AND THAT MAKES 20 CONVICTIONS OF FORMER LOS ANGELES COUNTY SHERIFF’S DEPARTMENT MEMBERS AS PART OF THE MULTI-YEAR FEDERAL INVESTIGATION INTO CORRUPTION AND BRUTALITY IN THE LOS ANGELES COUNTY JAIL SYSTEM.
On Monday morning, two former members of Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department were sentenced to terms in federal prison for violating the civil rights of a mentally ill jail inmate who was beaten, kicked and pepper sprayed after showing “disrespect” to a jail employee at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility.
That makes at total of 20 department members who have been convicted of federal charges resulting from a multi-year investigation into corruption, brutality and civil rights abuses in the department run LA County jail system.
Bryan Brunsting, 32, and Jason Branum, 36, (who is also, for reasons never really explained, known as Jason Johnson), were sentenced on Wednesday by a stern-faced U.S. District Court Judge George W. Wu, who handed Branum a sentence of five months in federal custody, while Brunsting was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison.
In mid-may of this year, a seven-woman, five-man jury deliberated for just slightly more than an hour after nearly a week of dramatic testimony regarding the charges of beating, kicking and pepper spraying an allegedly unresisting schizophrenic inmate named Philip Jones on March 22, 2010. Then, according to the prosecution, after the beating the deputies falsified reports about the incident by portraying Jones as the out-of control aggressor who should be the one to be criminally prosecuted.
The jury panel found Brunsting and Branum guilty on all three counts of conspiracy to violate jail inmate Philip Jones’s civil rights, deprivation of rights under color of law, and falsification of records.
Following the trial, federal prosecutors reached an agreement with Brunsting in which he admitted his role in another use-of-force incident on August 20, 2009 at Twin Towers.
In the May trial, the prosecution’s case rode primarily on the testimony of a former LASD deputy named Joshua Sather, who was the most outstanding recruit in his training academy graduating class in the spring of 2010. Yet, according to the government, this same deputy resigned from the department after less than two weeks on the job following an incident in which he was allegedly told to participate in the brutal beating of a mentally ill inmate at the instruction of his training officer Bryan Brunsing.
According to federal prosecutors, on March 22, 2010, both Brunsting, who was at the time the training officer for a group of less experienced deputies, and Branum, a former military serviceman, decided to ‘teach” inmate Jones “a lesson” after the inmate mouthed off to a female custody assistant named Porscha Singh.
Jones was to learn that “disrespect will be met with physical violence,” lead government prosecutor Brandon Fox told the jury.
There was also a second lesson, according to Fox. But this “lesson” was for the benefit of “honor recruit,” Joshua Sather, “the future of this sheriff’s department.” For Sather, said Fox, “it was Training Day.” The message was, he said, “we’re going to teach you how it’s done at Twin Towers.”
As part of the lesson, said Fox, Brunsting and Branum decided to test the new deputy “to see if he could be trusted” not to be a snitch. And so it was that Sather became part of the group teaching inmate Jones his lesson.
“For one day Joshua Sather passed their test with flying colors,” Fox told the jury during closing arguments. But then a few days later, the promising deputy became troubled and “decided to walk away from his promising career. He decided to come forward.”
Similarly, custody assistant Porscha Singh “told the truth about what she saw” and heard,” said Fox. Singh was the department member to whom inmate Jones had talked back.
What Brunsting and Branham didn’t expect, said Fox at the trial’s end, “was that these two people—–Porscha Singh and Joshua Sather—–would cross the thin blue line” to tell the truth.
Sather, a very reluctant witness, testified that he was so disturbed by the experience of the beating and the cover-up—particularly the fact that he’d gone along with it—that he resigned from the department.
When it was the defense’s turn to deliver their closing, their main thesis was that the prosecution’s primary witnesses, Sather and Singh, were clumsy liars.
The jury didn’t buy it.
“TRAINING NEW DEPUTIES” HOW TO BEAT UP DEPUTIES “AND GET AWAY WITH IT”
“Both defendants engaged in a vicious, premeditated assault on an inmate,” said United States Attorney Eileen M. Decker. “Deputy Brunsting’s conduct was even more egregious given that he was involved in the abuse of a second inmate, and he was training new deputies on how to violate inmates’ civil rights and get away with it. These defendants tarnished all law enforcement with their conduct, undermining the outstanding work by the vast majority of officers in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department and the nation.”
The case against Brunsting and Branum was prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorneys Brandon D. Fox and Lindsey Greer Dotson of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section.
Counsel for both defendants said they would appeal their clients’ convictions. Brunsting and Branum are able to remain free while their appeals make their way through the court system.