Two Santa Clara County jail guards have been charged with beating a shackled inmate, the District Attorney’s Office announced Monday.
Phillip Abecendario, 27, and Tuan Le, 31, each face a felony count of assault by an officer. If convicted, they face up to three years behind bars.
The charges stem a nearly year-old incident. On July 23, 2015, deputies Abecendario and Le assaulted a 49-year-old inmate who arrived that evening, according to prosecutor John Chase.
With other inmates locked in their cells for the night, the jail guards allegedly beat the victim in an interview room. They then hauled him chained and half-naked to his cell, where they assaulted him again, according to Chase.
The officers threw the inmate against the wall and dropped him to the floor, prosecutors say. They also allegedly jumped on him, punched him and kicked him.
Investigators reported that at least a couple dozen inmates saw some of the beating. But the guards—both on administrative leave since February—filed no documents to justify using that level of force.
“We can't have jail guards administering their own form of punishment to inmates who are waiting for their trials or serving their sentences,” Chase said.
Sheriff Laurie Smith, who oversees the county’s two jails, said an internal investigation resulted in the arrests.
“These alleged actions run contrary to any training they have received [and] any supervision they have been under,” she said. “[It] is not indicative of the exemplary work performed by the overwhelming majority of correctional deputies.”
Correctional Peace Officers’ Association President Sgt. Amy Le—elected this month to replace Lance Scimeca, after he reportedly exchanged racist texts with other guards—said the union condemns all criminal behavior but will withhold judgment until the case plays out in a court of law.
“We hold ourselves to a higher standard, even when no one is watching,” Le said. “I believe in our criminal justice system and respectfully request that we don’t prejudge. You are innocent until proven guilty, and entitled to your day in court.”
For the time being, Le added, she wants to improve transparency and accountability in the county’s two jails and within the union.
“I look forward to working with the Sheriff’s Office, the Board of Supervisors and the community to regain the public trust,” she said. “We share a responsibility to make our jails and community safe for everyone.”
The county’s jails have stumbled from one scandal to the next over the past year. A month after the incident that led to Monday's charges, mentally ill inmate Michael Tyree was found bloodied and fatally beaten on the floor of his cell. Three jail guards—Jereh Lubrin, Rafael Rodriquez and Matthew Farris—were arrested and charged with his murder.
Subsequent reviews of the county’s correctional arm called for a long list of reforms, including more training, better leadership and stronger oversight.