Two L.A. sheriff's deputies convicted of beating mentally ill inmate

A Los Angeles federal jury on Monday found two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies guilty of beating an inmate and falsifying reports to cover up the attack, the latest in a series of convictions connected to the county's jail abuse scandal.

Bryan Brunsting, 31, and Jason Branum, 35, were each convicted of three charges in connection with the March 10, 2010, incident, including conspiracy to violate the inmate's civil rights, depriving him of his civil rights under color of authority and falsifying records.

The case revolved around allegations made by a former recruit who said he was only days on the job at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility when he was summoned by his training officer, Brunsting, and told that the inmate had left his cell without permission and mouthed off to jail staff.

“We’re going to teach him a lesson,” Sather recalled Brunsting telling him.

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Sather, who had graduated from the academy at the top of his class, testified he tackled the inmate and punched him several times but then stopped because he wasn't resisting. Other deputies then set upon the inmate with a barrage of kicks and blows. The inmate, Sather said, lay curled up on the ground throughout the assault, screaming and crying.

When they were done, he said, the deputies gathered privately to concoct a justification for the beating that they gave sheriff’s officials in falsified reports.

In his closing arguments Monday, Assistant U.S. Atty. Brandon Fox told jurors the lesson the two deputies charged in the case, Brian Brunsting and Jason Branum, were looking to impart on the inmate was clear: Disrespect would be met with violent punishment.

But the pair, Fox said, were also looking to teach Sather. 

"The second lesson was for Joshua Sather, the honor recruit, the future of the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department," Fox said. "That lesson was simple: This is how you beat an inmate. This is how things are done at Twin Towers. It was as much a lesson as much as it was a test." 

Prosecutors alleged that the deputies attacked the inmate in a locked hallway of the jail that lacked surveillance cameras. The inmate was kicked in the genitals, punched and pepper sprayed, prosecutors said.

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During the four-day trial, attorneys for Brunsting and Branum tried to present jurors with a less flattering portrayal of Sather. He was, they said, an untrustworthy, biased witness, who has given inconsistent accounts of the incident over the years in an attempt to avoid falling in the cross-hairs of prosecutors.

“He had his script, he told his story and made it as dramatic as he could,” Richard Hirsch, Brunsting’s attorney, said in his closing arguments. “But he was exposed for his past lies, deceptions, his lack of memory.”

The jurors signaled clearly that they did not believe the defense, returning the guilty verdicts after only 90 minutes of deliberation.

Brunsting and Branum each face up to 40 years in federal prison when they are sentenced Aug. 22, according to the U.S. attorney's office. Brunsting is expected to face trial later this year on additional civil rights charges in connection with another force incident at Twin Towers in August 2009. 

Federal authorities have now convicted 21 current or former sheriff's officials after a wide-ranging FBI investigation into corruption and abuse in the county jails.

joel.rubin@latimes.com

Follow me at @joelrubin

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UPDATES:

6:54 p.m.: This story was updated to add more details about the case against the deputies, the maximum sentences they face and the number of convictions resulting from the FBI's investigation into jail misconduct and corruption.

This story was originally published at 5:39 p.m.

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