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LASD deputy under investigation for kneeling on handcuffed inmate's head for three minutes

Actions by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials are being called to attention after allegations that the department attempted to cover up an incident from Oct. 2021, when a deputy was seen kneeling on a handcuffed inmate's head at the San Fernando Courthouse, were brought to light by a report from The Los Angeles Times. 

The initial incident unfolded on March 10, 2021 when Enzo Escalante, 24, and another inmate were talking and directed to be quiet by a pair of deputies on hand. One of those deputies, Deputy Doug Johnson, reportedly told Escalante to face the wall moments before Escalante turned and punched the deputy in the face multiple times before he was taken down by other deputies.

The other inmate was removed from the scene at this time. 

It was then that Johnson put his knee on Escalante -- who was facing down -- for almost a minute before he was handcuffed by other deputies, and then an additional three or so minutes until the deputies were able to lift him onto a chair and immobilize him, as shown in security footage obtained by The L.A. Times. 

Escalante, who was reportedly facing several charges, including murder, suffered several minor injuries as a result of the altercation -- including bruises to both ears and abrasions to his neck. 

As their report details, the officials decided not to pursue charges against the inmate in order to avoid bringing attention to the incident. 

An internal force review, conducted by Commander Allen Castellano -- who was openly critical of the coverup -- stated that the officials were concerned about the public's awareness "given its nature and its similarities to widely publicized George Floyd use of force."

Apparently Castellano was subsequently targeted by an administrative investigation after his criticism of how the situation was being handled. 

An LASD spokesperson released a statement to CBS Friday evening after an inquiry was made, which read:

"In October of last year, Sheriff Alex Villanueva became aware of this incident and immediately ordered a criminal investigation to be opened, as well as for the principle subject to be relieved of duty. Upon conclusion of the criminal investigation, an administrative will be conducted for possible policy violations, including but not limited to Excessive Force, Duty to Intervene and Failure to Supervise. This incident additionally generated an administrative investigation of involved management personnel, which has concluded and appropriate administrative action was taken. Due to the active criminal investigation we are unable to further comment at this time, but we can say Sheriff Alex Villanueva will not tolerate misconduct in any form and will continue to hold personnel accountable to the rule of law."

However, according to a source within the department, Commander Eli Vera, Villanueva had seen the footage just a few days after it took place in March. 

Apparently the use of force went under review in the following weeks, and several officials were highly critical of Johnson -- and the other deputies  who failed to intervene. 

Castellano further noted in his report that,"It was determined the case should not be filed given the misconduct/unreasonable force allegation and the potential for this incident to shed negative light on the Department."

According to the LA Times report, Johnson was also heavily involved in the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash photo-sharing scandal.

The Department was also called into question in earlier March, when a full-fledged investigation into reported deputy gangs was launched.

Saturday marked the beginning of Sheriff Villanueva's re-election campaign, where he joined campaign members, political figures and supporters at his campaign office in Santa Fe Springs for a rally.

CBS reporters on hand detailed hundreds of supporters in attendance, where Sheriff Villanueva was quoted as saying, "We got a lot more work to do. We have major threats to L.A. County, homelessness and violent crime, and walking away in the middle of it is not going to help anyone."

When he was approached for comment on the situation, he noted that the timing of the story's release could only be attributed to political sabotage at the hands of his opponents.

"Notice how all this stuff came up right before today? Any new information out of anything?" he said. "No. It's all a political game and they're trying to influence the outcome of the elections and they're going to fail."

Villanueva also lightly addressed one of his opponents in the race for Sheriff, Eli Vera, the same who was critical of the department's handling of the case.

"If you look at the party trying to push the narrative, the LA Times and one of the other candidates for sheriff, you have to take it with a grain of salt," he continued. 

Villanueva further went on to note that the Deputy Johnson has "been relieved from duty, as he should have. Now we have to do both the administrative and criminal investigation, and based off of the outcome of the two, then we'll make decisions."

Dozens of protestors gathered outside of the East Los Angeles Sheriff's Station following Villanueva's rally earlier in the day. The protest reportedly began at Belvedere Park following the conclusion of the Sheriff's event.

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