LOS ANGELES – An inmate was “essentially lifeless” when he was assaulted by two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies for no legitimate reason, a prosecutor told a jury Thursday in the jail guards’ federal civil rights trial.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins, at the outset of his closing argument, said deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez beat a “hobbled, waist-chained and unconscious” pretrial detainee named Bret Phillips seven years ago and then conspired to make the inmate seem like a “credible threat” in official reports.
Closing arguments got underway late Thursday afternoon, on the seventh day of the latest trial of 21 current and former sheriff’s officials tied by federal authorities to the FBI’s multi-year investigation into brutality and other misconduct in the sheriff’s department.
The attorneys’ summations were scheduled to resume Friday.
Federal prosecutors contend that Aguiar and Ramirez violated the rights of Phillips, who was being held at the Men’s Central Jail for a misdemeanor probation violation.
The four-count indictment alleges the deputies kicked Phillips in the head and upper body on Feb. 11, 2009, struck him with a flashlight, pepper-sprayed him in the face and then lied about it in official reports.
Defense attorneys for the two men argue that Phillips was being violent and uncooperative before the encounter and the use of force was justified.
“Put yourself in Bret Phillips’ shoes,” Jenkins urged jurors today. “Put yourself in Bret Phillips’ waist-chains.”
Witnesses included Phillips himself, who testified that he was choked into unconsciousness by one of the defendants and had no memory of being hit and sprayed.
Two other alleged eyewitnesses — a jail chaplain and a then-inmate at the facility — told the jury that they were hidden in shadows just feet away from Phillips and the deputies, watching the incident unfold.
The memory was “beat into my brain,” said John Maestaz, the inmate witness. “It was a memory I can see frame-by-frame in my mind — because it was that fierce of a beating.”
The chaplain, Paulino Juarez, testified last week that he also witnessed Aguiar and Ramirez punching the handcuffed, unresisting Phillips, leaving the man in a puddle of blood.
Phillips, 44, of Lancaster took the stand last Friday to tell the panel that he had apparently angered Aguiar by lobbing milk cartons at the lawman, because the guard had left him tightly handcuffed to a waist chain inside his cell instead of removing the restraints once he was inside.
After one of the cartons struck Aguiar’s shoe, Phillips said, 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 former inmate testified. “I was nervous. I knew I did something wrong by throwing the milk cartons.”
Closing arguments were scheduled to resume Friday, Jan. 29, in Courtroom 14, U.S. District Court, 312 N. Spring Street.
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