Three Deputy Sheriffs Found Guilty of Federal Civil Rights Offense in Beating of Visitor at Downtown Los Angeles Jail
LOS ANGELES—A federal jury this afternoon returned guilty verdicts against three deputies with the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department who violated the civil rights of a visitor to the Men’s Central Jail by beating him while he was restrained with handcuffs.
Concluding a one-week trial, the jury determined that Deputies Fernando Luviano and Sussie Ayala, as well as former Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, violated the civil rights of the victim in 2011 when they beat the man and caused bodily injury. The jury also determined that all three defendants falsified records when they prepared reports about the incident.
Ayala and Gonzalez were additionally convicted of conspiring to violate the victim’s civil rights by using unreasonable force.
Two other defendants who were named in a federal grand jury indictment in late 2013—Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—previously pleaded guilty and are pending sentencing.
The evidence presented at trial showed that the victim and his girlfriend went to the jail to visit the woman’s incarcerated brother on February 26, 2011. Both visitors were in the possession of cell phones, which is prohibited under jail rules. When the phones were discovered, the victim was handcuffed and brought into an employee break room, where he was beaten and sprayed with a burning agent similar to pepper spray. The victim was later transferred to the hospital by paramedics.
Following the incident, Gonzalez instructed Zunggeemoge how to write a report that falsely described how the victim swung his left elbow and struck Zunggeemoge, which prompted the use of force against the victim. Subsequent reports by other defendants also falsely described how the victim attempted to escape from the break room.
As a result of today’s convictions, Ayala and Gonzalez face a statutory maximum sentence of 40 years in federal prison, and Luviano faces up to 30 years. United States District Judge George H. King, who presided over the trial, is scheduled to sentence the three defendants on November 2.
This case is the result of an investigation by the FBI, and is one in a series of cases resulting from investigation into corruption and civil rights abuses at county jails in downtown Los Angeles. With today’s verdicts, 14 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges.