LA Times: County Settles Jail Visitor’s Beating Lawsuit for $1.2 Million

May 29, 2014
By Press

A man who said he was beaten by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies while visiting his brother at Men’s Central Jail will be paid almost $1.2 million to settle his civil rights lawsuit.

Attorneys for Gabriel Carrillo, 26, announced the settlement Thursday. It was approved by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and finalized earlier this week.

Carrillo was attacked on Feb. 26, 2011, after deputies found him carrying a cellphone in the waiting area, a violation of jail rules, according to his lawsuit.

After discovering the cellphone, deputies said they handcuffed Carrillo and escorted him to a booking room. When they released one of his hands for fingerprinting, Carrillo swung his elbow at a deputy, the deputies said. A supervisor said he ordered the deputies to use force until Carrillo was restrained.

But Carrillo alleged in his lawsuit that both of his hands were handcuffed behind his back and the attack was unprovoked. He said he was beaten until he blacked out and then, when he came to, was doused with pepper spray.

Carrillo said he suffered a broken nose and facial paralysis, but has since recovered with no permanent damage.

“I felt this was the only right call that could have been made,” Carrillo said at a news conference in Pasadena after the settlement was finalized. “The amount [of the settlement] speaks volumes as to the wrongdoing that was going on.”

Prosecutors had charged Carrillo with battery, resisting deputies and attempting to escape arrest, all based on the deputies’ report. He faced up to 14 years in prison, but the case was abruptly dropped a week before trial.

Ron Kaye, an attorney for Carrillo, said the criminal case turned when forensic evidence showed scarring on Carrillo’s wrists, indicating that both of his hands were handcuffed during the altercation. Kaye said his client would petition the judge who presided over the dropped case for a certification of factual innocence, which the Sheriff’s Department agreed not to oppose as part of the settlement.

The FBI later looked into Carrillo’s claims as part of an investigation into the county’s jails. Federal prosecutors charged Sgt. Eric Gonzalez and Deputies Sussie Ayala, Fernando Luviano, Noel Womack and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge with civil rights violations in connection with the incident. All have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial.

In the indictment, Gonzalez, who was the supervisor, is accused of fostering “an environment and atmosphere in the visiting area of [Men’s Central Jail] that encouraged and tolerated abuses of the law,” and of reprimanding deputies who didn’t follow his commands.

The indictment accuses the same deputies of physically harassing jail visitors on four other occasions.

Carrillo, who works as a forklift operator, said Thursday that he would use the $1.175-million settlement to buy a house for his wife and two infant daughters. His wife, who said she was harassed by sheriff’s deputies during the same visit, said she would like to go back to school. Carrillo said he and his family had moved out of the Sheriff’s Department’s jurisdiction since the incident.

Assistant County Counsel Roger Granbo said the settlement includes the plaintiff’s attorneys fees. The county spent $47 million on lawsuits involving the Sheriff’s Department in 2013, nearly half of all county litigation costs.

Source: Los Angeles Times