District Attorney’s Office Files Charges Against Deputies

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In a rare criminal filing against law enforcement officials who work in a jail, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has charged three sheriff deputies of beating an inmate.

The charges stem from an incident in January 2006, when the three deputies punched and kicked inmate Gabriel Vasquez after he was disrespectful to a guard. Vasquez sustained a fractured cheekbone, as well as injuries to his face, ear and rib cage. Although he claimed that deputies had caused the injuries, investigators for the sheriff’s department came to the conclusion that they were either caused by another inmate or even self-inflicted.

The case was reopened when a fourth deputy, who had initially denied seeing anything of the beating, did admit that he had witnessed, and lied about, an improper use of force. Ryan Lopez was taking a polygraph exam during an interview with the Chino Police Department, in August 2006, when he said that he had covered for his fellow deputies by lying about the excessive force. Authorities in Chino then contacted the sheriff’s department, who confronted Lopez and ordered him to reveal the identities of the deputies.

Last year, Lopez testified before a grand jury, receiving immunity from prosecution for his coverup of the incident in exchange for his testimony, according to court records.

The three deputies facing the charges are Lee Simoes, 34; Kenny Ramirez, 30; and Humberto Magallanes, 29. Prosecutors filed the charges in September, after which the deputies were placed on administrative leave without pay. Lopez is still with the department, but has been reassigned to desk duty.

An attorney for one of the defendants said that Vasquez has told jail staff that he hallucinated and hears voices, in addition to having a history of mental illness, and that the deputies are innocent of using force against him.

Prosecution of jail guards and deputies is rare, for several reasons. Most sheriff’s departments have implemented stronger rules, requiring deputies to write reports detailing any force used against inmates. It’s difficult to build a case not only against a law enforcement officer, but also with only the testimony of an inmate, who are typically seen by juries as less credible. In fact, the current charges mark only the third time in a decade that jail deputies have been prosecuted for using excessive force against an inmate.

Vasquez has also claimed that Lopez ignored his request for medical help, telling him to “suck it up.”

All three of the men who have been charged have pleaded not guilty.

 

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