LOS ANGELES – A former jail inmate told a downtown jury Friday that two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies beat him unconscious while he was handcuffed, apparently because he had thrown milk cartons at one of them to get his attention.
Bret Phillips, 44, of Lancaster told the panel that he lobbed the cartons at deputy Joey Aguiar on the morning of Feb. 11, 2009, because the guard had left him tightly handcuffed to a waist chain inside his cell at Men’s Central Jail instead of taking him to a scheduled medical appointment.
“I was just standing there, shackled in my cell,” Phillips testified. “He just left me standing there. I was in pain.”
One of the cartons struck Aguiar’s shoe, the witness said, and he was brought out of his cell and ordered to face a wall.
“I just had that feeling that something was going to happen,” the soft-spoken Phillips said. “I was nervous. I knew I did something wrong by throwing the milk cartons.”
Phillips said he could tell he was in trouble by the “demeanor” of Aguiar and fellow deputy Mariano Ramirez, the two defendants in the civil rights case playing out in Los Angeles federal court.
At that point, the witness testified, his head was “slammed” into the wall, Ramirez placed him in a chokehold and he blacked out.
“Could you protect yourself from punches or kicks,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins asked.
Phillips responded, “No, I couldn’t.”
The former inmate — who told the jury that he suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and had been incarcerated at the jail for about three weeks at the time for an alleged probation violation — said he came to consciousness on a gurney surrounded by deputies as he was being taken to a medical facility for treatment of his injuries.
On a 10-minute sheriff’s department videotape played for the panel, a squirming, battered and still-handcuffed Phillips is shown as he is transferred from the gurney to a hospital bed while being questioned by sheriff’s Sgt. Ernie Barbosa.
During the interview, Phillips is heard telling a second sheriff’s official that he had perhaps “deserved” the beating as a result of unrelated events that took place while he previously was in a state prison.
“I’m not trying to get nobody in trouble or none of that,” Phillips says on the video. “I got what I had coming.”
Under Jenkins’ questions, Phillips testified that he told the sergeant and lieutenant “what they wanted to hear” in order to get back to his cell without further trouble.
“I was scared of retaliation — I didn’t want them to do that to me again,” Phillips said on the stand.
Phillips was eventually placed in the “hole,” in which he had limited contact with others, and released from jail about a week later.
He said that nobody ever followed up with him about the incident until October 2011 when two sheriff’s officials came to his home and asked for his version of the event.
In February 2014, a federal grand jury indicted Aguiar and Ramirez on civil rights charges for allegedly striking the chained and cuffed Phillips with fists, feet and a flashlight, then trying to cover up the incident by preparing false police reports.
Aguiar and Ramirez face several criminal counts, including conspiring to violate federal civil rights, deprivation of rights under color of law that caused injuries, and preparing a false report.
The false report states, among other things, that Phillips had attempted to head butt Aguiar’s face and had violently kicked at the deputy, according to prosecutors.
If convicted as charged, the deputies — who are on unpaid leave from the department — each face more than 10 years in federal prison.
Aguiar and Ramirez are the latest of nearly two-dozen current and former sheriff’s employees 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 at a time when Lee Baca was sheriff.
The trial will continue at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26, in Courtroom 14, U.S. District Court, 312 N. Spring Street.
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