Two L.A. Deputy Sheriffs Sentenced to Federal Prison in Civil Rights Case Stemming from Beating of Visitor at Downtown Los Angeles Jail
LOS ANGELES—Two former Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies who violated the civil rights of a visitor to the Men’s Central Jail by beating him while he was restrained with handcuffs were sentenced today, each being ordered to serve at least six years in federal prison.
Fernando Luviano, 37, was sentenced to 84 months in prison, and Sussie Ayala, 30, was sentenced to 72 months in prison.
The two defendants, who were each found guilty by a federal jury in June of violating the civil rights of the beating victim and falsifying records about the incident, were sentenced today by United States District Judge George H. King.
Following the imposition of the sentences, Judge King remanded both Luviano and Ayala into custody.
Another deputy sheriff who also was found guilty at trial—former Sergeant Eric Gonzalez—was sentenced earlier this month to eight years in federal prison and also was immediately taken into custody.
The jury that convicted Luviano, Ayala and Gonzalez found that they violated the civil rights of the victim in 2011 when they beat the man and caused serious bodily injury. Ayala and Gonzalez were additionally convicted of conspiring to violate the victim’s civil rights by using unreasonable force.
“As Judge King said today, the lengthy prison sentences imposed in this case send a clear message that no law enforcement officer is above the law,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “These two former deputy sheriffs failed to uphold their oaths and abused their positions of power when they beat and pepper sprayed a handcuffed victim. Such conduct undermines the public’s trust in law enforcement and all the good work that peace officers do every day to protect our communities.”
Two other defendants involved in the incident—Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—previously pleaded guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced by Judge King on January 25.
Last month, a federal grand jury indicted a sixth deputy in relation to the incident at the Visiting Center. Former Deputy Byron Dredd has pleaded not guilty.
The evidence presented at the trial of the three deputies 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 pepper spray. The victim was later transferred to the hospital by paramedics.
In court documents that argued Luviano had a reputation of being “heavy-handed” with the violent prisoners he guarded at the jail, prosecutors said that Luviano “initiated the excessive force and used the most force against” the victim. Prosecutors wrote in a brief that his “violent crime and cover-up are serious offenses that harm the specific victim and tarnish the public trust in law enforcement.” Judge King agreed, finding there was “evidence of prior violent behavior toward inmates” by Luviano at Men’s Central Jail.
In papers related to Ayala’s sentencing, prosecutors wrote that “[s]he, like the other defendants in this case, abused her power by participating in a beating of a handcuffed man, lying to cover up her and her partners’ misdeeds, jailing the victim of their abuse, and putting that victim at risk of prosecution and a significant sentence for crimes he did not commit.”
In court today, Judge King said that Ayala’s actions “demonstrates that this really was a practice” of using excessive force against people inside the jail.
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. Fifteen current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges.