2 Jail Guards Charged with Beating Shackled Inmate

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.

Jennifer Wadsworth is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Newspaper. Email tips to [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @jennwadsworth.

9 Comments

  1. And the hits just keep on coming.

    The guards were suspended during the Jail Blue Ribbon commission hearings, but conveniently that didn’t come to the commission’s attention before their wrap-up. Makes me wonder what else has not been disclosed.

    90+ days after the guards were suspended before the DA decided to bring charges. Wonder how long this was pending? And how long the DA typically takes to bring charges when someone is thrown against a wall, stomped, punched, and kicked?

    • The problem was the inmate, by his own accounts, didn’t report the incident when it occurred meaning evidence wasn’t readily and immediately available to be investigated. The BRC should have been made aware of this situation, as well as the situations with Roches and Matyssik. To be honest, even if it had been reported, nothing would have been done given the utter lack of care on the part of lieutenants and captains (and now Ass. Sheriff Beliveau) who have turned their back on any number of reported incidents. Why do you think people are leaving in droves ? After the election when deputies put themselves on the line going against a sheriff bent on vengeance to tell everyone there was a problem and no one listened, or worse mocked them for speaking out, many have checked out. Enforcement is ramping up for an exodus with some major personnel entities leaving in the past weeks. Why should they care if the public doesn’t? They can go work in an agency that cares with a community that will listen and leave the problems to you and the sheriff that was voted back in.

  2. Gee! Jeff Rosen is charging Officers for a beating, just one beating? Well now the DA’s office will get together with the Defense Attorneys, Deputy Sheriff’s Association and they will plan their errors and omissions and set up the Jury Instructions to require an acquittal. Then they will realize they violated the suspects PO rights and they will be reinstated. That’s the way it’s done.

  3. Why has Laurie Smith no shame ? If she had any, she would have resigned.

    All these racist, criminally vicious acts took place under her so-called leadership. Now she does something? c,mon, enough already.

    Why hasn’t she been relieved of jail duties and why haven’t those of the racist emails been suspended at the very least.

    • She has no shame because the voters overwhelmingly re-elected her in the face of so many failures being pointed out by the enforcement and corrections personnel. They gave her political capital galore and she’s riding on it. Virtually everything we’ve said would happen in 2013-14 has begun to happen, but hey, it’s a pack of keystone cops who were talking so validation now is meaningless.

      The ones involved in the racist texts were suspended months ago. Rumor is she’s holding that up because she wants to target more people that weren’t participating and she’s been trying to find a way to do that. https://caseythomas.wordpress.com/2016/05/25/moral-respect-is-meaningless-in-the-face-of-political-success/

      And her friends on the Board of Supervisors aren’t going to take the jails from her, especially now that they got Amy Le on the the CPOA and she’s a sheriff’s supporter. Back to the illegal collusion, this time in corrections.

      • Agreed the voters of this area have shown to be imcompetent at researching candidates and ballot measures. Johnny Khamis is a perfect example on the sj level. Laurie is a shipwreck

  4. I’m surprised at the lack of skepticism or, at least, acknowledgment that these young officers are innocent until proven guilty, given the facts supplied above. The inmate, jailed for who knows what crime, was allegedly brutally beaten but did immediately report it. That’s odd, but not unprecedented. His injuries were allegedly veery serious but went unnoticed the next day by dayshift jail staff? That’s a little harder to believe. Two dozen inmates witnessed his alleged brutal beating yet failed to raise a ruckus right then or report it at first opportunity? That, I find, to be so out of character for a population of angry, vengeful, and scheming lowlifes as to be beyond belief.

    While it is not impossible the two officers used a level of force against the inmate that mandated reporting of some type (and were negligent in doing so), we have to remember that going hands on with inmates is part of the job, and the only safe and effective way to do so is to use force sufficient to overcome the level of resistance conveyed (in this case, likely by thrashing and/or pulling away, butting with the head, biting, etc.). Faced with resistance, to use an insufficient measure force is to invite further resistance, jeopardize the safety of the officers, and even increase the risk of injury to the inmate. For this reason the appropriate application of force is to err on the side of excessive — and any so-called expert who suggests that an officer can be trained to know exactly how much force to use, or that such a determination is even possible, is a fraud. It’s tantamount to claiming there is an exact amount of force necessary to push somebody out of the way of an oncoming car (something else for which insufficient force is unacceptable). The actions of these two officers must be examined fairly; many a handcuffed person has dressed up an officer’s firm physical manipulation by tumbling into a wall or floor, screaming in mock pain, or calling out for help; just as many have fabricated their mistreatment out of whole cloth. As for the quality of jailhouse witnesses, it’s on par with the quality of jailhouse food.

    The use of force by police and correctional officers, which has, rightly, always been subject to question, has been turned into a national pastime (by the politicized media) and an institutional wrecking ball (by political opportunists). This latest jail scandal reeks of the latter. Our DA’s office has become so predictable when there’s a government official up for sacrifice that I view that office as being as desperately subjective and unreliable as is the scapegoat-searching, incompetent sheriff.

    This case is going to trial and the chips will fall where they may, but I will be surprised if the evidence ends up supporting the filing of felony charges against these young men.