LOS ANGELES (AP) — A former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was sentenced to eight years in federal prison Monday for overseeing the backroom beating of a jail visitor who fellow guards testified was handcuffed on the ground and covered in blood.
U.S. District Judge George King ordered former Sgt. Eric Gonzalez taken into custody immediately after sentencing, telling him he had "abused his authority and corrupted the very system he was sworn to uphold."
Gonzalez, a 15-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, was found guilty in June of deprivation of civil rights, conspiracy to violate constitutional rights and falsification of records in the 2011 beating of Gabriel Carrillo. Four other deputies have been convicted in the case and await sentencing, while a fifth was indicted last month and faces trial in December.
The convictions in Carrillo's beating are part of a federal investigation of civil rights abuses and corruption at the nation's largest sheriff's department.
Nearly two dozen members of the department, including the former second-in-command, have been charged with crimes ranging from beatings to obstruction of justice; 15 of them have been convicted so far, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.
Prosecutors said Gonzalez supervised Carrillo's "savage beating" in a break room at the Men's Central Jail in downtown Los Angeles on Feb. 26, 2011.
Deputies stopped Carrillo, who was at the jail to visit his brother, because he had a cellphone, which is prohibited. The beating began, prosecutors say, when a handcuffed Carrillo commented to a deputy that if he weren't restrained, "it would be a different story."
As Gonzalez watched, deputies threw Carrillo against a refrigerator, took him to the ground, repeatedly punched and kicked him, and pepper sprayed his face. Carrillo was then charged with battery on a custodial officer, resisting and attempted escape during a lawful detention — charges that were later dropped.
Los Angeles County paid Carrillo $1.2 million to drop a civil rights lawsuit stemming from the beating.
Federal prosecutors argued that Gonzalez be sentenced to more than 11 years in prison, saying he abused his position of power and that the case has eroded public trust.
"An aggravated assault with serious bodily injuries is a grave offense," prosecutors wrote. "When such a crime is undertaken by a gang of law enforcement and then covered up as if the victim committed the crime, the harm to important societal interests makes the crime all the more significant."
Gonzalez's attorney, Joseph Avrahamy, said he will appeal Gonzalez's sentence but declined to comment further.
Avrahamy had argued that Gonzalez be sentenced to between 24 and 30 months in prison, saying his client is a good man who worked in a dangerous environment where it's difficult to always get it right. Avrahamy also argued that Carrillo provoked the beating by using insulting and threatening language.
County jails "are saturated with dangerous and unpredictable individuals," Avrahamy wrote in court records. "The fact that deputies occasionally err on the side of using too much force to 'take down' suspects, while not acceptable, is perhaps inevitable given the violent and dangerous milieu in which they work and risk their lives."
Avrahamy argued that a lengthy sentence would be overly punitive, saying the 46-year-old Gonzalez had already lost his job and his reputation, and he'll probably never find work in law enforcement again.
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