LOS ANGELES – Two Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies who were found guilty after a two-week trial earlier this year of falsifying reports with the intent to obstruct justice related to their assault of a waist-chained inmate were sentenced to prison terms today.
Former deputies Joey Aguiar, 28, and Mariano Ramirez, 40 were sentenced respectively to 18 months and 13 months in prison by the Honorable Beverly Reid-O’Connell. When imposing sentence Judge O‘Connell found that, in addition to falsifying their reports, Aguiar and Ramirez had engaged in excessive force against the shackled inmate, who was struck, kicked, repeatedly hit by a flashlight, and pepper-sprayed, while he was on the ground.
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. During the sentencing, Judge O’Connell stated that she believed the testimony of Chaplain Juarez and Mr. Maestaz.
“These defendants attempted to cover up an unwarranted attack upon an inmate who was restrained with waist chains,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “The reprehensible conduct of these defendants in this case undermines the work of law enforcement everywhere, tarnishing the outstanding performance of the vast majority of officers.”
The jury in the case had been 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.
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, 18 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges.