Los Angeles sheriff's deputy gets 8 years in beating of jail visitor

ByLisa Bartley via KABC logo
Saturday, November 7, 2015
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A former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy was sentenced to eight years in prison Monday for supervising the backroom beating of a jail visitor at Men's Central Jail.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A dramatic moment played out in federal court Monday. A former Los Angeles County Sheriff's Sergeant convicted in the savage beating of a handcuffed suspect addressed both the judge and the man he wrongly attacked.

The words of Eric Gonzalez, 46, did not offer any apology or expression of remorse that the victim had hoped for.

Gonzalez was sentenced to 8 years in federal prison and immediately hauled away by two U.S. Marshals to begin serving his sentence.

Before learning his fate, Gonzalez told the Judge George King, "my life has been turned upside down," and that being a deputy is a difficult, dangerous job.

The attack took place at the Visiting Center of the Men's Central Jail February of 2011.

Gonzalez told the court that the jail's Visiting Center was controlled by gang members before he cleaned it up, changing it from "a violent place... to Disneyland."

The now ex-Sheriff's Sergeant said that he and his fellow jail deputies routinely dealt with some of the most violent criminals in Los Angeles County, and while they could have had "uses of force every day," they were "limited to a handful."

"Minimal force sometimes looks ugly," Gonzalez told the judge in defense of the beating that's so far led to the convictions of Gonzalez along with four other deputies.

For Gabriel Carrillo, the victim in this case, it was difficult to listen to the former sergeant's attempts to justify the beating.

"I'm glad he's losing his power," Carrillo told Eyewitness News outside court. "He had too much power, he abused his power and he wanted to show his power."

Carrillo's four-year legal nightmare is almost over. It was February 26, 2011 that Carrillo and his then-girlfriend went to visit Carrillo's brother, who'd been roughed up in an arrest a few days prior.

Carrillo and his girlfriend both brought cell phones into the jail's visiting center, a misdemeanor violation of the law.

Carrillo was handcuffed and led from the visitor lobby into a deputy break room. That's where deputies shoved him against a refrigerator, blasted him with pepper spray, kneed him in the back, and knocked him unconscious.

Eyewitness News obtained exclusive video of Carrillo shortly after the beating as he's being questioned by sheriff's deputies, including then-Sergeant Eric Gonzalez.

Tap to view if on News app.

The jury found a stunning deception. The deputies who beat Carrillo then falsified reports to make it appear that Carrillo was the attacker. The defendants claimed that Carrillo violently swung at deputies after one of his hands was freed from the handcuffs - that he used the handcuff as a potentially deadly weapon.

Based on those falsified reports, Carrillo faced criminal charges and up to fourteen years in prison if he'd been convicted. The case against Carrillo unraveled with evidence that included photos of his two bruised and swollen wrists - proof that both of Carrillo's wrists had been handcuffed during the beat-down.

"I don't care for an apology," Carrillo says. "But it goes to show he doesn't believe he was wrong for anything he did still."

Carrillo also addressed the judge in court Monday and took issue with the portrayal by Gonzalez's attorney of his client as a man who "led a life of exemplary service" before this one "unfortunate incident."

"One thing that jumps out most to me when Eric Gonzalez was up here, that this was a one-time thing," Carrillo told the judge. "It wasn't -- it was just the one time he got caught."

Gonzalez defense attorney Joseph Avrahamy asked for leniency from the court, noting that Gonzalez had already lost his career, his reputation and his ability to ever work in law enforcement again.

Gonzalez is "not a career criminal," Avrahamy told the judge, adding that Gonzalez is recently married and active in his church.

Avrahamy referred back to claims made at trial that Carrillo provoked the beating by "mouthing off" to deputies and saying that if he hadn't been handcuffed, he'd "challenge them to a fight."

"They kept trying to portray me as a bad person," Carrillo tells Eyewitness News. "They were the aggressors, they were the liars, they were the criminals and for them to keep bringing it up as if I haven't proven my innocence still... I mean I didn't understand it."

Judge King berated Gonzalez as he sentenced him to eight years in federal prison, referring to his conduct as "beyond the pale."

"It was a blatant crime, no different than one committed by a street criminal," Judge King told Gonzalez. "But it was different because it was committed by a law enforcement officer."

King also rejected the defense's portrayal of the rough arrest as a 45-second, one-time event.

"It suggests it was a known course of conduct that has played out before," Judge King said of the rapid decision by Gonzalez and other deputies to cover-up the beating by falsifying reports.

Outside court, federal prosecutor Lizabeth Rhodes noted that Gonzalez is finally facing the consequences of his behavior.

"We echo the judge's sentiment," said Rhodes. "Certainly we'd like a society of law and order, but that doesn't come at the expense of the violation of constitutional rights. It's not an either or situation."

Two former deputies, Fernando Luviano and Sussie Ayala, were convicted alongside Gonzalez at trial in late June and will be sentenced later this month.

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

A sixth former deputy, Byron Dredd, was indicted in the same case last month and has pled not guilty.

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