LOS ANGELES – Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies go on trial in federal court Tuesday, Jan. 19, on charges of assaulting a handcuffed, mentally ill inmate and writing false reports to cover up their actions.
Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez are the latest of 21 current and former sheriff’s officials to be tried by federal authorities in connection with the FBI’s multi-year investigation into brutality and other misconduct in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
Federal authorities allege that Aguiar and Ramirez violated the civil rights of Bret Phillips by assaulting him inside Men’s Central Jail on Feb. 11, 2009. Prosecutors say the inmate was handcuffed to a waist chain during the attack. The indictment accused the deputies of kicking Phillips in the head and upper body, striking him with a flashlight and pepper-spraying him in the face.
Papers filed in Los Angeles federal court suggest that the defense will assert what’s known as a “public authority defense,” claiming the defendants were just following orders.
A day after the incident, a chaplain came forward to say that he was a witness. In a report that he gave to the department, Deacon Paulino Juarez wrote that he watched as deputies beat the inmate bloody as the victim shouted, “Please stop!” He said the deputies kicked and stomped on the inmate.
“I felt that I had witnessed a crime,” he wrote.
However, the department concluded that the force was within policy, according to court documents.
Federal prosecutors contend that Aguiar and Ramirez punched Phillips in the ribs while Ramirez struck the inmate two to three times in the leg and elbow with a flashlight.
Afterwards, the deputies submitted reports that falsely claimed the inmate tried to head-butt Aguiar and kick at deputies, prosecutors allege.
The prosecution is expected to call Juarez among their witnesses during the trial, which is expected to last about two weeks.
Attorney Gloria Allred filed suit in 2014 on behalf of Phillips, who she says suffers from schizophrenia. The suit, which seeks unspecified damages, claims the sheriff’s department did not protect the mentally ill inmate from being victimized.