May 10, 2016
Two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies were sentenced Monday to more than a year each in federal prison for lying on reports they wrote about violently subduing a handcuffed jail inmate.
Joey Aguiar was given 18 months and Mariano Ramirez 13 months after striking a deal with prosecutors that spared the men from being retried on an outstanding charge that they violated the inmate’s civil rights by using excessive force.
In handing down her decision, U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell said she believed the two deputies had, in fact, used excessive force, but ultimately showed them some leniency, noting the men had no prior criminal records.
While sentencing guidelines suggested the men should receive about two years behind bars, O’Connell highlighted the role of Ramirez, 40, as a father of two boys and the good he had made of his life despite a “significantly difficult upbringing.” Aguiar, now 29, was young and new to the jailing assignment when the incident occurred and had otherwise led a law-abiding life, she said.
“But there has to be some sort of penalty when the wheels come off,” O’Connell said.
At several points during the proceedings, O’Connell noted the plea deal that the U.S. attorney’s office recently reached with former L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca that allows him to serve no more than six months behind bars after having pleaded guilty to lying to federal authorities. In light of the tough sentence prosecutors were seeking for the two deputies for a similar charge, O’Connell described the agreement with Baca as “troubling.” Baca has yet to be sentenced and the judge in his case could reject the deal.
The prison sentences capped one of the few remaining cases in a string of prosecutions stemming from abuses and other misconduct in the network of county jails run by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department.
Another of the remaining cases is set to open Tuesday, when two other deputies will face allegations that they beat and pepper-sprayed an inmate who they felt had been disrespectful. The deputies, Bryan Brunsting and Jason Branum, are also accused of falsifying reports in order to cover up the incident, which occurred at a different jail facility.
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The incident involving Aguiar and Ramirez dates back to February 2009, when the two deputies were working in Men’s Central Jail on a floor that houses especially violent inmates or those thought to be in need of special protection.
Aguiar and Ramirez acknowledged in internal department reports they wrote at the time that they used physical force to restrain an inmate, Bret Phillips, delivering repeated punches, striking him with a flashlight and pepper-spraying him in the face.
The force was necessary to subdue Phillips, the deputies said. They wrote in their reports that Phillips, who suffers from schizophrenia and other mental illnesses, had attempted to head-butt Aguiar and continued to struggle after being pinned on the ground.
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