L.A. Sheriff’s Deputy Charged with Assaulting Inmate

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police-lightsLOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy has been charged with felony assault for allegedly striking a 19-year-old inmate in the back seat of a patrol car, a prosecutor said Friday.

The L.A. County district attorney’s office charged Matthew John Funicello, 31, with assault under the color of authority in connection with a July 22, 2011, incident in which the deputy allegedly struck an inmate several times.

“We allege the deputy struck the inmate several times in the face and torso with his fist,” said Jean Guccione, a district attorney’s spokeswoman.

Funicello, a deputy since 2006, was moving Dewayne Wright from the sheriff’s Palmdale Station to the Twin Towers Correctional Facility in downtown Los Angeles at the time of the alleged assault.

Funicello was booked at the Crescenta Valley Station late Thursday and  released in lieu of $35,000 bail. The deputy is scheduled to appear May 20 in a downtown Los Angeles courtroom. Prosecutors say Funicello faces up to three years in county jail if convicted.

Steve Whitmore, a sheriff’s department spokesman, said Funicello was immediately placed on leave without pay after his arrest. The investigation was initiated after a citizen complaint, he said.

Funicello was riding with another deputy and two inmates in a car at the time of the incident. Whitmore said the other deputy is the subject of an internal affairs administative investigation, but prosecutors declined to file charges because of insufficient evidence.

“The other deputy stood by,” Whitmore said, adding that the department was unaware of the incident until the citizen reported it.

richard.winton@latimes.com

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