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Sheriff's deputy in abuse trial: 'It wasn't worth it to hold on to the lie'

'It wasn't worth it to hold on to the lie,' L.A. County sheriff's deputy testifies in abuse case

As federal prosecutors pressed ahead Thursday with their abuse case against three Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, the man who was beaten by them as well as a former deputy took the stand.

Prosecutors allege that the deputies handcuffed and then beat Gabriel Carrillo, who had come to visit his brother at Men's Central Jail, after Carrillo was found carrying a cellphone in violation of jail rules and mouthed off to a deputy.

The deputies are also accused of lying about what happened during the February 2011 encounter by falsely claiming in reports and court testimony that Carrillo attacked them when one of his hands was uncuffed for finger printing.

On trial are Deputies Sussie Ayala and Fernando Luviano and former Sgt. Eric Gonzalez, a supervisor at the jail visitor center.

All three are accused of using unreasonable force on Carrillo and falsifying records to obstruct justice. Ayala and Gonzalez also face charges of conspiring to violate Carrillo's civil rights. Each has pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys insisted during opening statements that only one of Carrillo’s hands was cuffed and that he had swung the loose restraints like a weapon. They portrayed the visitor's center as a potentially dangerous, highly charged place and said the deputies were justified in subduing Carrillo as they did.

The deputies' reports and statements on the incident afterward were accurate, the attorneys said.

Leading up to the trial, two other deputies who faced charges in the case struck deals with prosecutors and agreed to testify against the remaining defendants.

On Thursday, Noel Womack, the second of the two deputies, took the stand, testifying that Carrillo was, in fact, handcuffed as he was repeatedly punched and pepper-sprayed in a closed room that deputies used for rest breaks.

Womack also described how he used the report his partner wrote on the incident as "a guideline" to make sure his own report was in line with the others. When Carrillo was later charged with assaulting the deputies, Womack said he lied again in testimony he gave at the man's preliminary hearing.

The testimony echoed that of Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, the other deputy assisting prosecutors, who also told jurors in earlier testimony that Carrillo was restrained as he was beaten and the reports were fabricated.

Ayala's attorney, Patrick Smith, went after Womack aggressively on cross examination, trying to expose inconsistencies in his account and accusing him of lying about the encounter with Carrillo in an attempt "to give prosecutors what they want to hear" and avoid prison.

Womack pushed back, saying he had gone along with the deputies' concocted account of the beating but eventually decided to come clean. 

"I lied for my partners," he said, his voice thick with emotion. "But I got to the point where it wasn't worth it to hold on to the lie."

Under the terms of his deal with prosecutors, Womack had to resign from the Sheriff's Department and is barred from being a law enforcement officer.

Now working as a forklift operator in a warehouse, Womack also had to plead guilty to a felony charge of lying to federal officials, while the other charges were dropped. He could be sentenced to as many as five years in prison.

Carrillo and his wife, who was also detained by deputies the day of the beating, also testified Thursday. During his testimony, prosecutors showed jurors photos depicting injuries to both of Carrillo's wrists that he said were caused by the handcuffs cutting into his skin during the beating.

The criminal charges against Carrillo were dropped shortly before he was scheduled to stand trial. The county later paid Carrillo $1.2 million to settle a civil lawsuit.

Prosecutors told U.S. District Judge George H. King they would wrap up their case Friday. The attorneys representing the three defendants said they would need a day or two to put on their case and Gonzalez's lawyer told King he expected the former sergeant to testify on his own behalf.

Ayala and Luviano have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of the trial. Gonzalez left the department in 2013.

For more news from the federal courts in Los Angeles, follow @joelrubin.

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