An ex-Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy who falsified reports documenting the beating of a handcuffed, mentally ill jail inmate should spend 27 months in federal prison, prosecutors say in court documents obtained Tuesday by City News Service.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office is also recommending that Joey Aguiar — who is set to be sentenced on April 25 — be fined $4,000 and ordered to perform 100 hours of community service, preferably at an organization that provides aid to mentally ill persons.
Prosecutors have not yet filed sentencing position papers in the case of Aguiar’s co-defendant, Mariano Ramirez.
Attorneys for Aguiar are asking U.S. District Judge Beverly Reid O’Connell to sentence their client to a probationary term. The non-custodial sentence was also put forward by the U.S. Probation Office in its papers.
In a split verdict, Aguiar and Ramirez were found guilty in February of falsifying records documenting the 2009 beating, but jurors deadlocked on whether the deputies used excessive force. The jury acquitted the deputies of conspiring to violate the inmate’s civil rights.
Federal prosecutors then signaled they would retry Aguiar and Ramirez on the pending charge of deprivation of rights under color of law, which carries a maximum possible sentence of 10 years in prison.
But days later, the U.S. Attorney’s Office agreed to dismiss the pending civil rights count as part of a deal that calls for the men to be sentenced to prison terms between 21 and 27 months for filing false reports.
According to the “package deal,” prosecutors will not appeal a sentence for the ex-lawmen unless it is less than 21 months on the false records convictions.
In exchange, the former deputies waived their possible appeal of the guilty verdicts and any prison sentence under 27 months.
However, sentencing decisions are up to the judge, and federal falsification of records counts carry a possible prison term of up to 20 years.
Aguiar and Ramirez were charged in a four-count indictment with kicking handcuffed then-inmate Bret Phillips in the head and upper body, striking him with a flashlight, pepper-spraying him in the face and then hiding their actions in reports that could have been used to prosecute the inmate for assault.
The Feb. 11, 2009, encounter at the Men’s Central Jail was witnessed by a jail chaplain and an inmate, both of whom testified during the two-week trial in downtown Los Angeles.
Prosecutors argued that the lawmen set upon Phillips in a gang-style beat-down as retribution for showing disrespect earlier in the day. Defense lawyers countered that Phillips was combative and threatening, and the deputies did only what was legally required to gain control of an unruly inmate.
But jurors could not agree if the defendants used excessive force in the encounter, with 10 panelists voting to convict on that count.
Aguiar and Ramirez were among 21 current and former sheriff’s officials to be tried by federal authorities in connection with the FBI’s multi-year investigation into brutality and other misconduct in the sheriff’s department.
The probe reached the sheriff’s department’s highest offices. Ex-Sheriff Lee Baca pleaded guilty in February to a charge of lying to investigators and is awaiting sentencing.
Baca’s former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, was convicted last week of conspiracy to obstruct justice and obstruction of justice. The former undersheriff’s sentencing is set for June 20.
— City News Service