Deputies Get Federal Prison Time for Beating Mentally Ill Inmate

Former Sheriff Lee Baca is at the heart of an investigation alleging civil rights abuses at Los Angeles County jail facilities.
Former Sheriff Lee Baca is at the heart of an investigation alleging civil rights abuses at Los Angeles County jail facilities.

Two former L.A. sheriff's deputies will spend time in federal prison for the beating of a mentally ill jail inmate in 2010, U.S. District Judge George W. Wu ruled today.

Bryan Brunsting, 32, was sentenced to 21 months behind bars; Jason Branum, aka Jason Johnson, 36, received five months. They were found guilty in May of violating the inmate's civil rights and of falsifying records to cover up the beating.

Brunsting instigated the attack in a Twin Towers Correctional Facility hallway where no cameras were present, federal prosecutors said, because he felt the victim had shown disrespect to a civilian sheriff's employee. Ex-sheriff's trainee Joshua Sather testified in court that Brunsting said he and Branum were about to "teach" the inmate "a lesson." Sather quit after the incident.

The victim was punched, kicked in the genitals and doused with pepper spray before he was handcuffed and sent for medical care, authorities said. Prosecutors said the victim suffered from schizophrenia and sometimes heard voices in his head. He was screaming and crying during the assault, Sather testified.

"After the beating, Brunsting, Branum and the rookie deputy met to coordinate and falsify their stories," according to a U.S. Attorney's Office statement earlier this year. "The rookie deputy testified that he was told what to say and how to write his report. As prosecutors argued at trial, the reports submitted by Brunsting and the rookie were strikingly similar, and were written to justify the use of force by falsely claiming that the victim had attempted to punch the rookie."

The deputies' cover story included allegations that the victim was combative and thus instigated the use of force. Brunsting also faced allegations of brutality in a 2009 case involving an inmate at the same facility.

"Deputy Brunsting’s conduct was even more egregious given that he was involved in the abuse of a second inmate, and he was training new deputies on how to violate inmates’ civil rights and get away with it," the U.S. Attorney in L.A., Eileen M. Decker, said in a statement today.

The sentences are the latest shots fired in the U.S. Attorney's case against corruption and civil rights abuses in county jail facilities run by the department under former Sheriff Lee Baca. The 74-year-old faces charges that he obstructed a federal investigation into his jails, committed criminal conspiracy and lied to the feds. His trail starts next week.

Baca's former second-in-command, Paul Tanaka, was sentenced to five years in prison for his role in the conspiracy. Part of the scheme, feds allege, was to try to silence an FBI investigator by having cops go to her house and threaten to arrest her, a move federal prosecutors didn't seem to admire.

"As a result of today’s guilty verdicts," according to the U.S. Attorney's Office, "20 current or former members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department have now been convicted of federal charges."

-With reporting from City News Service


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