Inmate whose head was knelt on by L.A. sheriff’s deputy files lawsuit

VIDEO | 01:56
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department use of force

Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials attempted to hide an incident in which a deputy kneeled on the head of an inmate for three minutes while the man was handcuffed.


An inmate whose head was knelt on by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy for three minutes while he was handcuffed has sued members of the Sheriff’s Department, including Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

In the lawsuit, filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court, Enzo Escalante alleges his civil rights were violated when deputies violently subdued him while he was at a courthouse for a hearing. Members of the county’s Board of Supervisors are also listed as defendants.

“The sheriff and supervisors, for many years, have been aware of and permit and condone deputy sheriff misconduct, so that deputies feel free to violate the Constitution’s Fourth, Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments,” an attorney for Escalante wrote in the lawsuit. “The sheriff and supervisor defendant failed to investigate and covered up what occurred.”


The lawsuit alleges that two senior deputies “tolerated this, did not stop it, and failed properly to supervise” the deputies who held Escalante on the floor.

Escalante is awaiting trial on multiple charges, including murder.

Officials were worried about the optics of the kneeling, “given its nature and its similarities to widely publicized George Floyd use of force,” a commander who was critical of the coverup wrote in an internal force review.

March 26, 2022

The Times published a video last month of the March 2021 incident and detailed efforts by Sheriff’s Department officials to keep it under wraps. Officials had worried at the time about the negative publicity that could come from a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed man’s head, “given its nature and its similarities to widely publicized George Floyd use of force,” according to an internal report by a commander critical of the cover-up.

After The Times report, Villanueva said he first learned of the case eight months after it occurred, in November, and immediately ordered a criminal investigation into whether the deputy had used excessive force on the inmate.

Some have disputed Villanueva’s timeline.

Inspector General Max Huntsman issued a subpoena that challenged Villanueva’s timeline. He wrote that his office learned of allegations that the sheriff viewed the video of the incident earlier than he claimed when a senior official “personally played the video” for him and other high-ranking members of the department.

And Eli Vera, a retired sheriff’s commander who is running against Villanueva for sheriff, told The Times that the sheriff had viewed the video at an aide’s desk within days after it occurred.

The incident happened on the morning of March 10, 2021, at the San Fernando Courthouse. Deputies were conducting routine searches of inmates before their court appearances when deputies told two inmates to be quiet.


Sheriff Alex Villanueva is being investigated over allegations he watched video of a deputy kneeling on an inmate’s head months before Villanueva said he did.

April 8, 2022

As the pair continued talking and laughing, Deputy Douglas Johnson ordered Escalante to stop and face the wall.

Security video obtained by The Times shows Johnson walking closely behind Escalante through a hallway before ushering him toward a wall.

Escalante turned around and punched Johnson in the face multiple times. Johnson and other deputies then took Escalante to the ground, positioning him face down.

After he was handcuffed, Johnson kept his knee on Escalante’s head for three minutes.