SAN FERNANDO (CNS) - Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department officials attempted to cover up an altercation in a San Fernando courthouse where a deputy knelt on a handcuffed inmate's head for several minutes, according to a published report.
The altercation occurred March 10, 2021, after deputies ordered 24- year-old Enzo Escalante and another inmate who were talking to be quiet.
The two inmates continued talking and laughing, and Deputy Douglas Johnson ordered Escalante to stop and face the wall, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Security video depicted Escalante and Johnson walking in a hallway toward a wall before the inmate allegedly turned around and punched the deputy in the face several times. Johnson and at least three other deputies managed to wrestle Escalante to the ground, where Johnson placed his knee on the inmate's neck.
One deputy handcuffed Escalante's hands behind his back and he began to lay still on the ground, but Johnson kept his knee on the inmate's head for at least three additional minutes. Escalante's hands and feet were eventually bound together, and he was restrained to a wheelchair before he was taken to a hospital with minor injuries.
Johnson wrote in a report that he knelt on Escalante's head in an attempt to control the inmate from thrashing around and striking deputies.
Sheriff's Cmdr. Allen Castellano wrote in an internal force review of the altercation that department officials were concerned about the kneeling ``given its nature and its similarities to widely publicized George Floyd use of force'' and decided not to pursue charges against Escalante to avoid drawing attention to the altercation, The Times reported.
Castellano's report also criticized Johnson's actions leading up to and during the altercation, stating Johnson could have ignored ``provocative language'' from Escalante to avoid escalating the encounter and that his decision to engage the inmate ``placed other deputies and inmates in a dangerous situation.'' Castellano also claimed that two supervising deputies failed to intervene in the altercation.
Following Castellano's report, he was targeted with an administrative investigation by the department, The Times reported.
The department reported Sheriff Alex Villanueva was made aware of the altercation in October and ordered a criminal investigation into Johnson, who was relieved of duty.
However, Cmdr. Eli Vera -- who is challenging Villanueva's bid for a second term -- said Villanueva saw video of the altercation within days of its occurrence.