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RETRIAL: Two LA County Sheriff’s Deputies to be Retried for Assault on Inmate

February 4th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Two days after an unusually mixed verdict was handed down on Tuesday
afternoon, following the two-week federal trial of two Los Angeles Sheriff’s deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez, on Thursday afternoon, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker and federal prosecutors Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins announced they would retry Aguiar and Ramirez on Count Two of the four original charges.

If you’ll remember, the deputies were acquitted of Count One which was the conspiracy charge.

But Ramirez was convicted on Count Three and Aguiar on Count Four, both pertaining to charges of falsifying reports to portray Bret Phillips, the inmate the deputies allegedly assaulted, as the aggressor.

On Count Two, which charged the deputies with assaulting Mr. Phillips, the jury was “hopelessly deadlocked,” with 10 jurors voting to convict, two voting to acquit.

Aguiar and Ramirez are to be retried on Count Two.

Posted in LASD | 4 Comments »

A Mixed Verdict of Guilty & Not-Guilty in the LA Sheriff’s Deputies Jail Abuse Trial Causes Confusion

February 3rd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


A MIXED MESSAGE

The verdict in the jail brutality trial of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez, came in around 3 PM on Tuesday, and when the decidedly mixed results were announced in the downtown federal courtroom of Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell, the news seemed to surprise nearly everyone present.

The 12-person jury found each of the deputies not guilty of one count, guilty on anther count, and on a third count—which is arguably the most important charge of all—the jury split, with 10 jurors voting for guilt, two holding out for not guilty.

The details of the verdict are as follows:

Not guilty for both deputies on Count 1, which was the charge of conspiracy to violate inmate Bret Phillips’ civil rights by agreeing to “injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate” him.

Guilty on Counts 3 and 4, which means that both Ramirez (in Count 3) and Aguiar (in Count 4) were found to have written false reports saying that inmate Phillips had attempted to attack the deputies.

On Count 2, which was basically the count alleging that Ramirez and Aguiar had assaulted Mr. Phillips, 10 of the jurors voted that the deputies had committed assault-to-produce-bodily-injury, two voted that the deputies had not. Thus a mistrial on Count 2 was declared.

This means the federal prosecutors could choose to try the assault count again—or not.

Outside the federal court building, Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams said that the government is thinking “very carefully” about whether to try the two deputies again.

Despite the mixed verdict, prosecutor Williams pronounced the jury’s decision a “win.”

On Count 2, the assault charge, she noted that “the jury was at 10 to 2,” to convict. “I think that’s very encouraging,” Williams said.


HOW THE JURY SAW IT

The moment after the first verdict of not guilty on Count 1 was read by jury forewoman Janet Giampaoli, Deputy Ramirez put his head in his hands, and began to sob, while his codefendant, Joey Aguiar was far more stoic, and mostly stared straight ahead. Then came the announcement of the mistrial on Count 2, and finally the guilty verdict on counts 3 and 4, and both deputies’ expressions turned grim.

The conviction of the charge of falsifying records with the intent to obstruct justice could mean as much as 20 years in federal prison.

After the crowd in the courtroom dispersed, forewoman Giampaoli, did her best to explain the jurors’ reasoning on the divergent verdicts.

On Counts 3 and 4, which found the two deputies guilty of lying on their official reports, Giampaoli said that jurors were concerned by what they saw as glaring similarities in the deputies’ reports. For example, she said, they used identical “adverbs and adjectives,” and very specific “phraseology,” which jurors found suspicious.

“And in general we didn’t feel that [the incident] happened the way they wrote it,” she said. “It couldn’t have.”

Okay so, if the jurors voted unanimously to convict Ramirez and Aguiar of falsifying their reports about Phillips having tried to attack them, while at the same time admitting to repeatedly striking Phillips with fists and a flashlight, plus squirting him in the face with pepper spray, why then did two of the jurors decline to vote to convict on Count 2, which alleged the deputies had improperly beaten Phillips?

In answer to the question, jury forewoman Giampaoli said there were a number of things that made it hard for the holdouts to convict on that 2nd count.

“The injuries that we were shown did not match up with what the prosecution claimed,” Giampaoli said. “In the medical records all we saw was one laceration and two to three superficial abrasions, and a bruised elbow.”

She said the two holdouts were also bothered by what they believed to be inconsistencies in the testimony of the prosecution’s two primary witnesses, jail Chaplain Paulino Juarez and prison inmate John Maestez, who is serving a 21-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and who was bussed down from Delano state prison to testify in leg chains.

Speaking personally, Giampaoli admitted that she was not impressed by Maestez, adding that she did think Chaplain Juarez “definitely saw something. But I don’t that what he said he saw was the same thing as what he saw.”

According to the forewoman, the jury arrived at their 10-2 deadlock on Count 2 on Monday, and no one budged after that.

She said that the jurors also agreed on acquittal on Count 1, the conspiracy, on Monday as well. “We just didn’t think it was something that was planned out, or that they got together and decided to do.”

“We had a discussion this morning about staying unbiased and fair, and we all did take it very seriously,” Giampaoli said.


VERDICT CONFUSION

Still, many with interest in that trial said they found the verdict perplexing. George Hofstetter, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), was among them.

“We are mystified by how the jury, upon finding the deputies not guilty of conspiracy, and not finding them guilty of extensive use of force, nonetheless concluded that the deputies filed a false police report regarding the incident.” Hofstetter said in a written statement released on Tuesday afternoon.

Defense attorney Vicki Podberesky, who represented Ramirez, told ABC 7 reporters she too was puzzled by the jury’s uneven decisions. “I’m somewhat confused about how they found him guilty on a false report, and hung on the use of force,” Podberesky said.

A veteran criminal defense attorney who had been tracking case was another who expressed confusion. “If false reports were filed, that means the deputies were covering up something—like a beat-down of an inmate,” she said.

United States District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell scheduled a sentencing date for April 25. And in a statement released early Tuesday evening, U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker confirmed that federal prosecutors have yet to decide if they will retry Aguiar and Ramirez on the unresolved civil rights charge.

Tuesday night, Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins, like his co-prosecutor, Jennifer Williams, said he was actually encouraged by the mixed verdict.

“Ten people on that jury were clear that something terrible happened to Brett Phillips on February 11, 2009, because members of the sheriff’s department abused their power by doing exactly the opposite of what they were sworn to do,” he said.

“And the prosecution was able to convince the jury that the deputies couldn’t just wipe what happened under the rug” by lying about what occurred.

The case against Aguiar and Ramirez is the result of an investigation by the FBI into corruption and civil rights abuses at county jail facilities in Los Angeles. As a consequence of the FBI’s investigation, 17 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges.


EDITOR’S NOTE:

WLA is in the process of obtaining a copy of the video showing Bret Phillips on a gurney immediately after his encounter with LA County sheriff’s deputies Ramirez and Aguiar, and others. However, ABC 7 has already received the video, some of which they broadcast late Tuesday night. You can find the broadcast here if you scroll to the second video on the page. Both the ABC 7 broadcasts are worth watching.

Also, Joel Rubin at the LA Times has his own good write-up on the verdict.

Posted in LASD | 25 Comments »

LASD JAIL BRUTALITY JURY HAS A (VERY MIXED) VERDICT: Not Guilty, Guilty & Can’t Agree

February 2nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



In a decidedly mixed verdict that came in just around 3 PM
in the downtown Los Angeles federal courtroom of Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell, the 12-person jury in the jail brutality trial of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez, found each of the deputies not guilty of one count, guilty on anther count, and on a third count—which is arguably the most important—the jury split, with 10 jurors voting for guilt, two holding out for not guiltY.

The specifics of the verdict are as follows:

Not guilty for both deputies on Count 1, which was the charge of conspiracy to violate inmate Bret Phillips’ civil rights by agreeing to “injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate” him.

Guilty on Counts 3 and 4, which means that both Ramirez (in Count 3) and Aguiar (in Count 4) were found to have written false reports saying that inmate Phillips had attempted to attack the deputies.

On Count 2, which was basically the count alleging that Ramirez and Aguiar had assaulted Mr. Phillips, 10 of the jurors voted that the deputies had committed assault-to-produce-bodily-injury, two voted that the deputies had not. Thus a mistrial on Count 2 was declared.

This means the government could choose to try the assault count again—or not.

Prosecution attorney Jennifer Williams stated that the government was thinking very carefully about whether to try the two deputies again.

Posted in LASD | 8 Comments »

Jury In LASD Jail Brutality Case “Hopelessly Deadlocked” on 1 Count for Each Defendant, Judge Uses Legal Crowbar

February 2nd, 2016 by Celeste Fremon



Just before lunch, the jury in the latest jail brutality case
involving members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department sent Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell a note saying they were “hopelessly deadlocked” on one count for each of the two defendant. (There are four counts total.) Presumably, we are to believe they are unanimous on the rest of the counts.

This is the trial in which LASD deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez are charged with assaulting an allegedly non-resistant Men’s Central Jail inmate named Bret Phillips on February 11, 2009, then covering up their actions by writing false reports that depict Phillips as the aggressor.

Judge O’Connell responded with a judicial tool that is legal in California called the Allen Charge.

Specifically, the Allen Charge is an instruction given by the court to a deadlocked jury to strongly encourage it to continue deliberating until it reaches a verdict. Some states prohibit Allen charges, because they see them coercive, but the U.S. Supreme Court upheld their use in Allen v. U.S., 164 U.S. (1896). The Allen Charge is variously known as the dynamite charge, the nitroglycerine charge, the shotgun charge, and the third-degree instruction.

To remind you, here are brief descriptions of the four counts on which the jury has been deliberating.

1. Conspiracy to violate Mr. Phillips’ civil rights by agreeing to “injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate” him.

2. This is basically the assault-to-produce-bodily-injury count.

3. In this count, Deputy Ramirez is charged with writing false reports stating that Phillips attempted to head butt Deputy Aguiar in the face, and also attempted to “violently kick” Aguiar.

4. Similarly, in the final count Deputy Aguiar is charged with writing false reports stating that Phillips had “viciously kicked his legs at deputies” and continued to do so.

Posted in LASD | No Comments »

Jury in LASD Jail Brutality Case Agrees on 1 Count, Still Dithers on the Other 3

February 1st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


At 4:30 pm on Monday, U.S. District Court Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell
received a note from the jury that has been deliberating for more than seven hours in the trial of two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies who are indicted on four counts of federal charges.

This is the trial in which LASD deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez are charged with punching, kicking, pepper spraying and whacking with a flashlight an allegedly non-resistant former Men’s Central Jail inmate named Bret Phillips on February 11, 2009, then covering up their actions by writing false reports that depict Phillips as the aggressor.

Judge O’Connell read the note in open court in the presence of government prosecutors, Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins, and defense attorneys, Evan Jenness and Vicki Podberesky, plus their clients, Aguiar and Ramirez.

As for the contents of note itself, the jurors wrote that they had agreed on one count, but had not agreed on the other four.

There was no mention of “hopelessly deadlocked.” Instead, the note seemed to be more of a status report.

So which count did the jurors agree on, and did they agree to convict or acquit?

Nobody knows, although speculation abounds.

The 4 counts are, in brief:

1. Conspiracy to violate Mr. Phillips’ civil rights by agreeing to “injure, oppress, threaten and intimidate” him.

2. This is basically the assault-to-produce-bodily-injury count.

3. In this count, Deputy Ramirez is charged with writing false reports stating that Phillips attempted to head butt Deputy Aguiar in the face, and also attempted to “violently kick” Aguiar.

4. Similarly, in the final county Deputy Aguiar is charged with writing false reports stating that Phillips had “viciously kicked his legs at deputies” and continued to do so.

So what if anything does this portend for a final verdict? Or is the jury leaning toward hanging?

It’s anybody’s guess.

“But they didn’t look bored,” observed an informed trial watcher.

Posted in LASD | No Comments »

WHO WILL THE JURY BELIEVE? The Latest LA Sheriff’s Department Brutality Case is Now in the Jurors’ Hands

February 1st, 2016 by Celeste Fremon


WHO WILL THE JURY BELIEVE?

Assistant U.S. attorney Mack Jenkins began his closing arguments for the latest federal trial of members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department by describing what he called an “unlikely trio” of witnesses on which the government’s case depends.

“A chaplain who worked by choice for almost 20 years to help those” in Men’s Central Jail “who others forgot or wished to forget,” Jenkins said on Friday afternoon as he listed his trio. “A gang dropout marked by his own gang for death” who “had nothing to gain,” but who was a “captive front row witness,” and finally “a mentally ill” inmate who is the victim or the aggressor in this story, depending on whose account one believes.

“Three men who never met before that day, who’ve never met since that day,” said Jenkins to the rapt jury. But each of the three were bound by having experienced a “terrible thing.”

The defendants in the jail brutality case that began in federal court two weeks ago are two LASD deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez, who are charged with punching, kicking, pepper spraying and whacking with a flashlight an-allegedly non-resistant former Men’s Central Jail inmate–Bret Phillips—on February 11, 2009. Aguiar and Ramirez are also charged with falsifying reports after the beating to portray Phillips as a violent, out-of-control aggressor whose actions required multiple deputies using various kinds of legal force to bring him back under control, and who should be prosecuted for his actions.

Phillips—who, according to his own testimony has been formally diagnosed as being both bipolar and schizophrenic—was not on his medication at the time.

Unlike last year’s jail brutality trial involving former department members who were convicted for brutally beating jail visitor, Gabriel Carrillo, then falsifying reports that resulted in a felony charge against their victim, this trial depends almost entirely on which group of witnesses the jury thinks is telling the truth.

In contrast, the jail visitor trial was less of a they said/they said conflict, since two of the five deputies originally charged with the beating and cover-up, agreed to testify for the government in return for a deal. Plus, the defense contended that Carrillo had never been fully handcuffed, thus had been able to assault deputies by swinging an unsecured handcuff chain attached to one wrist. The prosecution, however, had a photo of Carrillo’s hands and lower arms taken shortly after the incident, which clearly showed injuries on both wrists of the kind that over tight cuffs typically produce—visual evidence that jurors later said they found persuasive.

Yet, in this case, there was never any doubt that inmate Phillips was waist-chained and handcuffed. However, the defense argues that the cuffs and chains did not in any way deter the inmate from attempting to head butt Deputy Aguiar. Then later, when he was face down on the ground with three deputies on top of him, the “agitated” Phillips was still “violently gyrating,” and “viciously kicking” toward deputies, thus had to be struck multiple times with “personal weapons,” in other words, the deputies’ fists, then struck additional times with a standard issue flashlight, then sprayed in the face with pepper spray, and ultimately hogtied and “tarped,” each of which is another form of restraint.

“They wanted to make him a monster,” prosecutor Jenkins told the jury. “They made him the Incredible Hulk.” There were, Jenkins said, 600 lbs. worth of deputies on top of the 5’10” 158 lb. “physically frail” Phillips. “And yet they were afraid for their lives.”


STAR WITNESSES FOR THE DEFENSE

The defense too had their star witnesses, most notably Sgt. Ernie Barbosa, who was likable and calmly professional in his demeanor, and persuasive on the stand, and Deputy Renee Madrid, who also came across as calm and clear-eyed. Neither man saw the main part of the incident. Madrid gave an account of the encounter’s beginning. Barbosa described what he saw at the end. Both maintained that the force used was entirely necessary.

The other main eyewitness for the defense was retired MCJ nurse, Marjorie Roseen, but her testimony was less even, and seemed at times at odds with some of the medical reports from the 2009 use of force, and her own hand written notes.

“Is Sergeant Barbosa lying?” asked defense attorney Vicki Podberesky when it was her turn to present closing arguments. “That’s what the government wants you to think. ….The government wants you to believe that not only are Deputy Ramirez and Deputy Aguiar” lying, “but also Deputy Madrid and Sgt. Barbosa were part of the cover-up, and even Nurse Roseen.”

Defense attorney, Evan Jenness, reminded the jury that former inmate Phillips was bringing a civil lawsuit against the department. “He’s got a motive. He wants to get money.”

Jenness and Podberesky both contend that Phillips’ injuries were minor and not consistent with the vicious beating that the government’s witnesses describe. And indeed there were no fractured limbs or shattered orbitals, the eye-socket injury that has sometimes been a feature of other jail beatings. But the video shown multiple times during the trial that depicts Phillips being wheeled on a gurney toward MCJ’s medical clinic—then later being interviewed by Sgt. Barbosa,—shows a man who initially appears disoriented and groaning in pain, although the defense has portrayed the footage as visual proof that Phillips was not, in fact, all that injured.

What matters, of course, is what the jury sees.

Yet, in the end, it will likely not come down to videos and written reports, it will come down to the witnesses.

On the side of the defense there were the two sworn department members, who were intelligent and specific in their descriptions of events, and not easily rattled on the stand. (The defendants themselves declined to testify.) For the prosecution, there was “the unlikely trio.”

In brief, here are the prosecution’s three:


THE UNLIKELY TRIO

First there was Chaplain Paulino Juarez, who has been working as a Catholic chaplain at LA County’s Men’s Central Jail since 1998, who told the jury he was treated for PTSD after witnessing the beating, which at the time, he said he thought might have killed Phillips. “I saw something inexplicable,” he testified that he blurted to a fellow chaplain minutes after he witnessed the alleged beating. “Something I never expected to see. Something that should not happen at all.”

Then there was Phillips himself who said he’d been fearful of retaliation because he’d tossed milk cartons toward Deputy Aguilar earlier in the day after being left in his cell in waist chains and what he described as painfully tight handcuffs for thirty or so minutes. As for the incident itself, that occurred when Phillips was being returned from a routine visit to the medical clinic, the former inmate said he remembers nothing after having his head slammed into the wall by Aguiar and being put in a chokehold by Ramirez and passing out. Yet when he woke up, he said, he was on a gurney and felt the affects of pepper spray. He was in pain in various parts of his body from the alleged beating. And the next day, he was in far more pain, he said, to the point that walking was very difficult. By that time, he’d been transferred to “the hole” as punishment. “But the hole was better. It was safer,” he told the prosecution. “You’re by yourself.”

Finally, there was John Maestaz, 48, who is serving a 21-year sentence for voluntary manslaughter and who was bussed down from Delano state prison to testify in leg chains. A former eastside gang member, Maestaz, is in protective custody after a conflict with “my own people,” and now has a “green light,” meaning, in Mexican Mafia terms, he is marked for death.

On February 11, 2009, Maestaz said he was in the unit’s inmate shower, where there is also a payphone, talking on the phone to his wife when—like the chaplain—he witnessed what he described as a “very, very violent altercation.” When he crept next to the bars to look, he said, he saw the inmate lying flat on the ground, unresisting, while two deputies were on top of him, and later more deputies joined in. The taller deputy, said Maestaz, meaning Aguiar, had a “knee on his shoulder,” and “kept slamming” the back of Phillips head. “We call it ‘hammer fisting,’ “ he said, then demonstrated using the soft bottom of a closed fist to pound downward.

Maestaz said, at some point, he saw a shocked-looking Chaplain Juarez also watching events unfold, but that he—Maestaz—kept ducking back behind the wall of the shower cell to avoid being seen by deputies.

As for Phillips, “he was not moving. They kept hitting and hitting him.” According to Maestez, Phillips “had a blank look on his face…..he wasn’t there. He was helpless. “ Yet the deputies, said Maestaz, were shouting “stop resisting.”

Maestaz said that, until he eventually learned otherwise, he believed “I watched a man get beat to death.”

As to why he was testifying, Maestaz said, “I don’t want to be here. It goes against everything, to tell on someone. I didn’t want to testify.”

Maestaz also said that he had been promised nothing by the prosecution for his testimony.

The descriptions of events by the three prosecution witness are very similar, yet there are also inconsistencies.

So who will the jury believe?

Presumably soon we will know the answer to that question.


EDITOR’S NOTE: While trial exhibits are not yet available to the press, readers can, at least, get an idea of the testimony by Chaplain Paulino Juarez by listening to the audio of his 2012 testimony in front of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, which you can find here.

His general testimony begins at the 3:18 mark, but the testimony pertaining to the Aguiar-Ramirez case begins a few seconds after the 3:30 mark.

Posted in LASD | 12 Comments »

Competing Truths Unfold at the Trial of 2 LA Sheriff’s Deputies Who Allegedly Beat an Inmate Then Lied to Cover Up

January 25th, 2016 by Celeste Fremon

Every criminal trial is, at its heart, a battle over whose truth will prevail.

In the latest federal trial involving members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, which began last Tuesday, the matter of competing truths is particularly dramatic.

The defendants are two LASD deputies, Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez, who are charged with punching, kicking, pepper spraying and generally whacking with a flashlight an-allegedly non-resistant former Men’s Central Jail inmate named Bret Phillips on February 11, 2009. Then, after the beating, Aguier and Ramirez allegedly falsified reports to portray Phillips, who is mentally ill, as the violent, out-of-control aggressor whose actions required multiple deputies using various kinds of force to bring him back under control, and who should be prosecuted for his actions.

According to federal prosecutors, Jennifer Williams and Mack Jenkins, on the morning of February 11, 2009, Phillips—who has been formally diagnosed as being both bipolar and schizophrenic—was handcuffed and waist-chained as he was being led back to his cell from a trip to the jail’s medical clinic. As Assistant U.S. Attorney Jennifer Williams described it in her opening statement, the inmate was nervous because, earlier in the morning, he’d been left in painfully over-tight cuffs and chains for around half an hour, and had repeatedly called out to deputy Aguier to have the cuffs loosened. When he was ignored multiple times, in frustration, inmate Phillips managed, with difficulty, to pick up a couple of small milk cartons that were in his cell. Then the next time Aguier walked by, Phillips tossed the cartons in the deputy’s direction to get his attention. As nearly as Phillips could tell, one carton struck the deputy’s foot.

Thus when the inmate was on the way back from the clinic, and Deputy Aguier approached Phillips and told him to face the wall, inmate Phillips became frightened that the milk carton tossing incident would provoke a retaliation. And that is, according to Williams, when the alleged beating began, by Aguier and a second deputy, Ramirez, and eventually others. Williams said Phillips lost consciousness somewhere during the event, and never resisted in any way.

“Something terrible happened to Bret Phillips,” said Williams. Although Phillips’ was still cuffed and chained, she said, “he suffered a beating by deputies” who were “sworn to protect and serve. But they did the opposite.”

According to defense attorneys Evan Jenness and Vicki Podberesky, who each gave separate opening statements after the prosecution finished, the incident in question was entirely different than what Williams presented. This “trial is about a necessary use of force,” that was the only way to bring under control a dangerous inmate in the most dangerous unit of the county’s most dangerous jail.

“Even if they are waist-chained, inmates can still use other parts of their body” to attack deputies, said Vicki Podberesky, who represents Ramirez. And that’s exactly what Phillips had done. He said, “’Fuck you, deputy, I ain’t goin’ back!’” Podberesky told the jury. “And then he head-butted the deputy and was taken to the ground,” she said. Phillips also tried to viciously kick Aguier, which his waist chains and handcuffs in no way prevented him from doing.

Another deputy who saw what was unfolding yelled 415! 415! Meaning “a deputy assault was going on.” And additional LASD showed up.

Yes, said Podberesky, deputies struck Bret Phillips in the ribs “two or three times,” to subdue him. They also used OC spray—pepper spray. “Then when that didn’t work, Deputy Ramirez took out a flashlight and struck Bret Phillips in the legs several times.”

But although necessary force was used, and it wasn’t pretty, unlike what the prosecution claimed, Phillips was barely injured, said the defense attorneys. There was no bleeding, no large lacerations, no excessive bruising.

Contrary to what the prosecution said that its witnesses would state, “there was no blood,” said Podberesky. Phillips was not unconscious. He “was awake, alert and agitated,” and photos and a video taken within minutes of the incident will show this, she said.

Furthermore, while the prosecution described a brutal beating given to Phillips by the defendants, in the course of their opening, the defense showed the jury a photo of Phillips’ forehead that was reportedly taken after the incident. It shows what appears to be a comparatively minor laceration with no swelling or bruising to speak of. It is nothing like the swollen, discolored post-beating face of Gabriel Carrillo, the victim of a brutal deputy assault who testified in one of the previous federal trials of LASD deputies. In that case, two deputies and a sergeant were subsequently convicted of assaulting Carrillo in the jail’s visitor’s center. They were also convicted of falsifying reports to cover their actions, portraying Carrillo as the aggressor—as it is alleged in this trial that deputies Aguier and Ramirez have done.

In contrast, when Bret Phillips was released from jail, “he never made a complaint,” about the MCJ incident, said Aguier’s attorney, Evan Jenness. He got that idea from investigators, she said.

“So why are we here?” Jenness, asked the jury rhetorically. The answer: “When you have a witness, if they have biases, they are not reliable.”


THE WITNESS

Indeed, whichever truth is the right one, the alleged 2009 beating of Bret Phillips would likely never have gotten on the feds’ radar, much less resulted in the October 2013 federal indictment of two deputies, had it not been for the presence of a civilian witness.

Otherwise, it would have been the word of one mentally ill inmate with a record for acting out when he’s off his meds, against that of several working members of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department who either participated in the even or observed it and who, according to the defense, will be showing up to testify.

The civilian witness in this case is a Catholic jail chaplain named Paulino Juarez, who has been working at MCJ providing spiritual counsel for inmates since 1998. Unbeknownst to the deputies involved in the Phillips incident, according to the prosecution, Chaplain Juarez was in the third floor 3500-3700 module just beginning his rounds to visit prisoners on the module, when he heard the encounter with Bret Phillips taking place nearby and, alarmed at what he heard, walked quietly toward the action to investigate.

Juarez normally made those rounds in the afternoon. But on the day in question he had a scheduling conflict, so began his visits in the morning. Thus, according to the prosecution, the deputies failed to notice Juarez’ unexpected presence until after the incident was in full swing, so to speak.

“There was one witness they weren’t counting on,” said prosecutor Williams in her opening. “A chaplain. What he saw was so severe that he thought it left the inmate dead.” And the chaplain “at no time saw the inmate fighting or resisting.”

There are also two former jail inmates on the prosecution’s witness list, both of whom reportedly witnessed whatever happened between the deputies and Phillips.

But it is Chaplain Juarez’s testimony that is arguably the most critical for the prosecution.


THE JITTERY JURORS

For the first couple of days of the trial, it looked as if the government might never get to Chaplain Juarez and its other main witnesses at all. In fact, by Wednesday afternoon, that the possibility that U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell might have to declare mistrial looked increasingly likely, due to a string of jurors who managed to get themselves excused, or tried to get themselves excused, until the court was out of alternates.

First there was a woman who, moments after being sworn in on Tuesday, told the judge she was being treated for anxiety, depression and occasionally hearing voices, so couldn’t concentrate. (She was excused.) Another, failed to mention prior to swearing in that her father was a former probation officer, which she suddenly realized would make her unalterably pro law enforcement. (She too was excused.)

Even before the jury was seated, a diminutive woman who nearly made the panel told the judge that as a practicing Buddhist she “couldn’t condemn anyone,” because we were all here in life to learn. Then, a third juror said after opening arguments that she felt intimidated by the trial’s subject matter and feared that she might be retaliated against by those involved. (She did not specify which side she thought might do the retaliating.) The judge managed to wrangle her into staying. By the day’s end, however, both alternate jurors were used up, meaning if anyone else dropped out, the jury number would fall to eleven and a mistrial could result.

So when on Wednesday morning, a diving stock market drove still another juror to tell the judge that he was in the financial industry, and he couldn’t concentrate due to worrying about his clients who were no doubt freaking out, the judge sent everyone home at midday.

By Thursday morning, the market had bounced back a little, and the financial guy said he’d managed to make other arrangements for his clients, thus a mistrial was averted, and the prosecutors were finally able to call Chaplain Juarez to the stand.

Then, on Friday, Phillips himself was sworn in to tell his story.


To Be Continued…

Posted in LASD | 5 Comments »

County Litigation Figures, and LA County and City Approve Big-Ticket Settlements

January 20th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

THE LA COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPT. SPENT $61 MILLION ON LAWSUITS LAST YEAR

LA County spent $118.9 million during fiscal year 2014-2015, an increase of 24% over the $95.6 million spent in FY 2013-14 according to a new report from County Counsel.

The LA County Sheriff’s Department alone spent $61 million on litigation, up 50%—$20 million—over the previous year’s $40 million. The LASD spent more than half—$33.5 million—on excessive force incidents, most of which were patrol cases (only 3.7% were jail cases). The excessive force cost was up nearly $10 million over the previous year.

Much of these cases date back several years. So while the sum paid out for law enforcement cases has risen over the past few years, instances of excessive use of force are actually declining. A report from the County CEO’s Office, also presented to the board Tuesday, says that use of force numbers dropped 22% from fiscal year 2013-2014 to 2014-2015.

Nearly half of the total $118.9 million was spent on litigation via attorneys’ fees and costs.

“Every cent the county spends on litigation is precious funding that we cannot use to house the homeless, promote better health and wellness for children, upskill our workforce and provide countless other needed services to our communities,” said LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis in a statement.


ANOTHER YEAR, ANOTHER SETTLEMENT: LA COUNTY APPROVES $1.6 MILLION LASD SETTLEMENT

After County Counsel presented a breakdown of last year’s legal costs to the Supervisors, the board approved a $1.6 million settlement in a lawsuit against the LASD over the fatal shooting of an 80-year-old man, Eugene Robert Mallory, in his home.

The LA Times Abby Sewell has more on the settlement. Here’s a clip:

The deputies were serving a search warrant at Mallory’s home in the community of Littlerock near Palmdale in June 2013 while investigating reports of a suspected meth lab.

No evidence of methamphetamine was found. Sheriff’s officials at the time said that marijuana was discovered on the property.

Mallory’s wife filed a wrongful death suit against the department. According to a statement released by her attorneys at the time, deputies claimed that Mallory had confronted them with a gun, but his wife said he was “sleeping in his bed when he was confronted and shot without warning.”

In a memo to the supervisors, county attorneys said the county denies the allegations in the lawsuit but recommended settling the case “due to the risks and uncertainties of litigation.”


EVEN MORE SETTLEMENT$ IN LA: CITY COUNCIL APPROVES $24.3 MILLION FOR WRONGFUL MURDER CONVICTIONS

The LA City Council has approved $24.3 million in settlements to two men, Kash Delano Register and Bruce Lisker, who spent decades behind bars for murders they did not commit.

The city will pay $16.7 million to Kash Delano Register, who spent 34 years in prison, and $7.6 million to Bruce Lisker, who spent 26 years in prison after being falsely convicted of killing his mother when he was 17.

CBS has the story. Here’s a clip:

Register had been convicted of the April 6, 1979, shooting death of 79-year-old Jack Sasson in West Los Angeles. A key witness in the case, Brenda Anderson, testified that she saw Register at the crime scene. Register was found guilty despite claims by his girlfriend that she was with him at the time.

Anderson’s sister, Sharon, testified at a court hearing in 2013 that her sibling had lied. According to attorneys for the Project for the Innocent, another Anderson sister tried to tell police investigating the shooting in 1979 that Brenda had lied to authorities, but the claim was never presented to Register’s defense attorney.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Katherine Mader ruled that the prosecution had failed to disclose exculpatory evidence and used false testimony at Register’s trial. That ruling cleared the way for the then-53-year-old Register’s release in 2013…

Register’s New York-based attorney, Nick Brustin, said he is “hopeful that Los Angeles will build on this settlement by adopting reforms to their eyewitness identification procedures.”

“This case should also be a lesson to Los Angeles and other cities to take a hard look at other cases where inmates proclaim their innocence, even where, as here, there was no remaining physical evidence to do testing like DNA,” he said.

[SNIP]

Lisker was convicted in 1985 of second-degree murder and sentenced to 16 years to life in prison for the death of his 66-year-old mother, Dorka, who was found stabbed and beaten to death in their Sherman Oaks home in 1983, when he was 17 years old.

A Los Angeles Times investigation in 2005 called into question much of the evidence in Lisker’s trial, and his conviction was overturned in August 2009 by a federal judge in Riverside, who ruled that false evidence had been used and that Lisker had inadequate legal representation.

Posted in LA City Council, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | 8 Comments »

LASD Oversight Moves Forward, LAPD Chief’s Recommendation for Charges in Venice Shooting, Closed Adoptions, and the State of the Union

January 13th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

FORMING CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT FOR THE LOS ANGELES SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 in favor of a plan for appointing members to a civilian oversight commission for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

The motion allows former law enforcement to serve on the nine-member panel, but only if they had been disengaged from the LASD (or other law enforcement agency) for at least a year.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who submitted the motion with Supe. Hilda Solis, defended the inclusion of former members of law enforcement, saying, “This is not about anti-law enforcement from my point of view, it is about pro-accountability of law enforcement. You want the best people to be part of causing that to happen, irrespective of their discipline.”

Supervisor Solis added that moving toward the creation of an oversight commission is a step toward better fiscal responsibility—better use of taxpayer money. “The County spends millions of taxpayer dollars settling lawsuits. That money could be spent on housing, services, or tax relief.”

You can read more about the decision on Supe. Ridley-Tomas’ website. Here’s a clip:

The motion also drew praise from Jose Osuna, director of external affairs at Homeboy Industries, which provides job training to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated men and women, allowing them to become contributing members of society.

We are highly encouraged by the commitment that is demonstrated by this motion to improve relationships between law enforcement, government, and the community,” Mr. Osuna told the Board.

Sheriff Jim McDonnell expressed support for the motion, saying, “I welcome the opportunity to work with the Inspector General and to have the Civilian Oversight Commission to be able to validate the good that’s being done (by the Sheriff’s Department) on behalf of the public.”Since the Sheriff signed a memorandum of agreement last month to provide the Inspector General with unprecedented access to information, the Board will wait until May 31 before considering asking voters to give the Commission subpoena powers via Charter amendment.

Raphael Sonenshein, executive director of the Pat Brown Institute at Cal State LA, supported the move. “I agree with the makers of the motion that it is worthwhile to allow the Sheriff to demonstrate that his voluntary agreement to share information with the Commission will be sufficient,” he told the Board. “[Afterwards], the Supervisors can consider what, if any, changes should be made involving subpoena power and changes to state law.

Under the motion, the five Supervisors would each appoint a Commissioner. The Board as a whole would appoint four other Commissioners from a pool of candidates recruited by a consultant.


LA TIMES EDITORIAL PRAISES LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK’S RECOMMENDATION FOR CHARGES IN OFFICER-KILLING OF HOMELESS MAN

An LA Times editorial lauds LAPD Chief Charlie Beck’s recommendation that a deputy be charged in the fatal shooting of a Venice homeless man as a rare and welcome change from what we have come to expect from the nation’s police chiefs. Here’s a clip:

To some, it may seem like an overtly political act. Some may suspect that Beck threw an officer under the bus to appease local activists and perhaps city officials in an effort to avoid the kind of uproar faced in Chicago and other cities where police officers have shot unarmed African Americans with seeming impunity. And who wouldn’t be suspicious? After all, this sort of recommendation isn’t made by police chiefs very often.

But maybe it should be done more often. Not the throwing under the bus part — obviously a police chief should base his decision on the facts and the evidence, and not on political pressure or public outcry. But the willingness of a chief to acknowledge that sometimes use of force is not justified even if a suspect was behaving badly is an important step forward. Historically, police chiefs in L.A. and elsewhere have been part of the cone of silence in cases of deadly use of force. No doubt the public outrage over police killings has made that stance more difficult.

The police union, however, is not at all thrilled with Beck’s decision to recommend charges. The LA Times Kate Mather has more on the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s statement, as well as a story about Beck’s responses to critics and outreach to his officers.

And the Atlantic’s Conor Friedersdorf has more on the fatal shooting of Brendan Glenn, an unarmed homeless man in Venice, and Chief Beck’s recommendation to charge Officer Clifford Proctor.


THE POTENTIAL TRAUMA OF CLOSED ADOPTIONS

After losing nearly all contact with her four nieces and nephews after their closed adoption—an process that has been traumatizing for all involved—17-year-old Jordain Rodriguez has stepped up to fight for children in the child welfare system. Rodriguez believes that regular contact with her nieces and nephews, whom she helped raise, would have been far more beneficial for the children, helping to reduce abandonment-related trauma.

The Chronicle of Social Change’s Jeremy Loudenback has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

…at age 13, life abruptly changed for Rodriguez. She was taken from her parents by child protective services and placed in relative foster care with her grandmother. Not long afterward, her nieces and nephews entered the system as well.

She remains haunted by the experience, especially when social workers arrived to take away some of the children.

“It was the worst thing I have ever had to do,” Rodriguez said. “They didn’t want to go, and they were scared to go in the car with a stranger.”

About a year later, the children were placed with an adoptive family, and Rodriguez and other family members—including her parents, her brother, her boyfriend and both of her sisters—were allowed a final visit before the children disappeared into the adoptive system.

“We didn’t tell the kids it was the last visit, but you could tell they knew this was the last time,” she said. “They were all upset. You could just tell.

“After the visit, I was very mad that I couldn’t do anything to keep them with me and that I had no say so about what the parents decided. I started crying a lot. It just broke my heart to see them leave.”

During the process, she worked with the Real Family Project to create a video about her story and listened to the experiences of adults who had been adopted in childhood. Issues like grief, abandonment and identity development may often follow adoptees into adulthood, leading to unresolved trauma long after an adoption occurs.

“I didn’t think that the hurt would stay with them so long after the adoption,” Rodriguez said. “It opened my eyes. Without answers, kids are always going to wonder where their families are.”

[SNIP]

Rodriguez is not content to let fate handle matters or wait until her nieces and nephews reach 18, when they’ll be able to access information about their biological family if they wish. In February, along with other CYC members, Rodriguez will make a visit to the state capitol in Sacramento, where she’ll present some of her research to legislators in support of a bill to better protect the rights of family members in the adoption process.

In closed adoptions, [adoptive parents] have all the power,” Rodriguez said. “The biggest thing is not making this just about siblings. It needs to be about all of the biological family. If they’re a good influence on the kids and if they have good intentions, [the law] shouldn’t just let adoptive parents rip them away.”


CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM LARGELY ABSENT FROM OBAMA’S STATE OF THE UNION SPEECH

Among the State of the Union guests seated next to Michelle Obama last night was Sue Ellen Allan, a woman who spent close to seven years in Arizona’s state prison for women. Once she was released in 2009, Allan fought to get back into the women’s prison to help the locked-up women with education services and employment training to disrupt the recidivism cycle. Sue Ellen’s non-profit re-entry program, Gina’s Team, is named after her cellmate who died while locked up.

Allan’s inclusion on the list of State of the Union guests is particularly noteworthy because while we hear often about initiatives and services meant to help imprisoned men, we rarely hear about women-specific programs and other efforts.

You can read more about Sue Ellen’s story over at Buzzfeed.

Also among the guests in the First Lady’s Box was Seattle Police Chief Kathleen O’Toole, who has become a national leader for community policing practices.

The White House also left an empty chair in the First Lady’s Box to represent the people killed by gun violence in the US each year.

Despite a handful of important criminal justice guests, the president only touched lightly on a couple of criminal justice topics. “I hope we can work together this year on bipartisan priorities like criminal justice reform, and helping people who are battling prescription drug abuse,” Obama said early on in his speech.

ThinkProgress has compiled a list of the social justice-related topics that Obama skipped, including gun violence.

Slate’s Leon Neyfakh has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

Besides the reference he made to the issue at the very beginning—in which he used justice reform as an example of a bipartisan effort he hopes Democrats and Republicans can work on together during the coming year—Obama brought up the criminal justice system just once, gesturing somewhat obliquely at the end of the speech to his belief that employers should not reject applicants based solely on their criminal record. (In a reference to the national debate over police use of force, he also gave a shoutout to “the protester determined to prove that justice matters” and “the young cop walking the beat, treating everybody with respect, doing the brave, quiet work of keeping us safe.”)

While reform advocates might take solace in the fact that criminal justice came up mere seconds into Obama’s remarks, it still got barely any airtime. Some experts in the field are speculating that it’s a strategic move—that Obama doesn’t want to associate himself too closely with the ongoing efforts to push a criminal justice bill through Congress, lest it scare off Republicans who would rather not be seen supporting his agenda. There’s also an argument to be made that, given the federal government’s relatively limited ability to make a dent on what is fundamentally a state issue, it’s only appropriate that the president prioritize other topics.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LA County Board of Supervisors, LASD | No Comments »

Populating the LASD Oversight Commission….LAPD Chief Recommends Charges in Officer-Involved Shooting….and More

January 12th, 2016 by Taylor Walker

LA COUNTY SUPES TO DISCUSS WHO SHOULD SIT ON AN LASD CIVILIAN OVERSIGHT PANEL

On Tuesday, the LA County Board of Supervisors are expected to discuss the makeup of a civilian commission to oversee the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

In previous talks about the oversight commission, one important topic of discussion has been whether retired sworn personnel could serve as commission members, or whether that would create a conflict of interest.

Supervisors Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis have submitted a motion to only allow former LASD personnel to serve on the nine-member commission after they had been disconnected from the department for one year.

Mark Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now argues ex-deputies should not serve on the board at all. Johnson says that even former personnel like Bob Olmsted, who testified about corruption and misconduct within the department to the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, could serve as advisors to the commission but not as commissioners, arguing that ex-cops on the commission could potentially harm the group’s credibility.

KPCC’s Frank Stoltze has more on the issue. Here’s a clip:

“Fundamentally, we don’t think law enforcement should be policing law enforcement,” said Mark-Anthony Johnson of Dignity and Power Now, a group that formed to protest deputy-on-inmate violence in the jails and pushed for the new commission.

“It doesn’t make sense,” Johnson said. “The community needs to know that they can go to a place where the people they are talking to have not been entrenched in a practice of law enforcement – one that protects law enforcement.”

But L.A. County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and the powerful Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs argue excluding former deputies from eligibility would be unfair and also exclude people who know the inner workings of the department.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis agree — and have introduced a motion that would allow former deputies to serve on the commission after a one-year period away from the department. They argue an ex-cop’s perspective could be valuable on a panel charged with looking for problems at the Sheriff’s Department.

“There is no question that it could have a lot of value depending on who the person is,” said Ridley-Thomas. He points to the late Jesse Brewer, a former LAPD assistant chief who became a strong voice for reform on the city’s civilian police commission in the 1990s.

“In my view he was one of the best commissioners to ever serve,” said Ridley-Thomas.

Johnson agrees that former officers can be valuable, citing ex-Sheriff’s Commander Bob Olmsted. He was one of the few sheriff’s officials to testify about problems at the department at the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence.


FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, LAPD CHIEF CHARLIE BECK RECOMMENDS CHARGING OFFICER IN FATAL SHOOTING

Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck has recommended that the LA County District Attorney’s Office charge police officer Clifford Proctor in the fatal shooting of Brendon Glenn, an unarmed homeless man in Venice.

Video and other evidence from the May shooting led police investigators to determine that during an altercation, Proctor shot 29-year-old Glenn twice in the back while Glenn was lying on his stomach on the ground.

It’s now up to LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey as to whether Proctor will be charged. This is the first time Chief Beck has ever recommended charges for an on-duty fatal shooting by an officer.

ABC7 has the story. Here’s a clip:

Proctor’s attorney said the officer saw Glenn reaching for his partner’s gun. However, Beck said that after reviewing video, witness accounts and other evidence, investigators determined Glenn was not trying to take either Proctor’s gun or his partner’s weapon at the time of the shooting.

Glenn was among 21 people fatally shot by Los Angeles police in 2015, when the overall number of officer-involved shootings in the nation’s second-largest city increased by 52 percent.

Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement that he hopes Beck’s recommendation is “considered with the utmost gravity.”

“As the District Attorney reviews this case, my hope is that Chief Beck’s recommendation is considered with the utmost gravity. No one is above the law, and whenever use-of-force crosses the line, it is our obligation to make sure that principle is upheld,” he said.

The police union, however blasted Beck.

“Chief Beck should never be involved in this,” said Craig Lally of the Los Angeles Police Protective League. “He should just hand over the investigation and let the people that are actually going to either file or prosecute this case – with the evidence at hand – let them decide.”

Meanwhile, there was rare praise for Beck from civil rights activists.

“It is so unprecedented,” said Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the L.A. Urban Policy Roundtable. “When in living memory can you remember a local police chief saying ‘an officer messed up. An officer abused his authority.’”


WINNING A CONVICTION AGAINST AN OFFICER IN A FATAL USE OF FORCE CASE IS DIFFICULT, TO SAY THE LEAST

Between 2005-2015, there was only one officer charged with murder or manslaughter for an on-duty fatal use of force. While the number of officers charged in the deaths of civilians has risen across the nation, it is still very difficult to convict an officer in an on-duty shooting, point out the LA Times’ Jack Leonard and James Queally, who have compiled a list of recent charges against California officers and their outcomes. Here’s a clip:

Despite California’s sheer size, officers rarely face charges for on-duty shootings, according to Phillip M. Stinson, an associate professor of criminal justice at Bowling Green State in Ohio who is tracking murder or manslaughter charges against officers nationwide.

From 2005-15, only one California officer was charged with murder or manslaughter in connection with an on-duty shooting, said Stinson. Nationally, 65 officers were charged with murder or manslaughter in connection with their role in on-duty shootings in that time frame, Stinson said.

Last year saw a noticeable spike in the frequency of such serious charges across the country, he said.

Eighteen officers were charged in 2015 with murder or manslaughter for an on-duty shooting, according to Stinson’s data. From 2011-14, just 16 officers faced similar charges.

Stinson said it’s too early to tell if there is a link between increased national scrutiny of police actions and an uptick in the number of murder or manslaughter charges filed against officers.

California prosecutors who have brought such cases in the last few decades have sometimes struggled to win convictions.


NO MORE CONTROVERSIAL STRIP SEARCHES FOR VISITORS TO CA PRISONS

Thanks to a change in state law, visitors at California prisons will no longer be subjected to strip searches.

Under the new regulations, visitors will now incur a year’s worth of heightened scrutiny if drug sniffing dogs or scanners detect illegal substances. And the penalties for those who refuse a clothed pat-down after being flagged by dog or machine will face increasing penalty levels for each refusal.

The Associated Press has the story.

It’s the first time visitors will be scrutinized by dogs that previously have been used to search inmates, Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokeswoman Dana Simas said Monday.

Visitors who are spotlighted by a dog or ion scanner but refuse clothed searches face an increasing range of penalties under the revised regulations the department proposed on Friday and will take effect after a public comment period.

A first refusal means no visit that day. A second refusal could bring a loss of visiting privileges for 30 days, while a third could mean no visits for a year. A fourth refusal in a year could result in the permanent revocation of visiting privileges.

The progressive penalties will encourage visitors to submit to the searches, the department said in outlining the new regulations.

Even if a visitor submits to a clothed search and no drugs or other contraband is found, the visitor can’t have physical contact with an inmate during that day’s visit and must go through the process again the next time he or she visits an inmate within the next 12 months.

Posted in Charlie Beck, LA County Board of Supervisors, LAPD, LASD | 112 Comments »

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