EXCLUSIVE: Jail beating victim speaks out to Eyewitness News

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Gabriel Carrillo prayed to God for help. He imagined his young daughter growing up without a father. She was just a baby in 2011 when Carrillo was facing up to 14 years in prison for a crime he did not commit.

"I was more worried for my family than myself," Carrillo tells Eyewitness News in an exclusive interview. "My second daughter never would've been born. I would have lost my first child due to me being in the prison system. She would've grown up without a father. My wife would've been by herself."

Carrillo was beaten to a pulp by a group of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies inside the Men's Central Jail. He was a visitor, not an inmate. Carrillo and his then-girlfriend, now-wife brought their cellphones into the jail's visitor center, which is a misdemeanor violation of the law.

Carrillo was handcuffed, taken into a break room and savagely beaten. Carrillo admits to "mouthing off" to the deputies, but says he never fought back. He was face down on the floor and both hands were handcuffed behind his back.

"I think the point that scared me the most was when they said they were going to hogtie me," says Carrillo. "At that point then that's when I believed I had a chance of dying in there."

Two LASD deputies and one former LASD sergeant were convicted in June of beating Carrillo and then falsifying reports to cover-up their actions. Sussie Ayala, Fernando Luviano and Eric Gonzalez will be sentenced in early November and could face up to 40 years in prison.

Two other former deputies "flipped" for the prosecution and testified against their former colleagues at trial, admitting the beating was unjustified and that both of Carrillo's hands were cuffed. Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack will get reduced sentences and possibly no jail time in exchange for their cooperation.

It's been a long, strange trip through the criminal justice system for Carrillo. Soon after the beating, the young father faced criminal charges on suspicion of attacking the deputies.

"I would clench inside, they're lying... all they're doing is lying," Carrillo recalls of the deputies' testimony against him at a preliminary hearing.

"This was a perfect storm of lies," says Carrillo's attorney, Ron Kaye.

Initially, it was the word of Gabriel and Grace Carrillo against that of seven deputies who all stuck to the same story. Kaye, however, believed Gabriel and agreed to take the case, which he calls the "most egregious abuse of the system" he's ever seen.

"This case has cost millions and millions of dollars because these deputies felt they were above the law," says Kaye.

He notes that dozens of people, mostly paid with tax dollars, were involved in three different cases, including multiple judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, court reporters, FBI agents, and probation and sheriff's department officials.

Carrillo himself won nearly $1.2 million in a civil settlement with Los Angeles County last year, a hard won victory after nearly going to prison himself.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office filed charges against Carrillo, but ultimately dismissed the case one week before he would have gone on trial in the fall of 2011.

Prosecutors may have been persuaded by a photograph taken by Grace after the beating that showed bruising all the way around both of Carrillo's wrists - evidence that both wrists were cuffed during the struggle.

Kaye applauds the District Attorney's Office for dropping the charges against Carrillo, but finds fault with their decision to not file charges against the deputies involved in the beating and cover-up.

"So, what's wrong with the DA's office? I hope this case, if any, would inspire them to probe further and to look at the testimony and the statements of criminal defendants and give them some credence," says Kaye.

Peter Eliasberg, legal director of the ACLU of Southern California, says the way the district attorney's office handled Carrillo's case is troubling - the bogus charges against Carrillo and the failure to file criminal charges against the deputies.

Eliasberg says the office should have also been "aware that there was a significant number of sworn statements by inmates stating that Deputy Luviano had used unjustified or excessive force against them and then attempted to cover them up. If the prosecutor was not aware of that information, he or she should have been."

The ACLU has been sounding the alarm for years about inmate abuse and problem deputies inside the jails. Luviano is named in a slew of inmate declarations collected by the ACLU that point to him as an aggressor in many alleged uses of force.

The district attorney's office provided Eyewitness News with a "declination memo" that explains why they chose not to file charges against the deputies in 2012. That memo refers to the force used against Carrillo as "reasonably necessary to subdue Carrillo" and says the "deputies acted appropriately."

A spokesperson for the office declined to provide any additional comment when contacted by Eyewitness News on Monday.

After the district attorney declined to charge the deputies, the FBI and the U.S. Attorney's Office stepped in as part of their wide ranging investigation into abuse and corruption inside L.A. County jails. The deputies were ultimately convicted on federal charges.

Gonzalez, Ayala and Luviano have all filed motions asking for a new trial. Luviano, meanwhile, has not satisfied the conditions of his bond. If he fails to prove compliance by end of Tuesday, he's been ordered to surrender to the U.S. Marshals Service.

Carrillo and Kaye both hope recent changes within the LASD are a positive sign. There are now working cameras inside the deputy break room where Carrillo was beaten and throughout Men's Central Jail.

"We are in a different day. The sheriff's department has changed. There's a new sheriff. The Citizens' Commission has come out, the U.S. Attorney's Office and the FBI are prosecuting," says Kaye. "But in those days the deputies could act with impunity."

The Carrillos now live outside L.A. County. They are the picture of domestic bliss with three young daughters, a home with enough room for the girls to run around and a new puppy. Gabriel works as a machine operator for Coca-Cola. Grace is overjoyed that this four-year ordeal is finally behind them.

"I'm very happy, happy because he's out here with us. My daughters are able to have their father. Our daughters, we can look forward to our lives now. We can move on," says Grace.

Got a tip? Email Investigative Producer Lisa.Bartley@abc.com
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