In 2011, the L.A. Weekly chronicled the story of Gabriel Carrillo, a visitor to Men's Central Jail who was handcuffed and severely beaten after deputies caught him with a cellphone. Carrillo mouthed off to one of the deputies, and was thrown against a refrigerator. Two deputies knocked him to the ground and punched and pepper-sprayed him — all while he was handcuffed.
At the time, the abuse scandal in L.A. County jails was just getting started. A few months later, the ACLU would issue a scathing report on jailhouse beatings and call on Sheriff Lee Baca to resign. In 2014, after numerous investigations, lawsuits and finally indictments, Baca did finally resign.
On Monday, the Carrillo case reached a moment of closure. Sgt. Eric Gonzalez, who oversaw the beating that day as well as the efforts to cover it up, was sentenced to eight years in federal prison. In issuing the ruling, Judge George H. King ruled that Gonzalez “abused his authority and corrupted the very system he was sworn to uphold.”
Four other deputies who were involved in the beating have either pleaded guilty or been convicted, and are awaiting sentencing.
As the sergeant in charge that day, Gonzalez was involved in preparing false reports claiming that Carrillo was not handcuffed when the assault took place. The reports also claimed that Carrillo had resisted the deputies, had tried to escape and had punched one of the deputies. Carrillo was initially charged with battery on an officer and attempting to escape, though those charges were later dropped.
In a defense memo, Gonzalez's attorney offered some justification for his conduct. The attorney, Joseph Avrahamy, argued that during his time at the MCJ visitors' center, Gonzalez's tactics had helped to pacify it.
“[L]egitimate visitors could visit their loved ones without fear of harassment and intimidation on the part of the gang members who had dominated the visitation area before Mr. Gonzalez was assigned there,” Avrahamy wrote.
Avrahamy also argued that the general public panics during periods of high crime and demands tough policing. But when crime rates fall, “Society turns around and disparages law enforcement for enforcing the law with the same rigor that was demanded of them at an earlier date. The reality is that law enforcement can’t win and will never succeed in pleasing society as a whole no matter how hard they try.”
He continued: “It is in many ways a thankless job and it’s somewhat remarkable that dedicated and talented individuals such as Mr. Gonzalez ever choose to work in this field in the first place.”
Avrahamy pushed for a sentence of 24 to 30 months, noting that Gonzalez, 49, has already lost his job and likely will lose his pension. Prosecutors asked for a sentence of nearly 12 years.
“I'm glad he's losing his power,” Carrillo told KABC Eyewitness News outside court. “He had too much power, he abused his power and he wanted to show his power.”
Noting that Gonzalez did not apologize, Carrillo said, “I don't care for an apology. But it goes to show he doesn't believe he was wrong for anything he did still.”