A federal grand jury has indicted two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies who are accused of punching, kicking and pepper-spraying a chained inmate and then lying to cover up the alleged abuse.
The charges in the February 2009 incident at the Men’s Central Jail in downtown L.A. were announced Friday by a spokesman for the Department of Justice.
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies Joey Aguiar, 26, and Mariano Ramirez, 38, were due for arraignment March 6 but were not in custody Friday.
The department, under the command of interim Sheriff John Scott since Lee Baca left after 15 years on Jan. 30, issued a news release stating the process had begun to relieve both deputies of duty without pay. One of the deputies had already been relieved of duty after an “unrelated incident.”
“Although today’s indictment should not be taken as a reflection of the outstanding work that the overwhelming majority of deputies perform every day, it does underscore that everyone in this department should and will be held accountable for their actions,” Scott stated in the release. “Abuse of authority will not be tolerated.”
The indictment, issued late Thursday, came less than two months after federal authorities announced charges against 18 sheriff’s officials in a collection of five cases that stemmed from an investigation into alleged civil rights abuses at county jails. One of the federal cases accuses sheriff’s officials of attempting to obstruct an FBI investigation into the alleged abuse.
The new case is part of that ongoing investigation, according to Thom Mrozek of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez allegedly used illegally force against an inmate who was in handcuffs and a waist chain. They’re accused of striking him with a flashlight in addition to beating, kicking and pepper-spraying him.
After the incident, the two deputies allegedly wrote false reports intended to cover up the beating of the inmate, identified in the indictment as “BP.” The inmate was awaiting trial on an alleged parole violation, according to the indictment (PDF).
The alleged false reports submitted by Aguiar and Ramirez prompted “BP” to be referred for fresh criminal charges, the indictment stated. The reports allegedly stated that BP had tried to head-butt and “violent kicked at” Aguiar.
Both defendants were charged with conspiracy to violate civil rights, deprivation of rights under color of law and falsification of records.
Hector Villagra, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which has pushed for reforms and sought to expose alleged wrongdoing in county jails, stated that the indictment was “no surprise to us.”
“Sheriff’s deputies, under the leadership of former Sheriff Lee Baca, may have gotten away with the abuse for many years, but now justice is being served,” Villagra said.
A jail chaplain witnessed the alleged beating described in the indictment and filed a report and made a sworn statement to the ACLU about, the Los Angeles Times reported. The chaplain was not mentioned in the indictment.