Two L.A. County Sheriff’s Deputies Involved in Use-of-Force Incident Against Shackled Inmate Found Guilty of Obstruction of Justice
LOS ANGELES – Two Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies who were assigned to the 3000 Floor of the Men’s Central Jail were found guilty this afternoon of falsifying reports with the intent to obstruct justice. The false reports were filed after an incident in which a shackled inmate was struck, kicked, repeatedly hit by a flashlight, and pepper-sprayed by the defendants.
Concluding a two-week trial, a federal jury convicted former deputies Joey Aguiar, 28, and Mariano Ramirez, 40. Both men were found guilty of one count of falsifying records with the intent to obstruct justice, a charge that carries a statutory maximum penalty of 20 years in federal prison.
The jury in the case was unable to reach a unanimous decision on a civil rights offense that alleges the deputies unlawfully beat the victim during the incident on February 11, 2009. The jury reported in open court that it was split 10-2 in favor of guilt.
The jury acquitted Aguiar and Ramirez of conspiring to violate the inmate’s civil rights.
United States District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell scheduled a sentencing date for April 25. Federal prosecutors have yet to decide if they will retry Aguiar and Ramirez on the unresolved civil rights charge.
Aguiar was convicted of one count of falsification of records for submitting a report that falsely stated the inmate, Bret Phillips, who is now 44, was beaten after he had attempted to headbutt deputy Aguiar’s face and that Phillips violently kicked at Aguiar. Mr. Phillips did neither, according to testimony presented at the trial.
It was undisputed that Mr. Phillips was waist-chained with handcuffs binding his hands to a chain around his stomach throughout the entire beating.
During the trial, Chaplin Paulino Juarez, who was an eyewitness to the event, testified that he repeatedly raised concerns about what he had seen with senior LASD officials, but was rebuffed. Chaplin Juarez ultimately relayed his concerns to the ACLU. The information provided to the ACLU by the chaplain later came to the attention of the FBI. By this time the FBI had begun a wide-ranging investigation into civil rights abuses by the LASD in custodial settings, particularly excessive uses of force by deputies on the 3000 Floor of the Men’s Central Jail. Another witness, who was an inmate when Mr. Phillips was beaten, testified that he hid in the shower to avoid being seen by LASD personnel as he watched the deputies beat a defenseless and unmoving inmate.
Ramirez was found guilty of one count of falsification of records for submitting a report that falsely stated the victim had “viciously kicked his legs at deputies.”
During the incident – which allegedly involved an excessive and unreasonable use of force, according to the still-pending charge in the case – Aguiar and Ramirez punched and kicked the victim before using pepper spray on him and then hitting him repeatedly with a flashlight, according to the testimony at trial.
Soon after the incident, the deputies wrote the false reports, which formed the basis of a referral to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for potential criminal prosecution of Mr. Phillips.
“These defendants failed to report accurately the circumstances surrounding the beating of an inmate who was restrained with waist chains in an attempt to obstruct a subsequent investigation,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “This failure to tell the truth and attempt to thwart oversight tarnishes the outstanding work of law enforcement officers everywhere.”
The case against Aguiar and Ramirez is the result of an investigation by the FBI, and is one in a series of cases resulting from an investigation into corruption and civil rights abuses at county jail facilities in downtown Los Angeles. As a result of the investigation, 17 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges.