View Full Version : The La Times 2 Deputies Are Indicted In Jail Beating Cases

09-27-2003, 08:12 AM
September 26, 2003
The LA Times
2 Deputies Are Indicted in Jail Beating Cases

One is accused of two attacks at an L.A. facility and the other of trying to cover them up.

By David Rosenzweig and Matt Lait, Times Staff Writers

A federal grand jury has indicted two Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies for allegedly beating two jail inmates and covering up the attacks, the U.S. attorney's office said Thursday.

Deputy Abel Jimenez, 31, and Senior Deputy Phalance Burkhalter, 37, were accused of conspiracy and witness tampering in a seven-count indictment returned Wednesday. Jimenez faces up to 45 years in a federal prison and Burkhalter 25 years, if convicted.

Jimenez, who is alleged to have committed the beatings at the sheriff's Inmate Reception Center near downtown Los Angeles, was also charged with depriving the inmates under color of authority of their rights.

Burkhalter, a 13-year veteran, and Jimenez, a deputy for the last six years, had been on paid administrative leave for the past year and a half while an internal criminal investigation was underway. A sheriff's spokesman said they were cut from the payroll when they were indicted.

Both deputies remain free pending arraignment sometime next month.

"We feel confident that after all the evidence is presented, Mr. Burkhalter will be acquitted of all the charges," Vicki Podberesky, one of his defense attorneys, said Thursday. Jimenez's lawyer, Ed Rucker, declined to comment, saying he had not yet seen the indictment.

According to the document, Jimenez attacked inmate Joe Mendez while on duty at the jail Nov. 28, 2001, throwing him to the floor and punching him repeatedly. Later that day, Burkhalter allegedly tried to persuade Mendez to say he had injured himself by falling out of bed.

On Dec. 31, 2001, inmate Juan Barragan was beaten up in another assault by Jimenez, the indictment states, but this one was said to have been witnessed by two other sheriff's deputies.

To cover up the incident, Jimenez prepared a fabricated incident report claiming that Barragan was injured during a fight with another prisoner, and Burkhalter tried to get the inmate to sign it, according to the indictment.

Burkhalter was also accused of ordering stains from Barragan's blood cleaned off the jailhouse floor and arranging for the disposal of his bloodied clothing.

Sheriff's officials launched an investigation that day after a County Jail nurse notified authorities that Barragan had said a deputy beat him.

"Investigators were sent out that night, and they discovered physical evidence in a cell area that was consistent with the inmate's version of events," said Sheriff's Chief William J. McSweeney, who oversees internal affairs. He declined to elaborate on the nature of the evidence.

During the investigation, officials also learned about the alleged assault on Mendez a month earlier.

"They went back and looked at that event and were able to connect the dots," McSweeney said.

When Jimenez learned that internal affairs investigators were looking into the episode, the indictment says, he telephoned the two deputies who witnessed the alleged attack and tried to get them to back up his story by lying.

During the department's investigation, other deputies who were on duty during the incidents were interviewed but said they did not witness any wrongdoing.

"Once this matter resolves [in court] we will definitely look at the actions of other deputies to see if there were any other department policy violations," McSweeney said. "We do have ongoing concerns about that."

Though the allegations against the two deputies troubled department officials, they said they were pleased that the proper policies were in place to detect such problems.

"Every bit of this investigation was conducted by the Sheriff's Department," McSweeney said. "Ideally, we are the first to discover and confirm if our deputies are involved in misconduct."

Steve Whitmore, a sheriff's spokesman, said that as the internal affairs inquiry progressed, the department asked the FBI and the U.S. attorney's office to join the investigation, resulting in Wednesday's indictment.