LOS ANGELES – A former Los Angeles County sheriff’s sergeant was sentenced Monday to eight years in federal prison for encouraging deputies to beat a handcuffed man in a jail visitors’ center and then falsifying reports to cover it up.
Eric Gonzalez, 46, was taken into custody immediately after he was sentenced by U.S. District Judge George King, who told the defendant he had “abused his authority and corrupted the very system he was sworn to uphold.”
Gonzalez, who will also have to spend three years on supervised release after serving his prison time, was convicted in June of conspiracy to violate constitutional rights, deprivation of rights and falsification of records in the February 2011 beating of jail visitor Gabriel Carrillo at the Men’s Central Jail.
Carrillo, who at one point faced trial and a potential 14-year jail sentence on fabricated charges stemming from the phony incident reports, told the judge that a defense argument for a 2 1/2-year sentence for Gonzalez “was a joke.”
“He made his bed, and now he needs to lay in it,” Carrillo told the court while the defendant looked away.
In his own statement to the judge, Gonzalez never apologized or mentioned the beating. Instead, he lauded the sheriff’s department and spoke of the difficult job he had as a deputy.
“I don’t need an apology,” the 27-year-old Carrillo said later, adding that the lack of one “shows that he (Gonzalez) didn’t think what he did was wrong.”
King rejected numerous defense arguments for less time, ruling that Gonzalez gave “tacit approval” for the assault and had the “ability to stop or prevent” the attack. Four co-defendants were also convicted and await sentencing, and a sixth pleaded not guilty Friday to participating in the cover-up.
Prosecutors said Gonzalez — who was supervisor of the visiting center — gave “consent that allowed deputies under his command to attack a handcuffed man” and then made a “concerted effort to cover up the abuse,” an effort that Gonzalez “directed and engaged in over and over again.”
A year prior to the Carrillo assault, Gonzalez, a 15-year veteran of the department, had been promoted to sergeant at the visiting center, tasked with training and supervising new deputies under his command. Sheriff’s deputies begin their law enforcement careers assigned to county jails.
King said the practiced ease with which Gonzalez and his fellow deputies gathered after the beating of Carrillo and set about writing phony reports suggested “this was not an isolated incident … but part of a known course of conduct.”
Along with Gonzalez, the jury convicted ex-deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano in the assault. They are scheduled to be sentenced by King on Nov. 30.
“The tables are now completely turned,” said Carrillo’s attorney, Ron Kaye.
Carrillo was attacked after guards found him carrying a cellphone in the waiting area, in violation of jail regulations. The three then conspired to lie about the beating on internal use-of-force reports.
Defense attorneys argued that only one of Carrillo’s wrists was cuffed, and that he had used the other cuff as a weapon against deputies, resulting in a legitimate use of force.
But jurors said after the verdict that the most damning evidence were photographs of both of Carrillo’s wrists, showing bruising and blistering consistent with being completely handcuffed.
During the weeklong trial, two ex-jail deputies — Neal Womack and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge — testified for the prosecution against their former partners, saying the beat-down inflicted on Carrillo was excessive, illegal and entirely unnecessary. Both former deputies pleaded guilty and await sentencing.
Prosecutors said that during the 45-second assault in a private break room, Luviano and others threw Carrillo – while handcuffed with both hands behind his back – to the ground and then punched and pepper-sprayed him.
Afterward, Gonzalez, Luviano and Ayala “huddled” to figure out a way to justify the use of force in order to complete a “probable cause declaration,” a document used to explain an official use of violence, federal prosecutors said.
King said Gonzalez’s conduct that day “went beyond the pale.”
“It wasn’t just a simple mistake,” the judge said. “It was a blatant crime no different than any other by any street criminal.”
Byron Dredd, the sixth former deputy in the case, was indicted last month on federal charges for his alleged involvement in falsifying internal reports.
Carrillo was paid $1.2 million by the county last year to settle a related civil rights lawsuit.