Originally published on June 2, 2015, at NationofChange.org
Two Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies have agreed to plead guilty to criminal charges regarding a brutal assault against an inmate’s brother visiting the Men’s Central Jail (MCJ). After the first deputy pled guilty earlier this year, a second deputy agreed to plead guilty last week to lying to FBI agents during an interview concerning the use force employed against a handcuffed visitor who was not resisting. Both deputies have also agreed to testify against their former colleagues if the prosecution calls on them at trial.
On February 26, 2011, Gabriel Carrillo attempted to visit his brother in MCJ when deputies discovered that Carrillo’s girlfriend, Griselda Torres, had brought a cellphone into the facility. When questioned by deputies, Torres admitted that both she and Carrillo had their cellphones with them. After confirming that he did have a phone, Carrillo asked Deputy Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, “What are you going to do, arrest me?”
According to the initial report, Carrillo was placed in handcuffs and escorted to a nearby break room. After deputies removed the handcuff from Carrillo’s right wrist to fingerprint him, he attacked the deputies and attempted to escape. The deputies claimed that Carrillo was intentionally spitting blood at them as they shot him in the face with pepper spray. They admitted to punching Carrillo several times to subdue him before placing Carrillo in restraints again.
But according to the recent plea agreements, Carrillo did not assault the deputies and was unable to resist arrest because his hands were cuffed while they were beating and pepper-spraying him on the floor. Carrillo filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, and the district attorney later dropped the charges against him. The county paid Carrillo $1.2 million to settle the civil suit.
On December 9, 2013, the Justice Department unsealed five criminal cases against 18 Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies charged with illegally beating inmates and obstructing justice. One of the indictments charged a sergeant and four deputies with arresting or beating at least five MCJ visitors, including the Austrian consul general, between 2010 and 2011. Deputies Sussie Ayala, Fernando Luviano, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, Noel Womack, and Sgt. Eric Gonzalez were charged with civil rights violations and covering up their use of unjustified force.
In one incident, the deputies left a man permanently disabled after breaking his arm and dislocating his shoulder. In another incident, the Austrian consul general and her husband were handcuffed and detained while visiting an MCJ inmate who was an Austrian national even though they had committed no crime and would have been immune to prosecution.
According to the indictment, the deputies’ supervisor, Sgt. Gonzalez, encouraged violence and reprimanded deputies for not using aggressive force against visitors who had “supposedly ‘disrespected’ these deputy sheriffs through the visitors’ words or conduct.”
Earlier this year, Deputy Zunggeemoge entered a guilty plea and admitted that Carrillo had been handcuffed during the entire beating. According to Zunggeemoge’s statement, his fellow deputies fabricated the story of Carrillo attacking them in order to justify their use of force. Although Zunggeemoge’s agreement remains sealed, he has agreed to testify against his former colleagues.
Last week, Deputy Womack agreed to plead guilty to lying to the FBI during the course of their investigation into the assault against Carrillo. While being interviewed last month, Womack told FBI agents that he didn’t know if Carrillo was handcuffed and asserted that physical force against Carrillo had been necessary. But after four years of lying, Womack finally admitted that Carrillo had been cuffed during the entire incident and had not been resisting while deputies beat and pepper-sprayed him. Womack has also agreed to testify against his former coworkers.
With their trial scheduled to begin on June 16, so far two of the five deputies have already pled guilty to criminal charges. In addition to the beating, Sgt. Gonzalez has also been accused of covering up the incident by comparing each of the deputies’ false reports and ensuring consistency with their lies.