A Los Angeles County probation supervisor has been accused of ordering several officers to pummel a 17-year-old inmate in a 2016 incident that was caught on tape, prosecutors said Wednesday.
Sergio Cano, 45, pleaded not guilty to one count of assault under color of authority in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Wednesday morning.
County probation officials said in a statement Wednesday that three probation employees had been charged in the incident.
Prosecutors contend that Cano ordered the attack at the Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall in Sylmar, which left the teen with moderate injuries.
The incident was thrust into the public eye in the summer, when someone leaked a copy of the video to the blog WitnessLA. The news blog said at the time that it wasn’t publishing the video because it involved a minor but that the footage showed four officers punching and kicking a “non-combative 17-year-old probationer” while a supervisor looked on in April.
The officers and supervisor were placed on administrative leave shortly after the incident, probation officials said last year.
Two of the three probation employees charged in the attack have been fired, according to probation officials. A spokeswoman for the department declined to identify them or comment on reports that two additional officers had been involved in the April 2016 beating.
Cano has been a probation officer for 15 years, according to his attorney, Winston McKesson, who said the officers were dealing with an unruly inmate who had been violent earlier that same day.
“You had a kid here who was a criminal. You had a kid here who was being disruptive,” said McKesson, adding that he believed all charges against his client should be dismissed.
Cano was not physically involved in the altercation, according to Greg Risling, a spokesman for the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office. If convicted he faces a maximum of three years in state prison, Risling said.
McKesson said Cano remains on administrative leave from the Probation Department. He is scheduled to return to court for a preliminary hearing on April 11, prosecutors said.
Risling declined to comment on the status of the other officers involved in the incident.
Los Angeles County Chief Probation Officer Terri McDonald said the attack triggered a review of seven other use-of-force incidents at the Sylmar facility in which probation officers were found to have either used excessive force or lied to internal investigators.
“It is our goal to identify the circumstances contributing to this incident, ensure those responsible are held to justice, and fundamentally reform the system,” McDonald said of the videotaped incident in Sylmar. “The vast majority of our hard-working employees consistently demonstrate their commitment to our clients and our communities, but we will hold accountable those who do not uphold the Department's values. The Probation Department will not tolerate abuse of those in our charge.”
All of the officers involved in the incident and the inmate were transferred to different facilities after the beating took place.
The Probation Department, which runs three juvenile halls and 14 juvenile camps as well as monitoring both adult and juvenile probationers who are out of custody, has been dogged for years by abuse allegations and other scandals.
Two months after the incident in Sylmar, officials said a supervisor at Central Juvenile Hall in Los Angeles allegedly choked a teenager so aggressively that another employee called the Los Angeles Police Department. No charges were filed, and the supervisor was transferred to another facility.
The agency was also placed under a federal monitor for six years after a U.S. Department of Justice investigation that stemmed from excessive force claims within the juvenile camps.
The Probation Department regained control of its jails in late 2015, but then-Chief Jerry Powers resigned from the agency a short time later amid reports that he had hired a woman for a management position while the two were romantically linked.
Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. Jackie Lacey credited probation officials with bringing the Sylmar incident to her office’s attention last year.
“The Probation Department's current leadership has demonstrated a commitment to reform and accountability,” Lacey said in a statement.
Follow @JamesQueallyLAT for crime and police news in California.
3:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details of the charges and comments from the Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office and the Los Angeles County Probation Department.
This article was originally published at 12:15 p.m.