Wednesday, February 14, 2018
Ninth Circuit Affirms Convictions of Sheriff’s Deputies
Defendants Beat, Pepper-Sprayed Mentally Ill Prisoner, Falsified Records; Three-Judge Panel ejects Attack on Witness’s Credibility
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals yesterday affirmed the convictions of two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies in connection with the beating of a mentally ill inmate who had mouthed off to guards, with a three-judge panel rejecting the contention that the prosecution’s chief witness lacked credibility.
That witness was Joshua Sather, a rookie who had graduated first in his class at the sheriff’s academy. He testified that his training officer, defendant Bryan Brunsting, ordered him to participate in the March 10, 2010 beating of inmate Philip Jones, which he did, resigning from the department a short time later.
Sather testified that he saw Brunsting “spread [Jones’s] legs and kick the inmate in his private parts.” He said Brunsting and co-defendant Jason Branum beat Jones until he was “screaming and crying.”
Assistant U.S. attorney Lindsey Greer Dotson of the Central District of California summarized to jurors that the defendants “kicked him, struck him, sprayed him with…[pepper] spray,” and the victim, who is schizophrenic, “wasn’t kicking, punching, swinging” or in any way attempting to defend himself.
Evidence showed that false reports were filed in an effort to cover up what had occurred.
Brunsting and Branum were charged with violating Jones’s civil rights, conspiring to do so, and falsification of records. A jury on May 16, 2016, found them guilty.
U.S. District Judge George Wu on Nov. 28, 2016, sentenced Brunsting to 21 months in prison and Branum to five months. They have been free pending appeal.
Yesterday’s affirmance came in a memorandum opinion by Circuit Judges Susan P. Graber and Andrew D. Hurwitz, along with District Court Judge Edward R. Korman of the Eastern District of New York, sitting by designation.
Rejecting an attack on Sather’s credibility, the opinion says:
“[We] have refused to overrule a jury’s finding that an accomplice was credible even though he was a felon whose story was inconsistent and at times ‘somewhat bizarre.’…The alleged questions about the witness’s consistency here—whether medical records that generally reflect a beating were supportive enough, whether the inmate was kicked in the groin, which guard tackled him, what happened with a particular door—are nowhere near what it would take for us to hold that the evidence was insufficient for a rational jury to have found the appellants guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.”
The appellants noted that they are white and Jones is an African American, and argued:
“[N]egative media nationally and locally reinforced in [the venire] panel’s mind the notion that there was a significant and on-going problem with regard to Caucasian officers attacking African-American individuals, and an additional problem with regard to beatings at Los Angeles County Jail facilities.”
In light of this, they maintained, the trial should have been delayed—although, the opinion points out, “they never explain until when.”
“Passing over the fact that the appellants never moved for a change of venue, our review confirms that there was no abuse of discretion….The appellants object primarily to general news, not coverage specific to the case….Moreover, the most serious comments to which the appellants object were made by prospective jurors who were not empaneled. The seated jurors affirmed that would decide the case fairly.”
The case is U.S.A. v. Branum, No. 16-50472.
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