Grand Jury Investigates L.A. Sheriff After Deputy Knelt on Prisoner’s Head

A grand jury is investing a possible coverup of a March 2021 incident in which a deputy knelt on a handcuffed inmate’s head for 3 minutes

In March of 2021, a video was leaked showing a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy kneeling on the head of a handcuffed prisoner for three minutes. The incident bore a chilling resemblance to the horrific murder of George Floyd by Derek Chauvin, who is currently serving a 20-year prison sentence.

Now, L.A. County prosecutors have begun an investigation of the department’s possible mishandling of the incident, according to the the Los Angeles Times

Subpoenas have been issued to multiple LASD officials, though it is unclear how many were issued and who received them.

The incident occurred at the San Fernando Courthouse lockup as several deputies were conducting routine searches, the Times reports. Enzo Escalante, who was awaiting trial on multiple charges, including murder, and another inmate were told by deputies to be quiet.

When they did not comply Deputy Douglas Johnson escorted Escalante into the hallway and told him to face up against the wall. Escalante then turned and swung at Johnson, punching him several times in the face until he was pinned to the ground. 

After he was held down by three deputies and handcuffed, Deputy Johnson continued to kneel on Escalante’s head, with what appears in the security video to be significant force, for another three minutes. 

According to the Times, Johnson is the same deputy who took pictures that were passed around of Kobe and Gigi Bryant’s bodies after they were killed in a helicopter crash in 2020. 

Five days after the altercation, former Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon claims that she took the security footage to Sheriff Alex Villanueva and viewed the video alongside him with Undersheriff Tim Murakami and Anthony Blanchard, the sheriff’s former lieutenant aide. 

Sheriff Villanueva has denied Limon’s claims, maintaining that he first viewed the video in November, 8 months after the incident occurred. 

After the Times initial report came out, Limon was demoted.

Villanueva also removed a supervising deputy, who was being investigated for failing to intervene during the “use of force” incident at the San Fernando Courthouse, from a promotional list for sergeant. 

Cmdr. John Satterfield claims that he watched the video with Sheriff Villanueva for the first time via Skype on November 18, 2021. 

“It was also obviously clear, based on the Sheriff’s statements and reactions, that he had never seen the video before or been made aware of it,” Satterfield stated.

In a memo denying Limon’s allegations, Satterfield cited a forensic report of Sheriff Villanueva’s computer on November 18. However, no forensic analysis was done on any computer from March 2021, when Limon alleges she brought the video to Villanueva for the first time.

Villanueva is also facing three lawsuits over incident, the most filed by former LASD Chief Lajuana Haselrig in May. Haselrig claims the sheriff did indeed see the video last March, and that he has been shifting the blame to his underlings.

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