LOS ANGELES (CN) – Despite an attorney for a former Los Angeles County jail officer telling a federal jury Friday her client didn’t know his report about fellow officers beating a man inside a jail in 2011 was wrong when the FBI interviewed him, jurors wasted little time in finding him guilty of lying to investigators.
Byron Dredd was on duty at the Men’s Central Jail in February 2011 when LA resident Gabriel Carrillo was handcuffed for violating the jail’s cellphone policy. Jail officers then took Carrillo to a breakroom where they beat and pepper-sprayed him.
Dredd later told FBI investigators he saw Carrillo punch an officer in the chest with his right arm and attempted an escape by pushing other officers. Dredd said he saw the melee through a small, grated window looking into the breakroom.
But Carrillo testified his arms were handcuffed behind his back during the beating, a detail that was corroborated in testimony this week by Pantamitr Zunggeemoge and Noel Womack, two officers involved in the beating who later signed plea agreements with federal prosecutors.
Other officers who beat Carrillo served prison time after a federal investigation found they orchestrated a cover-up by saying the use of force was justified because Carrillo threw a punch.
Dredd, whose report did not say Carrillo’s hands were handcuffed, was indicted in October 2015 on charges he falsified his report and willfully lied to the FBI during the investigation. A jury acquitted him of falsifying the report but deadlocked on the other charge, and the Ninth Circuit refused Dredd’s request to order a federal judge to dismiss the charge, leading to this week’s retrial.
Dredd’s attorney Nina Marino said Friday that at the time of his FBI interview in July 2012, Dredd was still in the dark about the officers’ cover-up and still believes his report of the incident was accurate.
“There has been no evidence presented by the government that [Dredd] knew his report was wrong,” said Marino, who added Dredd was pressured by his sergeant, Eric Gonzalez, to write his report in line with the officers’ narrative.
Zunggeemoge and Womack also testified in this week’s trial before U.S District Judge Dale S. Fischer that Gonzalez orchestrated the cover-up.
But Justice Department attorney Veronica Dragalin said Friday personal phone records obtained in the federal investigation showed Dredd spoke with Gonzalez multiple times before his July 2012 FBI interview, including for a combined 380 minutes that month.
Dragalin said Dredd lied to the FBI in order to cover for his partners and to protect himself.
“[Dredd] went into the interview intending to mislead [FBI] investigators so that they would stop asking questions,” Dragalin said. “He was counting on the fact that his partners would stick to the code of silence.”
From the witness stand on Thursday, Dredd told Dragalin he knew nothing about an unwritten code of protecting fellow law enforcement partners and said that he never asked anyone if his incident report was accurate or not.
Marino said in her closing statement Friday that Dredd would never do anything to tarnish the reputation of his family, which includes notable black leaders in the city’s law enforcement and fire departments.
She said Dredd made a mistake by writing a report even though he had been distracted by his duty to look after 200 detained men in the jail’s visiting area.
But Dragalin said Dredd had several opportunities to do the right thing.
“[Dredd] is not a casual observer of a car accident, he is a deputy on the job,” said Dragalin. “[Dredd] had a choice when he saw the beating; he could have stayed out of it. Instead, he wrote a report to help cover it up. He made the wrong decision.”
Assistant U.S. Attorney Mack Jenkins praised the government’s attorneys for presenting “a compelling narrative that the defendant inserted himself into a coordinated effort to cover up the brutal beating of an innocent and handcuffed person by LA Sheriff’s deputies who were later convicted in federal court related to the attack.”
He added: “The jury’s quick and decisive verdict this afternoon sends a simple but reverberating message: If a member of law enforcement engages in excessive force or, as the evidence showed here, elects to become a part of the cover-up, the code of silence won’t save them.
“Law enforcement officers have an exceedingly difficult job every time they show up to work; but they are also granted an exceptional amount of trust placed in them by our communities. Mr. Dredd broke that trust when he lied to the FBI, and an innocent victim paid the price. Today, the jury decided that Mr. Dredd must pay his.”
Marino, of Kaplan Marino, said she was “very disappointed in the verdict.”
Judge Fischer will sentence Dredd on May 20.