Updated after the jump: Guilty or not, today's hearing made the accused deputies look like real A-holes. Plus one for Bender.

More trouble for the increasingly scrutinized Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department today: City News Service reports that Palmdale apartment manager Noel Bender is suing the county and three sheriff's deputies for an alleged beating and wrongful jailing he suffered in August 2009.

Bender's lawyer says the man was handcuffed, “beaten by rogue cops without provocation on false charges” and pepper-sprayed in the face before being hauled off to county jail.

Over the last couple months, certain deputies' thuggish, ironically gang-like behavior has received heavy media attention:

A KTLA investigation into a brutish sheriff's gang called the “3,000 Boys” was followed by LA Weekly cover story “Men's County Jail Visitor Viciously Beaten by Guards,” in which reporter Chris Vogel detailed a bloody attack on jail visitor Gabriel Carrillo by authorities:

The beating was unusual in that Carrillo was a visitor and not an inmate. But the abuse he suffered is not uncommon. A growing chorus of inmates tells of broken noses, shattered jaws and other injuries from sustained beatings by Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies who serve as guards at Men's Central Jail. …

“Los Angeles County jails are rapidly developing a reputation as perhaps the worst in the nation,” says Margaret Winter, a Washington, D.C., attorney who leads the ACLU's National Prison Project effort to combat abuses in jails. “I'm basing that it's the worst on that I've never seen this accumulation of violence. The severity, the frequency and the boldness is stunning, and I believe unprecedented.”

Bender's case isn't as clear or strong as Carrillo's. (Although, absurdly, it's actually Carrillo who's getting sued by the Sheriff's Department for “attacking the deputies,” instead of the other way around.) In a video that the three defending deputies' attorney showed in court today, shot directly after the arrest, Bender only has one bruise to the head and admits he has “[done] something wrong.”

But the allegations of “excessive force against” deputies Scott Sorrow, Omar Chavez and Ray Hicks couldn't come at a more believable time.

Bender alleges he offered to help them clean up a broken bottle that one of his tenants had thrown on the ground outside 933 East Avenue Q4, about a block from the Metro tracks. City News Service reports the rest:

According to [his lawyer,

Bradley] Gage, after Bender offered to clean up the glass from the tenant, Sorrow became belligerent and handcuffed him. He said Chavez and Hicks kicked his client after he had been thrown to the ground with the handcuffs on.

Bender also was hit with pepper spray, Gage said.

But [defense attorney Harold] Becks said Bender was not struck after the handcuffs were put on him. He also said the cuffs and the pepper spray were used as a last resort because of his resistance.

Update: If Bender's case seemed to be fraying at all yesterday, today's courthouse proceedings tightened things right back up. City News Service reports that two previous renters at the Palmdale complex took to the witness stand, confirming that they saw Sorrow, Chavez and Hicks beat their former landlord on August 26, 2009.

In response, Sorrow conceded a little, admitting he did hit the Palmdale man with a flashlight and douse him with two rounds of pepper spray.

Did you want Bender to feel pain?, asked the prosecuting attorney. “Sir, I didn't want to tickle him,” Sorrow answered. (Smart alec.)

What's worse, witnesses said at least one of the deputies called Bender an “N-word lover,” in reference to the apartment complex's large black population. So even if these guys are found “not guilty” of beating and jailing an innocent man that August day, it's hard to deny they were acting like a bunch of A-holes.

Originally posted June 1 at 3:20 p.m.


LA Weekly