LOS ANGELES (AP) — Four Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies beat a jail visitor bloody even though he was handcuffed on the ground and had no way of defending himself, according to one of the lawmen who pleaded guilty in the case Tuesday.
Noel Womack, 36, pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI at a hearing in federal court in Los Angeles. Under a plea agreement, Womack must resign from the sheriff's department and agree to testify at the June 16 trial of two other deputies and a sergeant accused in the beating.
Womack's plea agreement describes a culture of excessive force and cover-ups at the visitation center of the Men's Central Jail near downtown Los Angeles.
The beating in question is that of Gabriel Carrillo, who was visiting his brother at the jail in February 2011 when deputies detained him for sneaking in a prohibited cellphone, according to court records.
The four deputies and sergeant charged in the beating had maintained that Carrillo became combative as they tried to handcuff him, and they needed to use force to get him under control. But Womack completely reversed his story in his plea agreement, saying that Carrillo was handcuffed, on the ground, and bleeding during the beating.
Womack himself admitted to unnecessarily punching Carrillo five times in the leg after hearing another deputy yell, "Stop spitting."
"The punches were retaliation and intended to inflict pain, and were made because defendant Womack thought he could get away with such action," according to a statement as part of the plea agreement.
When writing his report justifying the use of force, Womack knew he would have to lie and say that Carrillo wasn't handcuffed, according to the statement.
The statement blames much of the beating on former Sgt. Eric Gonzalez, saying Gonzalez directed deputies to "snatch up" and arrest anyone who looked suspicious. The indictment in the case also accuses Gonzalez of urging deputies to use force on visitors who disrespected them.
Gonzalez "encouraged and tolerated abuses of the law," including unreasonable searches and seizures, unlawful arrests, unjustified force and falsified reports, according to the indictment.
Gonzalez has pleaded not guilty to conspiracy against rights, deprivation of rights, falsifying records, and aiding and abetting.
Gonzalez's attorney, Joseph Avrahamy, said that when his client took charge of the visitation center at the jail in March 2010, "the place was a mess," with convicted felons and gang members being allowed to visit inmates against policy.
Gonzalez was cleaning things up by arresting prohibited visitors, Avrahamy said. He added that Womack and another deputy who reached a plea agreement in the case in February, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, are only turning against Gonzalez and fellow deputies to save themselves.
"When all the evidence comes out, the jury is going to realize that basically the 180 degrees by (Womack and Zunggeemoge) has been made so they can ensure they don't serve time," Avrahamy said. "It's a choice — 'Do I tell the truth, take a chance that the jury will find against me, or do I lie and make sure I don't get any jail time?'"
Womack and his attorney, Matthew Lombard, declined to comment.
Federal prosecutors may recommend that Womack be allowed to avoid prison time, should he meet all the terms under his plea agreement, including providing "substantial assistance to law enforcement in the prosecution or investigation," according to the agreement.
At his plea hearing, Judge George King reminded Womack that he still could face up to five years behind bars at his Aug. 31 sentencing.
"This is an agreement you have with the United States government, but it doesn't bind the court in any way," King said. "You have no agreement with me."
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Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/