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In deal with prosecutors, L.A. County sheriff's deputy pleads guilty

As part of deal with federal prosecutors, a sheriff's deputy pleads guilty to lying to investigators

A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy pleaded guilty Tuesday to lying to federal investigators in a deal with prosecutors that turns him against other deputies.

In a downtown courtroom, a somber Noel Womack, 36, acknowledged to U.S District Court Judge George H. King that he tried to mislead FBI agents about the violent arrest of a man inside a county jail.

"Did you do the things charged against you?" King asked.

"Yes, sir," Womack replied quietly, his hands clasped in front of him.

Another deputy also struck a deal with prosecutors, pleading guilty earlier this year.

The agreement marked an about-face for Womack, one of five deputies indicted by a federal grand jury on charges they abused jail visitors on several occasions and conspired to cover up their misdeeds.

From the outset, Womack and the others remaining in the case insisted on their innocence. But with their trial set to start this month, Womack opted to break ranks with the others and gave prosecutors a new version of the violent 2011 encounter in a windowless, secluded room in the Men's Central Jail facility.

Deputies, he said, beat the jail visitor even though the man was handcuffed and not resisting as he was held on the floor, according to a copy of the agreement reviewed by The Times.

Along with his statement, Womack must testify against the three remaining defendants if prosecutors call on him to do so. 

MORE: Tracking claims of deputy brutality

The lies came out during an interview last month, the plea agreement said. Among other misstatements, Womack told FBI agents he did not know whether the visitor was handcuffed, according to the agreement.

In exchange for Womack's cooperation, prosecutors dismissed the various charges Womack faced and agreed to suggest to King that he not sentence Womack to any time in prison for the felony conviction. 

At the afternoon hearing, King pressed Womack on the details of his deal with prosecutors, asking if he fully understood it and that King could still opt to sentence him to as many as five years in prison.

"You have no agreement with me, do you understand?" King said.

A hulking man with close cropped hair and glasses, Womack stood alongside his attorney Matthew Lombard and told King he understood.

Womack's agreement requires him to resign from the L.A. County Sheriff's Department, and he will be banned from working in law enforcement.

The first deputy to make a deal, Pantamitr Zunggeemoge, entered a guilty plea in February, according to court records. The agreement between prosecutors and Zunggeemoge, who faced several allegations of abuse and dishonesty, was sealed by King, keeping its details secret.

But a court filing by another defendant last month said that Zunggeemoge, too, has told prosecutors that the visitor, Gabriel Carrillo, was handcuffed during the incident.

In his statement to prosecutors, the filing said, Zunggeemoge said deputies had concocted a story that only one of the man's hands was cuffed to justify their use of force. The filing also said that Zunggeemoge has agreed to cooperate fully and testify for the government if prosecutors call him as a witness.

The guilty pleas have changed the complexion of the approaching brutality trial, scheduled to begin June 16.

In securing the deputies' help, prosecutors scored a potentially potent advantage in their effort either to extract more guilty pleas or convict the three remaining defendants at trial. Without the firsthand accounts from the deputies, the case would rest heavily on the ability of the beaten man and other alleged victims to convince jurors of what happened.

Attorneys for the remaining defendants, however, indicated they will attack the credibility of Womack and Zunggeemoge. 

Following Womack's appearance in court, prosecutors in the case revised the indictment in the case, winnowing it down to include only allegations that stem from the encounter with Carrillo, whom the county paid $1.2 million to settle a civil rights lawsuit.

Twitter: @joelrubin

 

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