LOS ANGELES – A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to FBI investigators and agreed to cooperate with prosecutors in a use-of-force case against fellow jail guards.
As part of his plea, Noel Womack, 36, agreed to resign permanently from the sheriff’s department and never seek employment with any law enforcement agency.
Standing before U.S. District Judge George King, Womack responded, “Yes I did, your honor,” when asked if he had indeed lied to FBI investigators.
At sentencing Aug. 31, Womack faces up to five years in federal prison, three years of supervised release and a $250,000 fine, King said.
Womack acknowledged that in February 2011, while working as a guard at the visiting center at the Men’s Central Jail, he saw two fellow deputies beat a man who was handcuffed with both hands behind his back, and “unnecessarily” punched him five times in the leg.
He then wrote a false report stating that the victim had not been handcuffed, and subsequently testified falsely at a preliminary hearing for the man, identified in court papers as GC, according to his 19-page plea agreement filed in federal court.
In subsequent interviews with sheriff’s internal affairs investigators, Womack stated that the victim had not been handcuffed and he had not seen any excessive force used against GC, according to the document.
In a May 11 interview with FBI agents looking into excessive force allegations at the jail’s visiting center, Womack falsely stated that he did not know if GC was handcuffed when he struck him, that co-defendant Sgt. Eric Gonzalez had directed him to strike GC and that the use of force was justified, according to the plea agreement.
The plea comes against the backdrop of a use-of-force case against Gonzalez and deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, who are facing trial this month for allegedly illegally arresting or detaining people when they tried to visit inmates at the jail.
A fifth deputy, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, pleaded guilty earlier this year and is awaiting sentencing.
Womack and Zunggeemoge are expected to testify, if called upon, against their former colleagues.
In another downtown courtroom, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and ex-sheriff’s captain Tom Carey are expected to face trial this fall on obstruction of justice charges.
The charges against Tanaka and Carey brought to 22 the number of current or former sheriff’s officials charged in an ongoing federal probe into corruption and civil rights violations by guards at two downtown jail facilities.
Tanaka — who is on a leave of absence as mayor of Gardena — and Carey, who oversaw an internal sheriff’s criminal investigations unit, have denied charges contained in a five-count indictment returned May 13 by a federal grand jury.
The former sheriff’s officials are accused of orchestrating a scheme to thwart a federal probe into deputy misconduct at county jails. Both are charged with conspiracy to obstruct justice, and each is named in one count of obstruction of justice. Carey is charged with two counts of lying on the witness stand last year during the trials of co-conspirators. If convicted, the men face the possibility of multiple years in federal prison.
Carey was head of the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, until he retired in March.
Tanaka, who, like Carey, testified for the defense at all three trials thus far in the federal probe, retired from the department in 2013.