L.A. Sheriff’s Deputy Knelt on Inmate’s Head Leading to Alleged Cover Up by Officials

A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy knelt on an inmate’s head for three minutes, which led to an alleged cover up by department officials.

Image of LASD deputy kneeling on man's head

Image via Los Angeles Times

Image of LASD deputy kneeling on man's head

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy knelt on an inmate’s head for three minutes in March of 2021, and department officials reportedly covered the incident up, per the Los Angeles Times

Commander Allen Castellano reportedly wrote in an internal force review that the department was worried about potential optics given the incident’s “nature and its similarities to widely publicized George Floyd use of force,” so officials avoided pressing criminal charges against the inmate despite him reportedly punching a deputy in the face. 

Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials attempted to cover up an incident in which a deputy knelt on the head of a handcuffed inmate for three minutes because they feared the “negative light” it could shed on the department, according to internal records https://t.co/sPAeJw7CoP pic.twitter.com/XoGNXmvll9

— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) March 26, 2022

At the time of the incident on March 10, 2021, deputies were reportedly doing routine searches on inmates before their San Fernando Courthouse court appearances. It was then that Deputy Douglas Johnson ordered Enzo Escalante—who was awaiting trial on a murder charge and other charges—to face the wall for talking with another inmate, before Escalante punched him in the face. 

Johnson then put his knee on Escalante’s head, as a video obtained by the Times shows, and kept it there for over three minutes despite him appearing to be compliant. He suffered minor injuries and was taken to the hospital with contusions to both ears and abrasions on his neck. 

Castellano wrote that Johnson—who said in a report that he tried to “control Inmate Escalante from thrashing around and striking me or another deputy”—had “placed other deputies and inmates in a dangerous situation” and that two supervising deputies didn’t help.

“There appeared to be ample time for Deputy Johnson to reposition himself and still control Inmate Escalante, who was handcuffed and hobbled, while maintaining awareness of his surroundings,” Castellano shared.

Castellano also noted that “the potential optics of an incident should not be a determining factor on whether or not a criminal complaint is filed.”

Inspector General Max Huntsman said that “under ordinary circumstances,” he would expect the department to have “prosecuted this case” against the inmate for punching the officer in the first place. Given that it didn’t, it “raises a red flag to the possibility … that the motivation was preventing bad press as alleged,” per Huntsman. 

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