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.
FORMER DEFENDANTS, NOW WITNESSES
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.