Deputies Testify Against Former Colleagues in Jail Abuse Trial

Originally published on June 21, 2015, at NationofChange.org

Two former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputies testified against their fellow deputies this week after brutally assaulting an inmate’s brother and covering up their excessive use of force. The victim and his girlfriend also testified in court presenting evidence that the deputies had lied about removing one of his handcuffs before beating the victim unconscious in a break room at Men’s Central Jail (MCJ) in Downtown Los Angeles. According to the deputies’ testimonies, their sergeant ordered them to lie and concoct a false narrative accusing the victim of resisting arrest.

On February 26, 2011, Gabriel Carrillo attempted to visit his brother, who was an inmate at MCJ, when deputies discovered that Carrillo’s then-girlfriend, Griselda Torres, had brought a cellphone into the facility. When questioned by deputies, Torres admitted that both she and Carrillo had their cellphones on them. After confirming that he did have a phone, Carrillo asked Deputy Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, “What are you going to do, arrest me?”

According to Zunggeemoge’s testimony, the deputy cuffed Carrillo’s hands behind his back and escorted him to a nearby break room, while Deputy Sussie Ayala placed Torres in handcuffs and followed them. Zunggeemoge slammed Carrillo into a refrigerator before patting him down and lifting his cuffed arms in order to inflict more pain. As Carrillo continued to mouth off to the deputies, Ayala called for backup on her radio.

When deputies Fernando Luviano, Noel Womack, and Sgt. Eric Gonzalez arrived, Zunggeemoge left the room to run Carrillo’s name through a criminal database. Zunggeemoge returned to find Luviano roughing up Carrillo. Instead of de-escalating the violence, Zunggeemoge rushed into the room and helped Luviano smash Carrillo’s face against the ground.

After losing consciousness, Carrillo woke up to find Luviano and Zunggeemoge repeatedly punching and kicking him in the face, back, and legs as the other deputies watched. Carrillo developed trouble breathing after Luviano pepper-sprayed him in the face. Instead of administering medical treatment, Zunggeemoge punched Carrillo twice in the face.

According to Carrillo’s testimony, he struggled to tell the deputies, “I can’t breathe.”

Unable to see due to the pepper spray in his eyes, Carrillo heard one of the deputies respond, “Shut the fuck up. If you can talk, you can breathe.”

After the incident, Sgt. Gonzalez allegedly gathered the deputies together to fabricate a false report in order to justify the beating. Although both of Carrillo’s hands had been cuffed behind his back, Gonzalez devised a story about removing one of his cuffs in order to fingerprint him. In their incident reports, Gonzalez and his deputies concurred that Carrillo had attempted to take a swing at them with his free hand when the deputies had to use force to restrain him.

But according testimony from deputies Zunggeemoge and Womack, Carrillo’s hands were cuffed behind his back throughout the entire incident. Photographs taken by Torres, who is now married to Carrillo, revealed deep bruises around both of his wrists after the beating. Carrillo was charged with assaulting the deputies, but the district attorney later dropped the charges against him. The county ended up paying Carrillo $1.2 million to settle a civil lawsuit against the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department.

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. Included in those indictments were criminal charges against former deputies Sussie Ayala, Fernando Luviano, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, Noel Womack, and Sgt. Eric Gonzalez. The deputies were charged with civil rights violations and covering up their use of unjustified force.

Earlier this year, Zunggeemoge pleaded guilty to misdemeanor counts of conspiracy and deprivation of rights after finally admitting that Carrillo had been handcuffed during the entire beating. He faces up to two years in prison.

Last month, Womack confessed to going along with the fabricated story for four years and lying to FBI agents investigating the incident. Womack pleaded guilty to a felony charge of lying to federal officials and faces up to five years in prison. According to their plea agreements, both Womack and Zunggeemoge are barred from returning to law enforcement.

Along with Womack and Zunggeemoge, deputies Ayala and Luviano were relieved of duty without pay in January 2014. Gonzalez left the department in May 2013. Along with using unreasonable force, Gonzalez and Ayala also face charges of conspiring to violate Carrillo’s civil rights.

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