Two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies who denied that a man visiting L.A. County Jail was beaten by deputies while handcuffed have now changed their stories and may testify against three colleagues whose federal trial begins later this month.
The five deputies had said the victim, a man who had come to visit his brother, fought with them in a waiting area and had to be restrained. They denied the man’s allegations that he had been handcuffed and then beaten.
Their account remained unchanged under scrutiny from internal sheriff’s investigators, the district attorney’s office, the man’s defense lawyers and federal authorities. But two of the deputies have now changed their stories, the Los Angeles Times reported Monday.
With their trial set to open later this month, both have struck deals with prosecutors that require them to plead guilty to criminal charges and, if called on, to testify against their former colleagues, according to court records cited by The Times.
Under the terms of the agreement he signed last week, Deputy Noel Womack gave prosecutors a new version of the violent 2011 encounter in a windowless, secluded room in the Men’s Central Jail facility, The Times reported. Deputies, he said, beat the jail visitor even though the man was handcuffed and not resisting as he was held on the floor, according to a copy of the agreement reviewed by The Times.
Womack has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge that he lied to FBI agents during an interview last month when he told them he did not know if the visitor was handcuffed, the agreement said. He admitted to lying again when he told the agents his supervisor had ordered him to punch the man and a third time when he said the strikes he inflicted on the man had been necessary, according to the agreement cited by The Times.
Womack’s agreement requires him to resign from the sheriff’s department, and he will be banned from working in law enforcement. Prosecutors, for their part, will recommend to the judge that Womack receive no time in prison, although the judge could disregard the suggestion and sentence Womack to as many as five years in prison, court documents show, according to The Times.
The second deputy, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, entered a guilty plea earlier this year, court records show. The agreement between prosecutors and Zunggeemoge, who faced several allegations of abuse and dishonesty, was sealed by U.S. District Judge George H. King, keeping its details secret, The Times reported.
But a court filing by another defendant last month said that Zunggeemoge, too, has told prosecutors that the visitor was handcuffed during the incident. In his statement to prosecutors, the filing said, Zunggeemoge said deputies had concocted a story that only one of the man’s hands was cuffed to justify their use of force.
The filing also said that Zunggeemoge has agreed to cooperate fully and testify for the government if prosecutors call him as a witness, The Times reported.
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