LOS ANGELES (CNS) – Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were sentenced today to federal prison terms for their roles in the beating of a handcuffed man in a jail visitor center and the falsification of official reports used to cover up the assault, events a judge dubbed “a practiced course of conduct” within the walls.
Fernando Luviano was sentenced to seven years behind bars, while Sussie Ayala was handed a six-year sentence following June convictions for criminal civil rights offenses stemming from the assault on Gabriel Carrillo on Feb. 26, 2011, at the Men’s Central Jail.
U.S. District Judge George King rejected attempts by defense attorneys to have their clients remain free for the holidays, and ordered both defendants taken immediately into custody.
King said 30-year-old Ayala was the prime “instigator” of the Carrillo assault since she used her radio to call for Luviano and other deputies to a private break room where the victim was severely beaten. Carrillo was restrained with both hands behind his back.
Ayala, Luviano, their supervisor and others “colluded, conspired and agreed” in reports to falsely blame Carrillo for attacking them, the judge said. Carrillo was then charged by the district attorney’s office as a result of the phony reports and Luviano and others perjured themselves on the witness stand in the victim’s preliminary hearing. Later, when the truth came out, Carrillo’s charges were dismissed.
Although no evidence showed Ayala helped in the beating, “she is by no means a minor participant” in the attack, King said.
In pre-sentencing papers, defense attorney Patrick Smith argued for no more than an 18-month probationary sentence for Ayala, urging the court not to lump his client “in with a group of testosterone-filled deputies,” some of whom have “extensive use-of-force histories.”
Ayala declined to speak to the court.
Luviano, 37, seen as the most violent of Carrillo’s attackers, tearfully apologized to the victim — who did not attend today’s sentencing hearing in the downtown Los Angeles courthouse.
The ex-deputy said he was sorry “for the injuries he suffered,” telling the judge that the attack was not intentional.
However, King found that Luviano has a history of previous violent behavior towards jail inmates and showed “total disrespect for the law” by lying at Carrillo’s preliminary hearing.
Luviano’s behavior “showed an attitude of being above the law,” the judge said, adding that the former deputy “has been hovering around the edge of criminal behavior” since his 20s.
In court papers, Luviano defense counsel Bernard Rosen unsuccessfully argued for an 18-month sentence split evenly between federal prison and community placement or home detention.
Rosen said he will appeal on behalf of his client. Carrillo was attacked after he mouthed off to guards who found him carrying a cellphone in the waiting area, which is a violation of jail regulations. Jail guards Ayala, Luviano, now-imprisoned sheriff’s Sgt. Eric Gonzalez and others then conspired to lie about the assault on internal use-of- force reports.
The assault and follow-up seemed like a “practiced … orchestrated use- of-force” that occurred with some regularity in the visitor center, King said today.
The deputies “readily participated” in creating false reports, suggesting “this was hardly a one-time incident,” but “a practiced course of conduct,” the judge said.
During a weeklong trial, two other ex-jail deputies — Neal Womack and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge — testified for the prosecution against their former partners, saying the beat-down inflicted on Carrillo was excessive, illegal and entirely unnecessary. Both men pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
Prosecutors said that during the 45-second assault in a private break room, Luviano and others threw Carrillo — both hands handcuffed behind his back — to the ground and then punched and pepper-sprayed him.
Afterward, Luviano, Ayala and their supervisor “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, federal prosecutors said.
Prosecutors had filed papers in support of a five-year prison sentence for Ayala — the judge gave her that plus an additional year — and between seven and nine years behind bars for Luviano.
Ayala, who was 25 years old at the time of the assault, was an “impressionable … low-level, relatively inexperienced deputy,” according to her attorney.
As for Luviano, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes argued in court papers that the defendant deserved a harsh sentence for his part in the Carrillo attack.
Luviano, Rhodes wrote, has a history of violence and was “frequently involved in significant force” incidents while working on the jail’s “3000 floor,” a place reserved for the most dangerous inmates and known for frequent clashes between deputies and prisoners.
The third defendant convicted at trial alongside Luviano and Ayala, Gonzalez, was sentenced Nov. 2 to eight years in federal prison for encouraging deputies to beat Carrillo and falsify reports.
Gonzalez was also taken into custody immediately after he was sentenced by King, who told the defendant he had “abused his authority and corrupted the very system he was sworn to uphold.”
Carrillo at one point faced trial and a potential 14-year jail sentence on fabricated charges stemming from the phony reports. He was paid $1.2 million by the county last year to settle a civil rights lawsuit.
Byron Dredd, the sixth former deputy in the Carrillo case, was indicted last month on federal charges for his alleged involvement in falsifying internal reports.