luviano offered a brief apology to Carrillo “for the injuries he suffered.”
“It was not our intention,” he said, his voice wavering.
Afterward, Assistant U.S. Atty. Lizabeth Rhodes, one of the prosecutors in the case, questioned Luviano’s sincerity.
“I find it hard to fathom how one punches someone multiple times, pepper sprays them while they are bloody, and then files false reports about them in order to subject them to criminal prosecution with no intent,” she said.
Though attorneys for the two deputies and Gonzalez said they planned to appeal the convictions, the sentences Monday brought closure to the nearly five-year saga of Carrillo’s beating.
The case is the first of a handful in which deputies face brutality charges stemming from a wide-ranging FBI investigation into the county jails.
The FBI’s inquiry set off a scandal that tarnished the career of longtime Sheriff Lee Baca, who stepped down last year, and led to the indictment of his former top aide on obstruction-of-justice charges. The investigation has so far resulted in the conviction of more than a dozen former sheriff’s officials on charges of obstruction and other crimes.
Ayala and Luviano were on duty at the visitors center of Men’s Central Jail in February 2011 when Carrillo showed up to visit his brother, then an inmate.
When Carrillo and his then-girlfriend were found carrying cellphones in the lobby of the jail visiting center — a violation of state law — they were handcuffed and taken into a private room.
After Carrillo mouthed off to Ayala, she summoned Luviano, who threw Carrillo to the floor. Other deputies joined in, unloading a barrage of kicks and punches. As Carrillo was held down and still handcuffed, Luviano pepper-sprayed him in the face.
Carrillo suffered a broken nose, bruises over his body and cuts on his face. Prosecutors argued during the trial that Ayala, Luviano and other deputies — under Gonzalez’s guidance — concocted a story that Carrillo had attacked the deputies and tried to escape when one of his hands was uncuffed for fingerprinting.
Based on that account, Carrillo was charged in state court with assaulting the deputies. The charges were dropped shortly before his trial was to have begun. The county later paid him $1.2 million to settle a civil lawsuit, and recently a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge formally cleared Carrillo of any wrongdoing in the case, erasing the arrest from his record.
The federal civil rights charges against the deputies and Gonzalez relied heavily on the testimony of two other former deputies involved in the incident. The pair struck deals with federal prosecutors that required them to plead guilty to lesser charges and to testify at trial.
Both men told jurors that Carrillo had been handcuffed throughout the violent encounter, and they detailed how the group of deputies falsified their reports to justify the violence by framing Carrillo.
“We were all partners,” Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, one of the former deputies, testified. “There’s a bond. And you don’t go against your partners.”
The testimony was a coup for prosecutors, who argued that an unspoken “code of silence” forbids law enforcement officers from outing other officers for misconduct.
Jurors said they concluded Carrillo had been handcuffed during the beating after viewing photographs taken the day after the encounter showing dark red abrasions and swelling on both wrists.
Zunggeemoge and the other deputy who pleaded guilty, Noel Womack, are scheduled to be sentenced early next year.
In court filings and at Monday’s sentencing hearing, Ayala’s attorney tried unsuccessfully to persuade King that his client should be given home detention instead of prison in large part because she did not participate in the beating.
King saw things differently, saying that although she did not deliver any blows, Ayala was “the instigator” of the chain of events that led to the beating and, therefore, shared responsibility.
The judge found that the ease and speed with which the deputies and Gonzalez arranged the coverup were strong indications Carrillo was not the first person they had abused and then framed.
The long sentences, King said, were necessary in part to send a clear message to other law enforcement officers that “they are not above the law. If they abuse their authority … there will be serious consequences.”
King turned down requests from Ayala and Luviano to remain free until after the holidays.
Ayala showed no emotion as she was led out of the courtroom by federal marshals. An hour later, when it was his turn, Luviano cried softly as he emptied his pockets.
Don Bartletti, “L.A. County sheriff’s deputies sentenced to prison for beating of jail visitor”, November 30, 2015, Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-sheriff-deputies-abuse-jail-visitor-20151130-story.html?utm_source=hootsuite