LOS ANGELES (KTLA) – A leaked video appearing to show Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputies beating a detainee is the latest controversy surrounding the embattled law enforcement department.
As many as six deputies appear to pummel 32-year-old Jesus Soto Jara in footage recorded last week at the Inmate Reception Center in downtown Los Angeles.
Lawyers for Soto Jara are accusing the deputies of using excessive force and violating his civil rights.
Jose Romero, one of Soto Jara’s lawyers, says his client is suffering from serious injuries inflicted during the scuffle with deputies.
“He is suffering from injuries to his back, his head and left eye sustained this past Monday,” Romero told KTLA.
Soto Jara had just been arrested on drug possession while holding a firearm charges on July 3.
His attorneys allege Sota Jara was compliant as a deputy started to handcuff him, but video shows that was when the violence began.
During the struggle, several other deputies arrived and started throwing punches.
Soto Jara’s attorney says he was eventually pushed to an area that is off-camera and further assaulted.
“After taking his beating, he was given some medical attention but unfortunately sequestered from family and friends,” Romero said. “To this date he has not spoken to family, including his wife and son.”
Romero also says his client is in need of additional medical attention.
Prior to the incident, there was a scuffle with another inmate and deputy seen in the background of the leaked video. Soto Jara’s attorney says his client was not involved in that altercation.
However, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department adamantly disputes those claims.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva released a statement Monday evening that reads in part: “Mr. Sotojara [sic] was involved in an argument with another inmate and had removed his shirt to fight the other inmate. Mr. Romero claimed the contact with Mr. Sotojara was ‘unprovoked’ and he was 100% not involved. This was inaccurate.”
Villanueva also disputed Romero’s assertions that Soto Jara was moved out of view of cameras, saying that the inmate holding area has cameras that shoot the entirety of the area, including other cameras that captured the incident.
The Sheriff’s Department also said Soto Jara was treated by multiple medical professionals for the injuries he sustained during the fight with deputies.
An internal investigation was launched following the incident to determine if the use of force was proper and justified.
Jose Perez, a civil rights attorney who is working as part of Soto Jara’s legal team, said this latest incident is another example of the Sheriff’s Department under Villanueva violating the rights of those who are in their care.
“I counted about 12 to 15 punches and Mr. Soto does not resist at all,” Perez said. “This is a pattern that’s been going on in the Sheriff’s Department.”
Perez continued to describe the actions of LASD deputies as a “pattern of unaccountability” that he says “starts at the top.”
Villanueva’s department in recent months has faced other allegations of excessive use of force, including a March 2021 incident in which a deputy kneeled on an inmate’s neck for several minutes after they were put into handcuffs.
Video of that incident, which was also leaked to the press, led to accusations by some of his own employees that alleged Villanueva had direct knowledge of the video for several months, but tried to keep the details from leaking following months of civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.
Villanueva has denied having previous knowledge of the video and said the matter was investigated and handled internally and swiftly immediately after he was informed about the use-of-force incident. The Sheriff’s Department said the deputy involved was relieved of duty.
The sheriff has also said that his department launched an investigation to determine who leaked the video and accused the Los Angeles Times of attempting to use the video to hurt his political campaign during an election year.
Villanueva is set to face off against former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in a November runoff election.