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By Charles Lam
But late last month the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals reviewed the case and handed Sarmiento his first victory after seven years of defeats. A three-judge panel concluded that his trial hadn't been fair. They specifically rejected Carter's decision to limit the jury's decision about wrongdoing to just two named deputies and not others involved in the beatings.
"Sarmiento does not identify the particular deputies who used excessive force against him, in part because his face was pressed into the wall or floor during the deputies' alleged use of excessive force," the appellate judges wrote. "While Sarmiento additionally named deputies [Matthew] LeFlore and [David] Hernandez as individual defendants, he never alleged that it was only LeFlore and Hernandez who had used excessive force. Indeed, the videotape of the beating shows that several officers, not just LeFlore and Hernandez, were involved in the beating, and Sarmiento testified that he was unable to identify which of the officers kicked him in the face."
The judges said Carter erred by only allowing jurors to determine if LeFlore and Hernandez were guilty of the abuse, a mistake that invalidates the verdicts. They also overturned the decision to charge Sarmiento with the police lawyers' bill and ordered a new trial to be run consistent with their rulings.
When I contacted Sarmiento in Los Angeles, he was unaware of the ruling. There was no expression of joy or satisfaction. He said his experiences have left him with no faith in government institutions. Though he sought media coverage at the outset of his lawsuit, he nowadays refuses to describe how deputies tortured him and answers most questions guardedly.
Will he pursue a new trial?
"I don't know," said Sarmiento, who has been active in protesting education spending cuts at UCLA. "If I do, I'd do it only to win."
This column appeared in print as "'This Mexican Speaks English!' Cops targeted Hugo Sarmiento for torture after a 2005 anti-immigration rally, and he's still waiting for justice."