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Former LASD Deputy Accuses Feds of Editing Testimony to Get Conviction

July 27th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The formal written brief asking the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to overturn the conviction of former Los Angeles Sheriff’s Deputy James Sexton was filed last Friday, and WitnessLA has obtained a copy. In it, Sexton’s defense attorneys, led by former U.S. Attorney, Thomas O’brien, accuse federal prosecutors of taking crucial grand jury testimony given months earlier by Mr. Sexton and presenting it to Sexton’s trial jury in an highly edited form that fundamentally changed its meaning—rendering it misleading and false.

If you’ll remember, last September, James Sexton was convicted of obstruction of justice in connection with the FBI’s investigation into civil rights abuses by sheriff’s deputies inside LA County’s troubled jail system.

Specifically, Sexton was found guilty of obstruction of justice and conspiracy to obstruct justice because of his part in helping to hide federal informant Anthony Brown from his FBI handlers.

It was the second time that Sexton had been tried for the same charges. His first go-round, which took place in May of 2014, resulted in a “hopelessly deadlocked” jury that split six-six.

Sexton was the seventh former LASD department member to be convicted of obstruction with regard to the Brown case. The other six—two lieutenants, two sergeants and two deputies—were convicted in July 2014 and all seven were given prison sentences that ranged in length from 18 months to 41 months.

Sexton and the other six appealed their convictions to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and the 9th agreed to hear both cases.


The appeals of all seven former department members convicted of obstruction are, in certain ways, similar. For instance, in the 77-page brief filed Friday, Sexton’s attorneys argue that the case was the “..unfortunate product of a turf war taken to the extreme.” The appeal then goes on to describe “two law enforcement agencies”—namely the LASD and the FBI—that “..both thought they were more important than the other.”

This “jousting” by decision makers “resulted in lower level officers facing federal convictions for obstructing justice when they thought they were serving justice,” states the brief. The filing also makes clear that Sexton and the rest did what they were ordered to do by their bosses.

“This is not criminal activity,” write Sexton’s attorneys to the appellate court. “This is not obstruction of justice. It is a tragedy that this Court should correct.”

In an appellate brief weighing in at an impressive 161 pages, that was also filed on Friday, the attorneys for the other six, made a similar argument, albeit in even greater detail, that those convicted had followed what they believed to be lawful orders that came from the very top of the organization, along with expanded versions of the orders handed down by supervisors in between.

Yet, there are also certain critical differences between Sexton’s appeal, and the appeal for the other six.


In one of the latter’s brief’s most interesting sections, the attorneys for the six dispute Judge Percy Anderson’s dismissal of one particular juror late in the deliberation process, who wanted out because she was feeling “threatened.” The juror, wrote attorneys for the six, “revealed” at least a “reasonable possibility that her difficulties stemmed from disagreements with another juror (or jurors) about the merits of the case. The strong implication was that the dismissed juror, had she stayed on, was reasonably likely to have voted to acquit, which would have meant a hung jury.


In Sexton’s appellate brief what is perhaps the most intriguing section pertains to the trimming of his testimony, which Judge Anderson permitted over the strenuous objections by his defense attorneys. At trial, the core of the government’s case was Sexton’s grand jury testimony, which the prosecutors characterized as a confession.

In Sexton’s first trial, which ended up with a hung jury, the government’s central piece of evidence was also Sexton’s grand jury testimony, a long segment of which was reenacted for the jury. Yet for the second trial, the feds took the same segment read to the jury in the first trial, and edited some of its content in such a way that, according Sexton’s attorneys, changed the meaning substantially from what the jury heard in the first trial:

Not coincidentally, the Government opted to edit out essentially all of the testimony relied upon by Mr. Sexton in his closing argument during the first trial. During the first trial, Mr. Sexton relied on portions of his Grand Jury testimony to establish and to argue that he did not have the requisite knowledge of the pending investigation in order to obstruct it.

The brief argues that snips made by the feds removed important context, and what was left suggested that Sexton had knowledge and intentions that the full transcript would have made clear he did not possess.

The removal of these excerpts rendered the testimony misleading…[to the jury] and it was not harmless. This Court need look no further than the facts that, in the first trial—with full evidence—the jury hung… and in the second trial the Government specifically targeted those portions of the testimony Mr. Sexton relied on his closing to know this error was not harmless and that the trial court abused its discretion in excluding this evidence.

In other words, according to the appeal, reading the unedited version of the grand jury testimony produced one meaning, and one jury outcome. Whereas reading the line edited version produced a very different—and false—meaning for the jury, and that Sexton’s conviction was the result.


There are a number of other interesting points in Sexton’s appeal: It maintains, for instance, that Sexton was given the clear impression that he was viewed as a cooperating witness, not as a suspect, in his interactions with the FBI and with federal prosecutors. He had after all met with the FBI several dozen times, and had brought them documents. Then when he went to testify in front of the grand jury, according to the appeal, the feds assured Sexton that he was not a target of their investigation, when it turned out that he was. This bait and switch, the attorneys wrote, was against the feds’ own policy.

The USAM [US Attorney's Manual] instructs the USAO [US Attorney's Office] that targets of the investigation should not be subpoenaed without special consideration. Here, Mr. Sexton was specifically advised he was not a target, participated in countless interviews, and offered fulsome grand jury testimony all based on the Government’s repeated statements that he was not a target, only to find out that he was a target and his Grand Jury testimony was to form the core of the evidence against him. The Government’s failure to follow its own written policies which were enacted to prevent “unfairness,” must not be allowed to go unchecked. If the Government is allowed to subpoena targets before the Grand Jury without warning, in violation of DOJ policies, the potential for abuse is endless.

In the next 60 days the government will send the 9th Circuit its formal replies. And then likely late this year or early next year, the 9th will actually hear the two appeals and render a decision.

So stay tuned.

UPDATE: Here are the two briefs for your reading pleasure.

Sexton Opening Brief_9th Circuit Appeal

Thompson, Et Al, 9th Circuit Appeals Brief 7-24-2015

Posted in FBI, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 54 Comments »

CA Supremes Rule on Police Privacy v. Defendants’ Rights…The Science of Unfair Justice….The Killingest Prosecutor in the Nation’s Killingest County

July 7th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Monday, July 6, the California Supreme Court ruled that defense attorneys don’t need any extra help from prosecutors in gaining the limited access that the law allows to the disciplinary records of police officers—even if the prosecutor has firm reasons to believe that the records would likely be of exculpatory value to the defendant.

If that sounds confusing….you have apprehended the situation correctly

Okay, here’s the deal. Monday’s ruling had to do with a San Francisco man, Daryl Lee Johnson, who was charged in November 2012 in a domestic violence case with hitting a girl in the head while they were both in a private home and grabbing her cell phone. (We have no idea if Mr. Johnson is guilty or innocent of the charges. That isn’t the point here.)

As the domestic violence case ground its way through the state’s justice system, San Francisco prosecutors learned from members of the SF police department that the two arresting officers in Johnson’s case, who were quite naturally witnesses for the prosecution, had things in their personnel records that could be helpful to the defense.

In that the landmark 1963 Supreme Court ruling of Brady v. Maryland requires prosecutors to turn over to the defense team anything that could be helpful to their client, in the case of Johnson the prosecutors let the defense know that there might be some stuff in both of the cops’ files that the defense ought to know about.

And….that’s when matters got somewhat complicated.

Under state law, the personnel files of peace officers are protected from prying eyes by the Peace Officers Bill of Rights—or POBR. However, if a defense attorney needs access to a cop’s personnel records because they pertain directly to his client’s defense, he or she can request from a judge the files that pertain exactly to the issue at hand, using what is called a “Pitchess” motion (named after the 1974 California decision of Pitchess v. Superior Court that carved out this legal way to access information located in otherwise confidential peace officer personnel records.) Then it is up to the judge to decide which information, if any, should be provided to the defense.

But in the Johnson case, the defense argued that it didn’t know enough about what might be useful in the two cops’ files to be able to make the narrow cast Pitchess motion that most judges require. So could the prosecutor, under the Brady rule, take a look at the files to see if there was something of relevance in there?

Two lower courts agreed that it would be okay for a prosecutor to look at the police files, and then to turn over to the defense (under Brady rules) anything that might affect the defendant’s case, all subject to protective orders, to also preserve confidentiality.

With me so far?

It helps to know that San Francisco is one of about a dozen California counties that have established committees made up of law enforcement officers who are supposed to review officers’ confidential files in order to tell prosecutors if they contain information that might assist a defendant—things like an officer’s history of false statements, the filing of false police reports, or write ups for excessive force.

Part of the argument in the Johnson case is that it is unealistic to expect the police to be the ones who go fishing through their fellow officers’ confidential files with the same rigor that someone else might. So couldn’t the prosecutors, who are after all an arm of the law, do it as part of their Brady obligation?

Although those two lower courts said yes, the California Supremes said: Actually no. Prosecutors were just as bound by the POBR and the Pitchess rules as anybody else.

(The full ruling may be found here.)

Interestingly, according to Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle, SF District Attorney George Gascón-–who seems refreshingly to believe that one of the prime duties of his office is to seek justice—told the court prior to their ruling that his office would continue to review the police committee reports and seek disclosure of files no matter how Monday’s case turned out.

UPDATE: The LA Times Editorial Board wrote a strong, smart and extremely sensible editorial on the ruling, which appeared early Tuesday morning. It is titled “A Setback for Due Process,” which unhappily is exactly the case.

Here’s clip from the editorial:

Prosecutors are constitutionally bound to share with criminal defendants any evidence that undermines the credibility of their witnesses, including police officers. But if that evidence is locked up in confidential police personnel files — for example, in disciplinary or complaint records — how can the district attorney find out about it to turn it over?

In a disappointing decision, the California Supreme Court on Monday denied prosecutors direct access to police personnel files and, in so doing, exacerbated the continuing tug-of-war between state statutes that protect officer confidentiality and the due process rights guaranteed to the accused by the 14th Amendment and fleshed out in the landmark 1963 case of Brady vs. Maryland.

Under the ruling, police officials in many California jurisdictions will continue to be virtual gate-keepers of potentially exculpatory evidence, deciding on their own which records rise to the level of so-called Brady material that they must flag for prosecutors (who, in turn, decide whether to share it with the defense).

But the police should not be expected to be their own watchdogs. Last year, an appeals court ruled that the district attorney should be able to look through their files — without first obtaining a court order — to search for evidence of dishonesty, bias, excessive force or other factors that could undermine officers’ credibility. Only after Brady material is found would the prosecutor have to make what is known as a Pitchess motion, seeking court permission to disclose the information.

And here, really, is the heart of the matter:

The lower court ruling seemed a workable balance between Brady and Pitchess and recognized that Brady, after all, interprets a federal constitutional right and should take precedence over state statutory protections.

(The italics are mine.) It is disappointing that the otherwise mostly sensible court was so short sighted.

The LA Times board also wrote an earlier, very informative editorial on this whole topic back in late May when the case was being argued in front of the state’s Supreme Court. So be sure to take a look at that too.


Legal scholar Adam Benforado has written a fascinating and important new book called Unfair: The New Science of Criminal Injustice in which he uses findings from psychology and neuroscience to suggests that our criminal justice system is riddled with tragic inequities and wrongful conclusions because of our fundamental misunderstanding of human biases and how our brains work.

On Monday, Benforado was a guest on NPR’s Fresh Air with Dave Davies sitting in for Terry Gross where he explained how, in our flawed justice system “…good people with the best of intentions … can get things terribly, terribly wrong.”

The whole interview is more than worth your while. But here’s a clip to get you started:

DAVIES: There’s a lot of interesting stuff here about how jurors decide who they’re going to believe at trial – prosecutors, witnesses. And a lot of people would not be surprised to find that there are studies that suggest people are more likely to believe a person of their own race. There’s other fascinating stuff. Are attractive people or thin people more likely to – or confident people – more likely to be believed in court?

BENFORADO: Yeah, there is evidence that a lot of physical features play a big role in whether people treats a particular witness as credible or not credible. And that’s worrisome. But I think there’s actually a deeper problem with jurors and that is that the things that we think are determining the outcomes of cases – that is the facts and the law – are often not what determines whether someone is convicted or not convicted, how long a sentence is. What matters most are the particular backgrounds and identities of the jurors.

So I teach criminal law. One of the areas that I teach is rape law, and my casebook takes many pages, discussing all of the different nuances across the different states. And there’s a lot of emphasis on the casebook on the importance of these nuances. It really matters whether we are in a state that recognizes a defense of a reasonably mistaken belief in consent or we’re in a state that doesn’t recognize that particular defense. But when researchers looked into how important the law was to outcomes in, say, a date rape case, what they found was the particular legal nuances didn’t matter at all. What mattered were the backgrounds and experiences of the jurors. What they refer to as cultural cognition. And these subgroups of citizens didn’t break down as expected. It wasn’t that men were far more likely to let the man off in a date rape scenario. It was actually within women that the most interesting break occurred. Women who were older, who were more conservative, who adhere to more traditional gender norms, were far more likely to let the man off in this particular case than women who were liberal and younger. That’s a worry because a lot of what law professors do is emphasize the importance of legal doctrine. It may not be legal doctrine, though, in the criminal law sphere that’s really determining the trajectory of cases.

DAVIES: One of the things we see in court is jurors trying to evaluate whether a witness is testifying truthfully. And they would look for tells, you know, whether the witness appears jittery and whether they shift their eyes a lot or doesn’t make eye contact. And you write that these things – research shows these things really tell us nothing about how truthful someone’s being. In fact, they can mislead us into thinking someone is being truthful when they are not and vice versa. Do the courts encourage jurors to use these, you know, supposedly common sense evaluations of the mannerisms of both defendants and witnesses?

BENFORADO: They absolutely do. And this is one of the real challenges for reform in this area is that it’s not that our legal system just sits back and says nothing about human behavior. It actually weighs in on the side of myth. And so if you’ve ever been a juror and you are called to jury duty, you know that the starting point is this voir dire process where you’re asked a bunch of questions. I was recently called onto jury, although I didn’t make it ultimately onto the jury. And I was asked, you know, these questions of do you have any reason why you would be more or less likely to believe the testimony of a police officer? Now, on the jury pool that I was in, a number of people said yeah, they checked that box. The judge then came up and said, all right, well, let me explain to you what objectivity means. It means that, you know, we all have these feelings, but you’ve just got to put them to the side. Can you do that? Everyone in the jury pool said, yes, of course, judge I can do that. But that’s not how biases work. A lot of them are not subject to introspection and control. And so it’s not just that our legal system is sitting back on the sidelines. It’s actively promoting false notions of human behavior, and that’s really, really damaging…


Caddo Parish, Louisiana, has a population of two hundred and fifty thousand residents. Yet Caddo juries sentence more people to death per capita than juries in any other county in America, writes Rachel Aviv for the New Yorker.

Furthermore, “seventy-seven per cent of those sentenced to death in the past forty years have been black, and nearly half were convicted of killing white victims. A white person has never been sentenced to death for killing a black person.”

Since 2011, Cado prosecutor Dale Cox has been responsible for a third of the death sentences in Louisiana. And he seeks death from a jury, he says, because he believes that vengeance is necessary.

To wit:

Last March, a former colleague of Cox’s published a letter in the Shreveport Times apologizing for causing an innocent black man to spend thirty years on death row. “We are simply incapable of devising a system that can fairly and impartially impose a sentence of death,” he wrote. When a journalist with the paper, Maya Lau, asked Cox for his response, he said that he thought courts should be imposing the death penalty more, not less. “I think we need to kill more people,” he told her. “We’re not considered a society anymore—we’re a jungle.”

Cox does not believe that the death penalty works as a deterrent, but he says that it is justified as revenge. He told me that revenge was a revitalizing force that “brings to us a visceral satisfaction.” He felt that the public’s aversion to the notion had to do with the word itself. “It’s a hard word—it’s like the word ‘hate,’ the word ‘despot,’ the word ‘blood.’ ” He said, “Over time, I have come to the position that revenge is important for society as a whole. We have certain rules that you are expected to abide by, and when you don’t abide by them you have forfeited your right to live among us.”

In her detailed longread story about Cox and his prosecutorial beliefs and style, Aron follows the case of 23-year old Rodricus Crawford whose one-year-old baby, according to Aviv’s reporting, likely died suddenly of pneumonia, not by his father’s hand. By the story’s end, however, rightly or wrongly Crawford has been convicted of murdering his young son and is sentenced to death, with Cox as the prosecutor possessed of formidable Biblical fury, claiming in his closing remarks that Jesus commanded that anyone who killed a child should be killed. Then Cox misquoted Luke 17.2 to prove it.

Here’s how the story opens:

A week after his son turned one, Rodricus Crawford woke up a few minutes before 7 A.M. on the left side of his bed. His son was sleeping on the right side, facing the door. Crawford, who was twenty-three, reached over to wake him up, but the baby didn’t move. He put his ear on his son’s stomach and then began yelling for his mother. “Look at the baby!” he shouted.

Crawford was lanky, with delicate features, high cheekbones, and a patchy goatee. He lived in a small three-bedroom house with his mother, grandmother, uncle, sister, and a younger brother in Mooretown, a neighborhood in Shreveport, Louisiana, bordered by a stretch of factories and next to the airport. His mother, Abbie, a housekeeper at the Quality Inn, rushed into the room and picked up the baby, who was named Roderius, after his father. He looked as if he were asleep, but his forehead felt cool.

Crawford’s uncle called 911, and an operator instructed him to try CPR while they waited for an ambulance. Crawford’s mother and sister took turns pumping the baby’s chest.

“I’m doing it, Ma’am, but he ain’t doing nothing!” Abbie said, out of breath.

The ambulance seemed to be taking too long, so Crawford’s younger brother called 911 on another line. “The baby’s not talking, not breathing, not saying anything,” he said. “Can you get an ambulance?”

They were used to waiting a long time for city services; the alarm could go off at their pastor’s church and ring all night, and the fire department would never come. There was a saying in the neighborhood that the police were never there when you needed them, only when you didn’t. The community was populated almost entirely by black families, many of whom had grown up together. After a few more minutes, Crawford’s brother called 911 again. “We need an ambulance, Ma’am,” he said. “It’s been twenty minutes!”

Not long afterward, another 911 operator called a dispatcher and asked what was happening at the address. “They probably slept on the damn baby,” the dispatcher said. “There’s a hundred folks in that damn house.”

When the ambulance arrived, moments later, Crawford ran out of the house with the baby in his arms. The paramedics put a breathing mask over Roderius’s face, and Crawford thought he saw his son’s eyes open. He tried to climb into the back of the ambulance, but the paramedics shut the doors and told him to stay outside. They couldn’t find a pulse. Roderius’s jaw was stiff and his eyes were milky, a sign that he had been dead for more than an hour. They decided to wait in the ambulance until the police arrived before telling the family….

Read on for the rest of the story that will help you make up your own mind about what you believe happened.

Posted in District Attorney, FBI, How Appealing, law enforcement, Prosecutors, Public Defender | 5 Comments »

LASD Visiting Center Convictions: What the Jury Didn’t Know

June 29th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


As most readers are aware, a seven-woman five-man jury deliberated for just about four hours last Wednesday before finding former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and LASD deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano guilty of a string of civil rights abuses for delivering a vicious beating to jail visitor Gabriel Carrillo, then conspiring to falsify criminal charges against Carrillo in order to cover up the abuse.

In order to arrive at their verdict, the jury was appropriately only exposed to the facts and testimony having directly to do, or leading up to, that beating and phony report writing.

As a consequence, when defense attorney Joseph Avrahamy said multiple times in his closing arguments, “This has never happened before!”— meaning, one assumed, that the beating of someone for no reason in the jail or its visiting center, and the falsifying of charges to cover for such a beating, was all quite anomalous—the jury had no way of knowing that the statement was extravagantly untrue.

“Someone just mouthing off would never cause [these deputies] to use excessive force,” continued attorney Avrahamy. “Why would these deputies and their sergeant risk their careers and criminal charges by beating up a suspect and falsifying reports?”

Why, indeed? Well, perhaps it was because the defendants felt, quite rightly, that they were not risking much of anything—which would almost surely have been the case had the feds not stepped in. The truth was, in February 2011, when the beating of Gabriel Carrillo occurred, jail personal who engaged in such behavior were very, very unlikely to be held even the tiniest bit accountable for their actions.

This sad fact was documented in detail in such quarters as the department’s own internal reports, by testimony of department supervisors at the public hearings held by the Citizens Commission for Jail Violence, in the CCJV’s scathing final report– and in WitnessLA’s own reporting.

In answer to the spurious claim that “this has never happened before,” there are myriad accounts of similarly senseless beatings having taken place in the county’s jail system, often accompanied by the fabrication of charges against the beating victims to cover the brutality.

The ACLU’s massive class action suit, Rosas v. Baca, featured 70 signed declarations by victims of—or witnesses to—such incidents. The abuse described in the declarations was deemed credible enough that it forced a landmark settlement that was approved by the LA County board of supervisors last December, and then given final approval in April 2015 by U.S. District Judge Dean Pregerson. (The settlement, just to remind you, was not for money, but to force a system of jail oversight that is intended to help prevent such incidents from happening in the future.)

Moreover, the name of Fernando Luviano, one of the just-convicted defendants, is featured prominently in several of the Rosas declarations, plus in the accounts of still other former inmates who were not part of the lawsuit.


At WLA we have read declarations by eight different former jail inmates, some of them also witnesses, who described beatings, pepper spraying, outsized threats of retaliation, and similar actions in which Luviano allegedly took part. In the majority of cases, he was the main player, or at least one of them.

This spring I spoke to one of the Rosas victims, a 35-year-old named Michael Hoguin, who works for a car auction company. Holguin explained how he was badly beaten in 2009 by several deputies, Luviano prominently among them.

Holguin was, at the time, in jail on a charge of possessing an illegal weapon—-namely a cop baton, which was inside the compartment on his motorcycle, where he’d reportedly stashed it, then forgotten about it.

According to Holguin’s civil complaint, in October of 2009, he and the other inmates of the 3500 unit of Men’s Central Jail, where Holguin was housed, had not been allowed showers for more than two weeks. “We had to bird-bath out of the sinks in our cells,” Holguin told me.

On October 18, however, along with others in his unit, he was finally let out of his cell for a shower. “It was odd cells one day, even cells the next day,” he said. But, after he was moved toward the shower area, at the last minute, Holguin was informed that he would not be allowed a shower after all. When Holguin asked why and protested that we wanted his scheduled shower, Luviano reportedly replied, “Turn around and I’ll tell you why.” At this point Holguin was handcuffed with his hands behind his back, then moved to a “nearby area,” where he was allegedly beaten severely, kicked, slammed repeatedly in the head and body with a hard object, presumably a flashlight, while the deputy chanted the requisite “stop resisting,” over and over, even long after inmate Holguin had been knocked—still handcuffed—to the ground.

“But I wasn’t struggling, except to kind of brace myself for the blows,” he said. “I was mostly trying to curl myself into a fetal position.”

At some point two other deputies reportedly joined in, spraying Holguin with a long stream of pepper spray. Then Luviano allegedly rubbed the spray in Holguin’s closed eyes, a description that now sounds creepily similar to Luviano’s close range and entirely punitive and gratuitous spraying of the handcuffed Gabriel Carrillo, who by then had open wounds on his face.

Although he declines to disclose the dollar amount, Holguin has already won what is thought to be a decent sized sum of money in the settlement of a civil suit against the county that concluded in the fall of 2013.

According to the diagrammatic record made by LASD’s Medical Services (see above), Holguin suffered extensive cuts and bruising requiring seven staples in the center of his scalp, plus four stitches over his right eyebrow. His knee was deeply lacerated, his tibia was broken in two places requiring a “short leg cast.”

But, again, Holguin’s report is only one of eight we read. There are also declarations by Robert Dragusica (2009), Antonio Candelario (2010), William Littlejohn (2011), Jonathan Goodwin (2011), Alex Rosas (2011), Jabaar Thomas (2011), and Arturo Fernandez (2011)—all naming Luviano.

And, yet, despite these reports, at least two of which have resulted in high ticket civil settlements, when Luviano was convicted by the jury last week, incredibly he was still employed by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (albeit relieved of duty, as was required once he had been indicted).


Part of the reason that department members like Gonzalez, Luviano, and Ayala were so rarely disciplined for excessive uses of force in Men’s Central Jail can be laid at the feet of Dan Cruz, the man who was the captain of Men’s Central jail from April 2008 until December of 2010—in other words, during the years immediately before Gonzalez, Luviano, Ayala and three other deputies pounded and pepper sprayed Carrillo on February 26, 2011.

During his tenure as captain, Cruz—and those below him—okayed questionable uses of force after only the most cursory review. As a consequence, during the first year of Cruz’s watch, force jumped from 273 to 330 incidents. Concerned about the spiking numbers, Cruz’s direct supervisor, then-commander Robert Olmsted, asked one of his lieutenants, Steven Smith, to randomly pull 30 force reports and then to start looking for some commonality.

When a stunned Smith came back, he told Olmsted that, out of the 30 randomly yanked force reports, all of which had been approved by higher-ups as essentially fine, he found that 18 were clearly out of policy. In other words, nearly two-thirds of the sampling of force reports that had been approved by supervisors—in some cases as high up as Cruz—had something obviously wrong with them.

What Olmsted didn’t know at the time was the fact that the bad approvals were not the worst of the matter. It turned out that, even more alarmingly, in many instances neither Cruz nor anyone else ever reviewed the force cases at all. Instead, he buried the force reports in drawers or on shelves until the year-long statue of limitations expired, and the reports were useless.

This report burying finally became very public when now-captain, then-lieutenant Michael Bornman testified before the Citizen’s Commission for Jail Violence and described what he found when he was transferred into MCJ to work under Cruz.

Here’s a relevant excerpt from the CCJV’s report:

The most disturbing examples of a systemic breakdown occurred at MCJ in 2010 when LASD Lieutenant Michael Bornman analyzed approximately 100 unprocessed and incomplete use of force reports spanning several years that had not been entered into the Department’s data tracking systems. As Bornman acknowledged in testimony before the Commission (discussed in greater detail in the Discipline Chapter), dozens of use of force cases were deemed unfounded years after the fact to simply close cases that had missing files, no witness statements, missing video tapes, and incomplete information upon which to assess deputy performance.

When Bornman tried to question all the deep-sixed reports, he said he was told to back off, that then-assistant sheriff Paul Tanaka, who was the man who had put Cruz in as captain, had no problem with what his protege was doing.

Here a clip from WLA’s 2012 story by Matt Fleischer regarding what Bornman told the CCJV:

Bornman testified that despite having three immediate supervisors in the chain of command between Cruz and Paul Tanaka—Commander Olmsted, Chief Dennis Burns and the assistant sheriff in charge of custody, Marvin Cavanaugh—bizarrely Cruz felt he needed to be accountable only to Tanaka who, as the assistant sheriff in charge of patrol, technically had no control over the jails at all.

In fact, in one instance, when Bornman suggested Cruz’s supervisor Bob Olmsted needed to be briefed on the massive backlog of administrative investigations at CJ that had been allowed to slide, Cruz told him: “Fuck Bob Olmsted. I don’t work for him. Lee Baca is my sheriff, but I work for Paul Tanaka.”

Cruz’s contempt for the chain of command went so far that, incredibly, he had a side access door to CJ alarmed so that Olmsted couldn’t make a surprise inspection. If Olmsted wanted to visit the facility, he had to check in through the front entrance.

And yet when Olmsted or anyone else tried to go over Tanaka’s head to Lee Baca about the use of force problem, they were roundly ignored.

For more on the Cruz-Tanaka era at Men’s Central Jail see WLA’s reports here and here and here and here.


Another document that the jury didn’t see was the original indictment, which got trimmed down after two of the five indicted department members—former deputies Noel Womack and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—made deals with the feds.

If they had seen the lengthier indictment, the jury would have been aware of three additional incidents of alleged abuse against people who came to the jail to see friends or loved ones, including the beating of a jail visitor who was slammed around by deputies to the point that his arm was fractured, all reportedly because he asked to see a supervisor when his combat veteran brother repeatedly couldn’t be located in the jail. (And, yes, that incident has resulted in potentially high dollar a civil lawsuit.)

Knowledge of the original indictment would also have informed jurors of additional charges against Sussie Ayala for allegedly helping to falsify records against the victims of some of these other visitors center beatings, in addition to reportedly engaging in aggressive behavior herself.

Plus they would have seen the allegation by the feds that former Sergeant Gonzalez would “maintain, perpetuate and foster an atmosphere and environment” in the visiting area “that encouraged and tolerated abuses of the law, including the use of unjustified force….” among other abuses.

According to the indictment, Gonzalez “would reprimand deputy sheriffs he supervised for not using force on visitors to the MCJ if the visitors had supposedly ‘disrespected’ these deputy sheriffs through the visitors’ words or conduct.” He allegedly would “praise overly-aggressive behavior by deputy sheriffs and criticize” deputy behavior “that was not aggressive” and would “encourage deputy sheriffs under his command to make unlawful arrests, conduct unreasonable searches and seizures, and engage in excessive force,” according to information the FBI and the prosecutors gathered.


The jury did hear that Robert Carrillo, the younger brother whom Gabriel Carrillo had come to visit in MCJ on the day of his beating, had also been beaten a few days at the time that he was arrested.

Then the jury heard that, the day after Gabriel’s beating, there had been an exchange of texts between defendant Eric Gonzalez and a deputy out in the field named Julio Martinez, who was the primary officer who had arrested Robert Carrillo.

In a screen shot taken of Gonzalez’ cell phone, the jury and the rest of the trial watchers, saw that Martinez—whom Gonzalez had known since the days when the two worked together at Century station—had texted Gonzalez a photo of Robert Carrillo’s bruised and swollen post-arrest face. In return, Gonzalez texted to Martinez a booking photo of Gabriel Carrillo’s grotesquely swollen, lacerated and elaborately discolored face, with the following message: LOOKS LIKE WE DID A BETTER JOB. WHERE’S MY BEER BIG HOMIE.

Gonzalez’ lawyer, Avrahamy, tried to dismiss the text exchange, first as a joke, then as a legitimate search for information by Gonzalez from his colleague, Martinez, who was a member of the department’s gang detail, Operation Safe Streets, or OSS.

The jury bought neither explanation for the gleeful exchange of images of the brothers’ damaged faces.

What the jury did not know is that, Martinez is a member of the deputy gang called The Jump Out Boys, and that, together with his OSS partner, Anthony Paz, also a Jump Out Boy, in April of this year, Martinez was charged with conspiracy, perjury and altering evidence, in relation to the alleged planting of guns at a marijuana dispensary in order to make an arrest. (For the details see the LA Weekly story by Gene Maddaus and this LA Times story by Kate Mather).

Martinez and Paz are involved in another case where there are allegations of a planted gun to justify a fatal shooting by Paz of an unarmed 22-year old, killed at his South LA home. In June 2014, the 22-year-old’s family was awarded $1.2 million in a settlement with LA County.

Yet, despite all the information the jury did not have, they still arrived with a cross-the-board guilty verdict—reportedly without any doubts or dispute whatsoever.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 41 Comments »

2 LA County Deputies & 1 Sergeant Convicted on All Counts for Beating Jail Visitor, Then Falsifying Charges in Cover-Up

June 25th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


The jury members sent their note to Judge George H. King, announcing that they had a verdict, just before 12 noon on Wednesday. The seven-woman, five-man panel deliberated for just about four hours before finding former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and LASD deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, guilty of a string of civil rights abuses for delivering a vicious beating to jail visitor Gabriel Carrillo, then conspiring to falsify criminal charges against Carrillo in order to cover up the abuse.

When the verdict was read aloud in Judge King’s courtroom on the 6th floor of the Edward R. Roybal Courthouse on Temple Street, Ayala and Luviano sat motionless next to their attorneys. Gonzalez, however, uttered a agonized guttural sigh before slumping forward into himself, his head in his hands.


Jury Foreman, 35-year-old Tony Tran, said that, from the beginning there were no dissenters among the jurors.“The whole case was dependent on whether or not the suspect was in handcuffs,” he said. “And that photograph that showed the marks on wrists erased any doubts.”

Tran, who is a student at Cal Poly Pomona, with plans to teach high school history, said that the jurors also found the testimony of two former deputies—Noel Womack and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—to be particularly persuasive. “They were very credible,” he said.

When asked whether he and the others were affected by the defense team’s suggestion that Womack and Zunggeemoge—who made deals earlier this year with the government in return for their testimony—were simply telling the feds what they wanted to hear and lying to the jury, Tran shook his head.

“When we looked at the evidence, we had no doubts,” And nothing the defense said could rattle that certainty, said Tran. “We considered them whistle blowers, and trusted their testimony completely.”

And now that his job as juror was finished, did Tran hope the verdict sent any kind of message? “I hope the message does go out that this code of silence, and the feeling on the part of some law enforcement that they can violate people’s rights with impunity….it has to stop.”


Assistant U.S. Attorney Lisabeth Rhodes, and fellow A.U.S.A Brandon Fox were the prosecutors on the case and, in an impromptu press conference in front of the courthouse after the verdict was announced, they characterized the case as important one.

“I believe that an individual who carries a badge and a gun and who uses their authority and power to violate people’s constitutional rights, as was the case here, is one of the worse kind of criminals, and should be brought to justice,” said Rhodes. “We believe justice was done here.”


Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the Southern California ACLU, also talked about the importance of the case. “The thing that amazed me,” he said, “was that, not only were the deputies willing to savagely beat a jail visitor, who had done nothing more than not offer them what they believed was enough respect. Then they were willing to lie about the abuse, and those lies became the basis of the criminal case against Mr. Carrillo that could have resulted in years in state prison. That’s where he’d be right now if he didn’t have a really good criminal defense attorney.

Carrillo’s attorney, Ronald Kaye, was present for much of the federal trial and had a particularly strong reaction to the testimony of deputies Womack and Zunggeemoge, who, when on the stand, both described in detail the way the charges against Carrillo were falsified, and the thinking behind it, namely that anything other than backing one’s partner was considered absolutely unthinkable, no matter the lies or damage that resulted.

“It was so, so vindicating,” said Kaye. “In the criminal case against Gabriel, we were a week from trial. He was looking at a possible fourteen years in prison, if we lost. And in the case, we were facing five sheriff’s deputies and a sergeant who all had completely consistent reports.” But in that week, Kaye said, they found the photos of Carrillo’s wrists. “Grace took phone pictures of his wrists along with a bunch of other photos of him, but then she forgot about them, and didn’t realized how important they were.” Plus Kaye found a neutral witness who had been in the visiting center, sitting right outside the break room, a middle-aged woman with no criminal record, who was able to describe what she heard coming out of the room. “She was really important,” said Kaye.

Thus, instead of going to prison, Carrillo works in construction as a fork lift operator and is married to his former girlfriend, Grace Torres, who was with him on the day of the beating. The couple has two young children. And this past weekend, Kaye said, with their court appearances behind them, they were able to have a belated wedding reception, after which the two spent a few days in Las Vegas for a honeymoon. “That’s all the time they could take,” said Kaye, who attended the reception. “Gabriel had to get back to work.”

Last year, there was one more piece of very good news for Gabriel Carrillo when LA County agreed to pay $1.17 million to settle a civil lawsuit arising out of the beating and the false charges that formed the basis of Wednesday’s conviction.


The conviction of the three LASD defendants, which will almost certainly be appealed, could mean 70 months in a federal prison for the deputies. Gonzales, who was the group’s supervisor, and signed off on all the falsified reports, and who could receive a an even longer sentence. The statutory maximum sentence on such charges, however, is up to 30 years, Gonzales could face up to four decades, although such lengthy sentences are considered unlikely.

Judge King will sentence the threesome on November 2, the day that the trial of former LASD Captain Tom Carey, and former undersheriff is due to will begin jury selection.

VIDEO NOTE: The video above shows Carrillo being interviewed a few hours after his beating by then LASD Sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who had, a few hours before, supervised the beating and the cover-up. It was shown at trial and the jury watched it with rapt attention. ABC-7 News producer Lisa Bartley obtained the video, so we have her to thank for being able to show it to you. For further insight to the trial and it’s aftermath see these excellent reports by Bartley and ABC-7 reporter, Miriam Hernandez here and here.

Posted in crime and punishment, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD | 38 Comments »

LASD Visiting Center Trial: Day 5 – Closing Arguments: It’s About the Handcuffs

June 24th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

After nearly five hours of closing arguments, the federal trial involving three former and present members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who are accused of brutally beating jail visitor, Gabriel Carrillo, then conspiring to cover up the beating by portraying the alleged victim as the aggressor, the whole matter could hinge on a single photograph of Carrillo’s bruised wrists.

When the case went to the jury at around 1:30 on Tuesday afternoon, both the federal prosecutors and the three different defense attorneys (one for each of the three defendants) had marshaled an array of facts and photos they said proved that the other side was lying about the most crucial elements of the events in question. Yet neither side was able to point to any tie-breaking eye witness who could be characterized as being entirely unbiased.

Everything comes down to whether or not Carrillo was handcuffed on the afternoon of February 26, 2011, when he was being pummeled and pepper sprayed by five sheriff’s deputies with the reported approval of their supervising sergeant in the visiting center of LA’s Men’s Central Jail. If the jury of five men and seven women concludes that Carrillo was not handcuffed during the beating, then jurors should vote to acquit former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and suspended deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano of all the government’s charges.

However, if the men and women of the jury believe that Carrillo was handcuffed when he sustained the panoply of injuries at the hands of the defendants and their colleagues, then they should vote to convict.

For the full story on the final day of the LASD Visiting Center trial check back later today.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 3 Comments »

The Visiting Center Trial – Day 3: A Deputy Tells of Lies That Were Far Too Costly

June 22nd, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


Criminal trials are about the law, of course, and hopefully about truth. They are also about theater, and about narrative, specifically the daily push and pull to determine who can manage to control said narrative.

The trial of former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano will wind up with closing arguments on Tuesday of this week, and then the case will go to the jury.

When it came to the three federal trials that took place last year, in which seven former members of the Los Angeles Sheriffs Department were accused of obstruction of justice, the jury’s task was less about determining whether certain events and actions occurred, as it was about deciding what those events and actions meant.

In this trial, however, the outcome depends on which group that the jury believes is telling the truth. Either the three defendants are straight up lying about their account of the events of February 26, 2011, or it is the witnesses for the prosecution who are the bald-faced liars. There is no middle ground.

No one disputes that Gabriel Carrillo was badly beaten by LA County Sheriff’s deputies on that Saturday when he and his girlfriend and his grandmother went to the visitors’ center at Men’s Central Jail, in order to see Carrillo’s brother who had been arrested a few days before, and who had also been beaten by members of the LA County Sheriff’s Department in the course of his arrest.

Nor does any one dispute that both Carrillo and his girlfriend brought their cell phones into the jail visiting area, although phones are clearly prohibited, and to bring one in is a misdemeanor. It is agreed that Carrillo and his now wife, Grace Torres, got caught with their phones, and were each at different times escorted back to an enclosed area off the visiting area called the “break room.”

Once Gabriel Carrillo was taken to the break room, however, the description about what occurred between him and a cluster of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies plus their immediate supervisor, a sergeant, heads in two radically divergent directions.


According to the defense, when former deputy Pantamitr Zunggeemoge—whom his former LASD colleagues refer to as “Z” or “Deputy Z”—learned that Carrillo had a cell phone in his possession, he handcuffed the man, then marched him into the small break room at which point he, shut the door, and uncuffed one of Carrillo’s wrists in order to fingerprint him. But, rather than cooperate, the angry and out of control Carrillo began swinging the handcuff chain dangerously at Z as a weapon. Zunggeemoge was hurt by Carrillo, at which point a “violent fight” ensued when other deputies came to Deputy Z’s aid.

Carrillo tried to escape the break room, “manhandling” defendant deputy Ayala, on the way out, and punching defendant Luviano as well. In order to subdue the highly aggressive jail visitor, physical force had to be applied, which included blows to Mr. Carrillo’s face and body, plus the use of OC spray also known as pepper spray.

Even after Carrillo was “taken down” and sprayed multiple times, he continued to try to assault deputies by spitting and kicking them, until finally the deputies were able to successfully subdue the man.

Zunggeemoge, was one of the five department members originally indicted in December 2013 for abusing Carrillo and others in the visitors’ center, and then writing false reports to cover up the abuse. But in early 2015, Zunggeemoge reversed his story and said that the above narrative was carefully concocted to cover what had been a brutal beatdown of a man who may have mouthed off slightly but who, while committing a misdemeanor with his possession of the cell phone in the visiting area, cooperated when the phone was discovered—albeit unhappily—and presented no threat.

On Wednesday of last week, “Deputy Z” was the first witness for the prosecution and was not easily rattled by the three defense attorneys who cross-examined him.

On Thursday, first Carrillo’s former girlfriend, now wife, Grace Torrez, then Carrillo himself testified, and each were consistent with their descriptions of what happened on February 26, 2011. Carrillo, 27, who is 5’5″ and weighed around 150-155 lbs at the time of he incident, gave a harrowing description of the day’s events and was not easily rattled by cross examination. (More on Carrillo later.)

After Carrillo stepped down, next up was former deputy Noel Womack.


Former sheriff’s deputy Womack is 6’4,” in his late 30’s, married with kids, and has the body of a defensive linebacker. He worked for the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department for 8 ½ years—much of that time spent working in the visitors’ center—and reportedly he liked his job very much. Now, he works in a warehouse and drives a forklift.

He is the second out of the five originally charged in the so-called visiting center indictment, who asked his attorney to find a way to make a deal with the feds.

The other deputy who flipped was Zunggeemoge, as mentioned above. But Z made his deal early in 2015. Womack did not have his come-to-Jesus moment until near the end of May.

Womack’s involvement in the actions that led to this case, began around midday of February 26, 2011, when he heard what is known as a 415 call over his radio. The 415 means that there is a some kind of fight going on and deputies need assistance. The call was made by his supervisor, former sergeant Eric Gonzalez, who is one of the defendants. The call indicated the trouble was occurring in the break room of the visitors center, which is a small, enclosed room used by deputies for rest and sometimes booking, accessible only by department members.

Womack said that, as he headed for the break room, he saw that the deputy who was his main work partner was also headed that direction. “So I followed him,” said Womack.

When he got to the break room, he saw various deputies inside the room and, most importantly, he saw two visitors’ center deputies—Z and Fernando Luviano (who is one of the five defendants)—hitting a “suspect” who was face down on the room’s floor.

“And there was a lot of blood on the floor.”

Assuming his colleagues were trying to subdue an aggressive dangerous man, Womack rushed to their aid and piled on, grabbing one of the suspect’s legs. His partner rushed in too. But when Womack actually reached the threesome he saw that the man—whom he later learned was Gabriel Carrillo—was actually handcuffed. He was “kicking,” Womack said, but given his facedown position, it was more of a squirming to dodge blows combined with a swimming “flutter” kick.

“He was no threat to anyone.”

“Typically, when a suspect is in handcuffs,” said Womack, “that means the use of force is concluded.”

Plus, as Womack noted in response to questioning by government prosecutor, Brandon Fox, Carrillo was a small man—around a 150 lbs. at the time—he was face down, and he had approximately 800 lbs worth of sheriff’s deputies on top of him. And that was in addition to the fact he was handcuffed.

In this case, however, use of force went on, according to Womack. Luviano OC sprayed Carrillo several times close-up in the face.

Shortly after the spraying, Womack said he heard Luviano say, “Stop spitting! Stop spitting!”

Although Womack knew that the man on the floor posed no danger, the notion that he was spitting at a colleague, even though he did not actually see any spitting action, caused the big deputy to join with the aggressive actions of the other deputies now surrounding Carrillo. Womack slugged Carrillo five times in the leg.

When asked by prosecutor why he repeatedly hit a man whom he saw was no threat, Womack paused for a moment or two, his expression pained.

“I was angry at the fact that he was spitting at my partner.”

Womack hit Carrillo hard enough that he injured his hand, a fact that was demonstrated to the jury with a projected photo of the former deputy’s red and slight scraped right hand in the area surrounding the knuckles.

According to Womack, he, Luviano and Ayala all sought medical treatment for scraped appendages and the like.


After his health clinic visit to get his scrapes looked at, Womack returned to the visiting center to write up his obligatory Use of Force Supplemental Report. But before he did so, Womack said he first checked with his main work partner to see what he had written in Womack’s absence. He checked with Zunggeemoge’s report as well.

Womack said he was not surprised to find that both reports told a completely different story than the events Womack had actually observed. For instance, in the new and improved version, Carrillo was portrayed as not being handcuffed.

Womack said he dutifully fashioned his own report to match the other two, using his partner’s writing as his main “guideline.”.

Although he didn’t copy “word for word,” Womack said, the made sure that his report contained the same essential points as those of his colleagues: Carrillo wasn’t handcuffed, he kicked “violently” at the deputies, attempted “to push himself off the ground, then rolled on his back and spat at deputy Luviano causing Sgt. Gonzalez to tell Luviano to pepper spray Carrillo… and so on.

So was his account true? prosecutor Brandon Fox asked him.

No it wasn’t, Womack said. But he felt he needed to protect his partners and colleagues.

The former deputy said he also lied on the stand at the preliminary hearing for the criminal case against Carrillo that had resulted from the reports Womack characterized as false. Similarly, he lied he said to the investigators from Internal Affairs, and the department’s criminal investigative unit, ICIB.

“Whatever is put on paper, that’s pretty much what you have to stick with.”

And, yes, he lied to the feds, when they came knocking. And kept lying to them.

“I know what’s right and wrong. I’m not denying that I lied,” he said.

But then in the spring of 2015, Womack said he heard a recording of former deputy Zunggeemoge’s revised account of the events February 26, 2011, and learned that Z had made a deal with the prosecutors.

Womack said that, after hearing the recording, he asked his attorney to approach the U.S. Attorney’s office and tell the feds he wanted to plead, and to try to get the best possible deal.

However, at his meeting with the feds on May 11, 2015, Womack wasn’t really ready to come clean. Instead, he basically stuck to a slightly modified version of the description of events that would continue to back up that of his colleagues. “I was still holding on to the defense of my partners,” he said, with an unhappy glance at those “partners” sitting at the defense table.

The prosecutors were not thrilled and made it clear, according to Womack, that he better fork over the full truth, if he wanted to even have any kind of conversation about deals—and even then, no guarantee..

Eleven days later, on May 22, Womack met again with the prosecutors. This time, he said, he told all.

Before he was protecting his partners, he said. This time he decided to protect himself.

“It wasn’t worth it for me to defend a lie and have it affect everything.”


When it was time for cross-examination, defense attorney Patrick Smith and his colleagues hammered Womack hard. If Womack lied on official reports, Smith said, and perjured himself at a preliminary hearing, why in the world should anyone believe him now?

I mean, wasn’t it true that, in order save his own skin, he’d done an about face and was just telling the feds what he knew they wanted to hear?

“I lied to protect my partners,” Womack countered, then said it again for good measure. “I lied for my partners. And, yes, I told the truth to help myself.”

As the cross examination continued, Womack’s composure, which had been solid in the beginning, began to slip.

I’m not denying that I lied. I’m not denying that,” he said. “But I got to the point when I couldn’t continue with the lie.”

As Smith continued to slam his veracity and his motives, Womack struggled for a few seconds to control his now very visible angst. Then, suddenly, he swiveled to face the jury directly.

“I lied!” he said to them, his voice laced with emotion. “I lied!”

The jury members stared back at him, quietly goggle-eyed.

Womack seemed prepared to go further with his jury-directed monologue. However, Judge King quickly pointed a parental finger, and barked at Womack to stop.

Womack stopped.

To be continued…

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 15 Comments »

The Visiting Center Trial, Day 3: An Alleged Victim Speaks of His Fear, and a Deputy Tells of Lies That Were Far Too Costly

June 19th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Criminal trials are about the law, of course, and hopefully about truth. They are also about theater,
and about narrative, specifically the daily push and pull to determine who can manage to control that narrative.

On Day 3 of the federal trial of three present and former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, two of the moments that seemed to get the jury to sit up and take notice, may or many not have had much to do with the law, but they each planted an interesting flag in the trial’s narrative.

On Monday, we’ll be back with the full story on these and other high points of Thursday and Friday’s court dramas.

So stay tuned.

Posted in FBI, jail, LA County Jail, LASD | 5 Comments »

Day 2: Former LASD Deputy Takes the Stand and Tells of Falsifying Charges at Jail Visiting Center to Cover Brutality

June 18th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Pantamitr Zunggeemoge was the first prosecution witness on Day 2
of the trial of former LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano. Up until they were indicted in December 2013, the three worked in Men’s Central Jail, two of them at the jail’s visitors’ center, the sergeant on the 3000 floor.

Zunggeemoge and another former LASD deputy, Noel Womack, were originally charged on the same indictment as the three who are now on trial. But earlier this year both Womack and Zunggeemoge took deals proffered by the federal prosecutors. Among the various stipulations involved with both mens’ deals is that they resign from the sheriff’s department, and also that they testify truthfully in the trial of their former codefendants, if asked to do so.

Womack is expected to take the stand on Thursday.

Right now, Zunggeemoge is making his living as a tutor. Yet from 2008 to 20012, the former deputy worked in the visiters’ center of Men’s Central Jail. As its name suggests, the visiting area is where the husbands, wives, kids, parents, brothers, sisters and friends of MCJ jail inmates come to visit their loved ones who are guests of the county.

A compact, fit-looking man with his head shaved, Zunggeemoge appears to be somewhere in his 20s. When he took the stand, he seemed both calm and determined.

In response to prosecutor Lisabeth Rhodes’ questioning, after explaining how the visitors’ center functions, Zunggeemoge recounted the events of February 26, 2011, which is what this trial is about.

Zunggeemoge said that his boss, then sergeant Eric Gonzalez, was on duty on the day in question. Events that would ultimately form the substance of the charges, began to unfold when Zunggeemoge saw a young woman visitor drop something on the floor in the visitors’ area, and then pick it up. Zunggeemoge didn’t really think anything of the dropping incident. But a little while later, another visitor approached Zunggeemoge and told him that a young woman was using a cell phone in the bathroom.

Cell phone are strictly forbidden anywhere in the county jail system, including in the visitors area, so Zunggeemoge followed up on the matter. On a hunch, he questioned the young woman who’d dropped the unidentified object earlier. Sure enough, she admitted she was the one with the contraband phone. Zunggeemoge asked her to accompany him into the deputy’s break room, a small, room that is blocked from the sight from the rest of the visitors. She came along without incident. His colleague and now defendant, Sussie Ayala, a female deputy, was in the break room at the time. So Zunggeemoge asked Ayala to do a pat down on the young woman, who soon admitted that her boyfriend, whose name was Gabriel Carrillo, also had a cell phone.


While Ayala finished with the girlfriend, Zunggeemoge went out to find Carrillo. When he located Carrillo, Zunggeemoge asked if he indeed had a cell phone. Carrillo admitted to having the phone, but reacted with a burst of belligerence. “What’re you going to do?” he asked the deputy, “fucking arrest me?”

At that juncture, Zunggeemoge handcuffed Carrillo’s hands behind his back, and escorted him into the break room too.

According to Zunggeemoge, Carrillo didn’t physically resist him but, due to the man’s earlier agitation and attitude, the deputy wanted to make clear that he had control of the situation, so pushed Carrillo’s face into the small refrigerator that was in the break room, then pushed the lesson a step further.

“I lifted up his arms so he could feel some pain.” Zunggeemoge demonstrated for the jurors with his own hands clasped behind his back, as if handcuffed, then he rotated them skyward, as if shoved up by an invisible hand. Zunggeemoge said that, his shoving of Carrillo’s cuffed hands, caused the man to exclaim in alarm, “Why are you doing that?!” and the like. Zunggeemoge then searched Carrillo, finding the cell phone and the man’s ID.

At this point, trial defendants Sussie Ayala and Zunggeemoge’s boss, former sergeant Gonzalez, were in the room and Carrillo was much calmer, so the deputy sat him down and went out of the break room to run Carrillo’s ID to see if he had any warrants or the like.

Finding nothing of interest, Zunggeemoge returned to the break room where he saw that defendant number 3, deputy Luviano, was now in the break room with his hands on a standing Carillo, pushing him to the floor.

Not knowing what might have changed in his absence and thinking that Carrillo might be uncuffed, hence Luviano’s actions, Zunggeemoge rushed in to help Luviano do a “take-down.”

But as he pushed Carrillo’s face very hard to the floor, Zunggeemoge saw that, actually, the phone smuggling visitor was still handcuffed


As things started to get rough, according to Zunggeemoge, someone—either one of the deputies or the sergeant—yelled that they should get Carrillo’s girlfriend out of the break room. As the girlfriend, Esmeralda Torrez, was hustled out, both Zunggeemoge and Luviano reportedly began to punch Carrillo.

“I punched him in his legs and lower back,” said Zunggeemoge. “Deputy Luviano was punching Carrillo in the face.”

At this point, Carrillo was on his stomach and was not, according to Zunggeemoge, in any way resisting, but merely trying to dodge the onslaught by making sort of swimming motions with his legs, as he was being pummeled. “I started punching him in the leg area, and detective Luviano started using OC spray—AKA pepper spray—spraying Carrillo at close range “in the face area.”

In response to being sprayed, Carrillo’s eyes teared, his nose and mouth poured mucus. “He was having trouble breathing.” According to Zunggeemoge, Carillo tried to turn his face from Luviano, “by turning toward me.”

“I punched him two times in the face.”

Soon, Zunggeemoge was having trouble breathing himself due to the OC spray, so he stepped outside the room to catch his breath and the Carillo incident was over. Carillo needed medical care, but no deputies were injured, according to Zunggeemoge, save from cuts on some hands, the result of the punches they had thrown.

“There was a lot of blood in the break room,” said Zunggeemoge. “But it all belonged to Mr. Carrillo.”

Although the incident was over by around 1 pm, there were reports to write—which, Zunggeemoge said, required planning.

Later that day, “we all got together for a discussion” in order to come up with a plan for the reports. According to Zunggeemoge, it was sergeant Gonzalez who came up with the story that the deputies had uncuffed Carrillo in order to fingerprint him, but that suddenly Carrillo began swinging the handcuff chain dangerously as a weapon. Zunggeemoge claimed he’d been hurt by Carrillo, and that a “violent fight” ensued.

Gonzalez also reportedly came up with a scene in which Carillo tried to escape the break room, “manhandling” deputy Ayala, on the way out, and punching deputy Luviano as well.

According to Zunggeemoge, the narrative of the combative, escape-minded Carrillo was entirely fiction. But the matching accounts in the “probable cause declarations” that each deputy turned in and Gonzalez signed off on, plus additional 8-page “incident report” that Zunggeemoge wrote with Gonzalez’ input, protected the deputies from any kind of investigation or charges, while the carefully matched paperwork paved the way for Carrillo to be charged with assaulting law enforcement officers.

As a consequence of what Zunggeemoge described as false charges, Carrillo could have faced four years in prison. (After ten months and a long string of court hearings, the case was dropped by the DA.)


During the last half of the court day on Wednesday, the various defense attorneys did what they could to impeach Zunggeemoge’s testimony on cross examination, but the former deputy seemed to hold his ground.

There was, however, one very interesting moment in the cross examination process. It came when one of the defense attorneys asked Zunggeemoge why he fabricated the reports?

Zunggeemoge answered without hesitation. “I didn’t want to go against my partners,” he said. We were all partners and there’s a bond. You don’t go against your partners.”

Well what about going to Sergeant Gonzalez? Couldn’t Zunggeemoge have just told his boss at the time, sergeant Gonzalez, I’m just not comfortable with this sort of thing.

Zunggeemoge shook his head emphatically, “No. I wouldn’t dare do that. That was Sergeant Gonzales. You don’t go against him.”

As to what the jury thought of Wednesday’s testimony and cross …that remains to be seen.


On Thursday, Carrillo, his girlfriend, and Zunggeemoge’s fellow deal maker, former deputy Neal Womack, are scheduled to take the stand.

So stay tuned.

Posted in FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, U.S. Attorney | 11 Comments »

1st Day of Newest LASD Trial Features Accusations of Out-of-Control Brutality by Deputies versus Claims of Wall-to-Wall Gov’t Lies

June 17th, 2015 by Celeste Fremon


On Tuesday afternoon, Assistant U.S. Attorney Lizabeth Rhodes told a seven-woman, five-man jury about a man named Gabriel Carrillo who, on February 26, 2011, came with his girlfriend to LA County’s Men’s Central Jail to visit Carrillo’s brother. However, both Carrillo and his girlfriend had cells phones with them, and cell phones are prohibited in the visitors’ center, said Rhodes. When the cellphones were discovered, Carrillo became defensive and mouthed off to a deputy who handcuffed Carrillo and led into a side room where, Rhodes said, the visitor was beaten by multiple deputies to the point he had to be hospitalized. Then those same deputies plus their supervisor falsified charges against Carrillo, Rhodes told the jury, claiming that he was the aggressor who had assaulted the deputies, not the other way around.

“Mr. Carrillo walked into Men’s Central Jail as a vistor, and left on a gurney,” Rhodes concluded.

And so began the opening arguments in the latest federal trial of members and former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.

The trio who sat at the defense table on Tuesday in the courtroom of Judge George H. King (who happens to be the Chief Judge of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California) were LASD sergeant Eric Gonzalez, and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, all three of whom were accused of participating, either directly or indirectly, in the vicious beating of Carrillo who came to the visitors’ center of Men’s Central Jail in order to visit his brother, Robert Carrillo—who had, a few nights before, been arrested and beaten badly in the course of the arrest.

When it was the defense team’s turn to deliver an opening, attorneys for each of the defendants got up, one after the other.

“What is this case about?” attorney Patrick Smith asked the jury. “Lies and nothing else! You are going to hear nothing but lies out of every witness that the government puts up.” Smith is representing deputy Sussie Ayala.

All three defendants are among the more than 20 members of the LASD who have been indicted as part of a multi-year FBI investigation into brutality and corruption in the LA County jail system and into wrongdoing in department in general.


The trial that began this week is particularly interesting in that two of the original five charged in the indictment—former deputies Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack—have taken plea deals from the federal prosecutors in return for their willingness to admit to the charges of which they are accused and, it seems, to testify at the trial of their three former codefendants.

Since all this deal making began, both Zunggeemoge and Womack have changed their stories about what happened on the day of Carrillo’s beating.

Zunggeemoge will be first up when court begins again at 8 a.m. in front of Judge King at the Edward R. Roybal Federal Building and United States Courthouse on Temple Street in downtown Los Angeles.

After this trial is complete, next fall will bring the trial of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former captain Tom Carey in early November.

And still earlier this coming fall, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to rule on the appeals of the six former department members who were convicted last year of obstruction of justice and on the appeal of former LASD deputy James Sexton who was convicted of obstruction last year in a separate trial.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Corrections and clarifications were made in this story at 5:35 P.M. on Wednesday, June 17.

Posted in crime and punishment, FBI, LA County Jail, LASD, The Feds, U.S. Attorney | 11 Comments »

Bills to Curb Drugging of Foster Kids Clear CA Senate…Veteran’s Court Makes Vets Feel at Home…LA FBI Agent Indicted…and More

June 5th, 2015 by Taylor Walker


On Wednesday, the California Senate approved a package of four California reform bills addressing over-drugging in California foster care system. The bills have bipartisan support, and have a good chance of making it through the Assembly and onto Governor Jerry Brown’s desk. But a price tag of between $8-$22 million may be a tough sell for the governor.

Among other changes, the bills, authored by Sens. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles), Jim Beall (D-San Jose), and Bill Monning (D-Carmel), would require state-wide data-tracking on the prescribing of psychotropic drugs and other potentially harmful drugs to foster kids, as well as restrict how juvenile courts authorize such medication, set up a system of nurses to monitor the kids who are medicated, and push doctors to choose non-medical treatments before psychiatric drugs.

Karen de Sá, who has been doing some powerful investigative reporting on the excessive use of psychotropic medications to treat California kids in the foster care system, has more on the issue for the San Jose Mercury News. Here’s a clip:

The newspaper’s investigation found the powerful medications, which can cause debilitating side effects, are often prescribed to control troubled children’s behavior. But the bills, approved unanimously in the state Senate on Thursday, would improve how the state’s juvenile courts approve prescriptions; create new training programs; expand the ranks of public health nurses; and require ongoing reporting of how often foster children are being medicated.

Social workers would be alerted when kids receive multiple medications or high dosages and when psychiatric drugs are prescribed to very young children. And residential group homes, where prescribing is typically the highest, would be more closely monitored and subject to corrective action.

“The Senate has sent a clear message: The system must never permit powerful psychotropic drugs to replace other effective and necessary treatments,” said Sen. Jim Beall, D-San Jose, who authored the bills along with Sens. Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, and Bill Monning, D-Carmel.

While the legislation faces no formal opposition, some child psychiatrists have expressed concerns that too many new rules could hinder care when access to medication is vital. The bills also carry a multimillion dollar price tag that could threaten their passage if they reach the governor’s desk.


A court in Orange County aims to help, rather than punish, veterans who are often suffering from PTSD, other mental illnesses, substance abuse, or a combination of those issues. The veterans court is modeled after drug courts and offers low-level offenders an alternative to incarceration.

To make the veterans feel more comfortable, the court does certain things military-style, like addressing participants by their rank. Participants receive a mentor (who is also a combat veteran), intensive therapy, substance abuse treatment, and other services they must take advantage of to make it through the program.

The veterans court, one of many cropping up across the nation, believes it has saved $2 million so far in jail and prison expenses since its inception five years ago.

Alisa Roth has more on the program for the Marketplace Morning Report. Here’s a clip:

Castro ended up in the veterans court in Orange County, California, after he got drunk and beat up a worker in a Subway restaurant. He says he doesn’t remember much of what happened, but he woke up the next morning in jail facing a bunch of felony charges.

The veterans court wasn’t his first choice, he says, but it seemed better than prison. And when he started the program, he was pleasantly surprised to find that it felt familiar.

“It was like being in the Marine Corps again,” he says. “They’re watching you … they’re on you.”

The program is modeled on drug courts, so the emphasis is on treatment and recovery rather than punishment. In this case, the court connects clients to existing services, mostly through the Department of Veterans Affairs, and then forces the vets to make use of them or go back to jail. It’s intense: there’s substance abuse treatment, group therapy and individual therapy, plus regular check-ins with the judge and probation officer at court.

“They make you get those demons out,” Castro says. “They make you work, work, work.”

But it’s also supportive.

“What makes this unique,” says Joe Perez, the presiding judge, “is we’re all getting together, trying to figure out what’s the best way to keep this person from coming back.”

In Orange County, one of the ways they try to keep people from coming back is to make court feel like the military. The judge makes references to the military, sometimes addressing clients by their rank.


A former FBI agent, Scott Bowman, was indicted Wednesday for allegedly stealing more than $100,000 in confiscated drug raid money, and for obstructing justice by falsifying FBI reports to hide his ill-gotten gains. As part of the Gang Impact Team “GIT” in San Bernardino, Bowman carried out state and federal search warrants throughout the Central District of California, seizing and documenting evidence from drug raids.

Bowman allegedly spent the money on two cars plus upgraded equipment, plastic surgery for his wife, and a weekend in Las Vegas at a luxury hotel with his girlfriend.

As an explanation for his increased spending, Bowman allegedly told his fellow agents that he had received an advance inheritance of $97,000 from his sick father.

Here’s a clip from the Dept. of Justice:

The indictment alleges that Bowman used the stolen money for his own purposes, including spending $43,850 in cash to purchase a 2012 Dodge Challenger coupe, $27,500 in cash to purchase a 2013 Toyota Scion FR-S coupe and approximately $26,612 in cash to outfit these vehicles with new equipment including speakers, rims and tires. According to the allegations in the indictment, the defendant also used approximately $15,000 of the misappropriated cash to pay for cosmetic surgery for his spouse, and opened a checking account into which he deposited approximately $10,665 of the stolen funds, a portion of which he used to pay for a weekend stay at a luxury hotel, casino and resort in Las Vegas, Nevada.

According to the indictment, to conceal his misappropriation of the drug proceeds, Bowman allegedly falsified official FBI reports and other records. Specifically, in connection with one of the seizures, Bowman allegedly endorsed an evidence receipt knowing that it did not accurately reflect the amount of cash seized and altered the same receipt by forging the signature of a police detective next to his own.

The indictment further alleges that Bowman made false representations to his colleagues regarding the disposition of certain seized drug proceeds. In addition, Bowman allegedly sent an email to the detective whose signature Bowman had forged setting forth a detailed cover story that the detective should offer if asked about Bowman’s activities with respect to the seized drug proceeds. According to the indictment, Bowman also allegedly provided the detective with a copy of the forged receipt so that the detective falsely could claim the forged signature as his own, if asked.

The Department of Justice Office of Inspector General has investigated this case, and now it is in the hands of prosecutors from the Criminal Division’s Public Integrity Section.


Fusion’s Collier Meyerson has a worthwhile guide to black-on-black crime for those sometimes generality-ridden discussions about crime in predominantly black communities.

Meyerson excerpts articles, research, and statistics to help move the public dialogue away from common myths toward more fact-driven context. Here are some examples:

2. Gun violence in black communities is a matter of public health, and it depends on a variety of structural inequalities.

Jonah Birch and Paul Heideman break it down in Jacobin:

“Research suggests that violent crime rates are driven by a variety of social factors which tend to make American cities particularly prone to gun violence against black residents. Among the most of these factors are very high levels of neighborhood segregation, concentrated un- and underemployment, poverty and a dearth of adequate social services or institutional resources. Fundamentally, gun violence has to be treated like other kinds of public health problems — not as the basis for continuous, empty calls for an introspective discussion about ‘black on black violence.’ And like other kinds of public health disparities, tackling high rates of inter-personal violence requires confronting the social context in which it occurs.”


5. Crime in black communities and crime committed against black people by the state are not created equal.

Michael Eric Dyson gives a compelling reason: “Black people who kill black people go to jail. White people who are policemen who kill black people do not go to jail.”

“Focusing on black-on-black crime distracts from the current news (the murder case against Slanger, in this instance) that is worthy of discussion and analysis. Worse, it randomly zooms in on one phenomenon — that sometimes black people kill people who are also black — while ignoring the issues that go hand in hand with it. And that’s a lot to ignore. As Ta-Nehesi Coates wrote at the Atlantic in 2014, “The policy of America has been, for most of its history, white supremacy. The high rates of violence in black neighborhoods do not exist outside of these facts — they evidence them.”

Posted in Edmund G. Brown, Jr. (Jerry), FBI, Foster Care, mental health | 6 Comments »

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