A former Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy testified that he was one of four officers involved in the beating of a man in a jail visitors’ center. The ex-deputy, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, “flipped” and testified against three former colleagues, who now face excessive force and falsification of records charges. He alleges that they used unnecessary force on a jail visitor and subsequently fabricated a story to cover up their actions.
Zunggeemoge’s testimony centers on the incidents leading up to and following the 2011 beating of Gabriel Carrillo, who had gone to the Men’s Central Jail with his girlfriend, Grace Torres, to visit his brother. According to both the defense and prosecution teams, the deputies discovered that Carrillo and Torres carried cell phones that were prohibited in the jail.
The stories diverge after the discovery of the banned cellphones. The defense claims that Carrillo mouthed off at the deputies and became physically reckless. While having one hand cuffed, he allegedly swung his arms near the officers, causing the metal cuff to violently and dangerously jerk through the air, prompting the officers to use force to subdue him.
However, Zunggemoge’s testimony claims that the defense’s story was a fabrication concocted by the deputies after they used unnecessary force against Carrillo. According to his testimony to a federal jury, Carrillo was “angry, agitated and confused,” at the time of his detainment, but not violent. Furthermore, both his hands were cuffed. However, despite Carrillo’s compliance with the deputies, they slammed him onto the floor and proceeded to kick, punch, and pepper spray him, leaving his face bloody and badly bruised.
Gabriel Carrillo and Grace Martinez show a photo she took of Carrillo a few days after he was beaten by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies at the Men’s Central Jail. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)
Zunggemoge claims that after Carrillo sustained his injuries, the four officers huddled to devise a story that would justify their violent actions. The story they came up with hinged on the Carrillo not yet having both hands in cuffs, arguing that he wielded the cuffs as a weapon.
The attorney’s of the other three deputies involved, Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano and former Sgt. Eric Gonzalez, maintain that Carrillo was not handcuffed at the time of the beating and insist that their actions were a response to what they deemed a dangerous situation. Their defense team is vigorously trying to discredit Zunggemoge’s testimony.
Zunggemoge’s testimony comes after he struck a deal with the prosecution team that would lower his charges, though he can never serve as a law enforcement officer again and may still face jail time. Carrillo and his now-wife Grace are expected to testify later today.
Battery by Peace Officer
To establish a claim for battery in California against a police officer, a Plaintiff must prove all of the following: (if any element is missing, there is no battery by a police officer):
1. That officers touched the visitor or caused the visitor to be touched;
2. That the officers’ used unreasonable force to (arrest/prevent the escape of/overcome the resistance of) the visitor;
3. That the visitor did not consent to the use of that force;
4. That the jail visitor was harmed; and
5. That the officers’ use of unreasonable force was a substantial factor in causing the visitor’s harm.
A peace officer may use reasonable force to arrest or detain a person when he or she has reasonable cause to believe that that person has committed a crime. Even if the police officer is mistaken, a person being arrested or detained has a duty not to use force to resist the police officer unless the police officer is using unreasonable force.
When California jury’s decide whether a police officer used unreasonable force, they must determine the amount of force that would have appeared reasonable to a police officer in the officer’s position under the same or similar circumstances. California juries consider these 3 factors:
1. The seriousness of the crime at issue;
2. Whether the visitor reasonably appeared to pose an immediate threat to the safety of the police officers or others; and
3. Whether the jail visitor was actively resisting arrest or attempting to evade arrest.