LOS ANGELES (CNS) — Three Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were convicted on Wednesday, June 24, of beating a handcuffed visitor at a county lockup and fabricating stories to cover it up.
A U.S. District Court jury in downtown Los Angeles deliberated for about four hours before convicting ex-Sgt. Eric Gonzalez and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano of assaulting jail visitor Gabriel Carrillo on Feb. 26, 2011.
Carrillo was attacked after guards found him carrying a cellphone in the waiting area, a violation of jail regulations. The three then conspired to lie about the assault.
A later hearing was to be held to determine whether the trio should be taken into custody pending their Nov. 2 sentencing.
Jury foreman Tony Tran, 35, of Diamond Bar said outside court that although the seven-woman, five-man panel quickly agreed on the decision, they sifted through the evidence once more before returning their guilty verdicts.
Tran said the most important evidence were photographs of both of Carrillo’s wrists, showing bruising and blistering consistent with being handcuffed.
Defense attorneys had argued that only one of the victim’s wrists were cuffed, and he had used the other cuff as a weapon against deputies, resulting in a legitimate use of force.
“That’s what the case was basically about — whether he was fully handcuffed,” Tran said. “The defense arguments were mostly irrelevant to me.”
As the verdicts were read, Luviano looked downward, but otherwise the defendants showed no reaction.
During the weeklong trial, two ex-jail deputies testified for the prosecution against their former partners, saying the beat-down inflicted on Carrillo was excessive, illegal and entirely unnecessary.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Elizabeth Rhodes said in her closing statement on Tuesday, June 23, that Carrillo had been “handcuffed, beaten, covered-up, texted about — and then the code of silence was broken in this courtroom.”
Defense attorneys attempted to persuade the jury that the case was really centered on a surly, violent man who intentionally tried to sneak a cellphone into a prohibited area of the jail, then attacked and spat upon guards when they began booking him for the misdemeanor offense.
Ayala’s lawyer, Patrick Smith, argued the defendants were “authorized” to use force against Carrillo that day, and told the truth in nearly identical supplemental reports.
The violence used against Carrillo “was legitimate and it wasn’t excessive,” Smith said, telling jurors that each prosecution witness that said the opposite had “lied” to jurors.
Maintaining that the deputies were only defending themselves against Carrillo, who was supposedly wielding a jagged, loose handcuff as a weapon, Smith said the alleged victim “overpowered” Luviano, resulting in the take-down.
Luviano and Ayala then penned “truthful reports” — approved by Gonzalez — about the “ugly” actions they were forced to take, Smith said.
Prosecutors said that during the 45-second assault in a private break room, Luviano and others threw Carrillo — while handcuffed with both hands behind his back — to the ground and then punched and pepper-sprayed him.
Afterward, Gonzalez, Luviano and Ayala “huddled” to figure out a way to justify the use of force in order to complete a “probable cause declaration,” a document used to explain an official use of violence, Rhodes said.
Carrillo — who was paid $1.2 million by the county last year to settle a related civil rights lawsuit — took the stand last week and testified that he had come to the lockup with his now-wife to visit his inmate brother.
He said he brought the cellphone into the visiting area lobby — despite recorded announcements and signs warning of the offense — because he didn’t have 25 cents to rent a locker for the phone.
“This is a case about conspiracy, deprivation of rights and falsification of records — it is not about a cell phone,” Rhodes said. “This is about what happened to (Carrillo) when taken into that small, windowless break room.”
Gonzalez, Ayala and Luviano face the possibility of multiple years in federal prison.
Although prosecutors were expected to argue that the defendants should be placed in custody pending sentencing, U.S. District Judge George King indicated he was not likely to grant such a request.
“The three defendants are not likely to be fleeing or (do they) pose a risk to the community,” King said, adding that the crimes occurred under “special circumstances” not likely to be repeated.