Los Angeles deputies break ranks to admit beating of jail visitor
Two Los Angeles county sheriff’s deputies who are accused with three colleagues over the beating of a jail visitor have broken ranks on the eve of a trial and pleaded guilty.
Noel Womack and Pantamitr Zunggeemoge struck a deal with prosecutors which could see them testifying against their former colleagues, the Los Angeles Times reported on Monday, citing court filings.
Womack ended years of denials by admitting deputies brutalised a visitor, Gabriel Carillo, who was handcuffed and held to the floor in a room at the sheriff’s department’s main jail facility in February 2011.
Federal authorities have investigated reports of several similar incidents in 2010 and 2011. Deputies allegedly beat visitors in a windowless, secluded room and then wrote reports falsely claiming the victims had instigated violence.
Womack agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge that he lied to FBI agents when he said he did not know if Carillo, who was visiting his brother, was handcuffed.
Zunggeemoge entered a guilty plea earlier this year, court records show, according to the Times. The agreement between prosecutors and Zunggeemoge, who had faced allegations of abuse and dishonesty, was sealed by a judge, keeping details secret.
The trial of the five deputies is due to begin on 16 June. The plea agreements mark the first time in two decades that a sheriff’s deputy has been convicted in federal court of crimes related to excessive force.
Prosecutors have portrayed Sergeant Eric Gonzalez as a ringleader who fostered abusive behaviour. Gonzalez and the other accused deputies, Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano, have pleaded not guilty.
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