A federal jury late yesterday convicted Kevin Casaus, 25, a former corrections officer at the Bernalillo County, N.M., Metropolitan Detention Center (MDC) in Albuquerque, N.M., on obstruction of justice and falsification of records charges, announced the Justice Department.
Casaus and fellow former MDC corrections officers, Demetrio Juan Gonzales, 40, and Matthew Pendley, 26, were indicted in June 2012, and charged with various crimes related to the assault of an inmate housed at MDC on Dec. 21, 2011, and subsequent attempts to cover up and impede the investigation of the assault. In Oct. 2012, Gonzales pleaded guilty to violating the civil rights of an individual in his custody when he struck and choked the victim in the shower room/dress out area of MDC. Pendley pleaded guilty in Feb. 2012 to obstructing justice by making false statements to law enforcement during their investigation of the assault on an inmate.
According to the evidence at trial, during the early morning hours of Dec. 21, 2011, Gonzales was assigned to the Receiving-Discharge-Transfer (RDT) Unit at MDC where individuals are brought to be booked soon after they are arrested. His job was to photograph and fingerprint those who are brought to RDT for booking. The victim, who had been arrested for Driving While Intoxicated, was verbally uncooperative during the booking process, but was not a physical threat to anyone. Gonzales testified that he became angry at the victim and walked him to the shower room where he knew there were no surveillance cameras. Several other corrections officers, including Casaus, followed Gonzales to the shower room. There, Gonzales physically assaulted the victim, striking him multiple times, and choking him. Gonzales testified that he beat the victim “in a blind rage” and then had to wash the victim’s blood off his hands. He further testified that the victim did not do anything to justify the beating.
According to the testimony, Casaus and two other corrections officers were present in the shower room during the beating. Additionally, a former inmate who was in the hallway outside the shower room at the time of the beating, overheard groans and sounds consistent with the assault coming from the shower room. He was then tasked with cleaning the blood that was on the floors and walls of the shower room. The victim testified that, after Gonzales left the shower room, Casaus assaulted him by shoving him and striking him. Casaus falsely stated during a recorded interview with a Bernalillo County Sheriff’s Office investigator that the victim was not assaulted in the shower room, the victim was not bleeding, and that they only brought the victim to the shower room to ask him to change out of his clothes. Casaus falsified his report when he wrote that he saw blood on the victim's clothes, but did not know where the blood came from.
The jury deliberated approximately four hours before returning a verdict of guilty on the obstruction of justice and falsification of records charges, and not guilty on the assault charge.
“Today's verdict affirms that law enforcement officers are not above the very laws they are sworn to uphold,” said Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez. “As in this case, the Civil Rights Division will work closely with our United States Attorneys to vigorously prosecute police misconduct.”
Casaus faces a maximum penalty of 20 years in prison when he is sentenced. His sentencing hearing has yet to be scheduled. Gonzales was sentenced in Jan. 2013 to 33 months in prison. Pendley’s sentencing hearing also has not been scheduled.
“When those who are sworn to uphold the law and protect others instead abuse their power and position, they undermine the public’s confidence in the justice system and our government institutions,” said Kenneth J. Gonzales, U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico. “The U.S. Attorney’s Office and the Department of Justice are committed to promoting trust in our system of justice by vigorously prosecuting those who obstruct justice.”
“Corrections officers have a special duty to safeguard the civil rights of the inmates they oversee. That is why the Albuquerque FBI aggressively investigated this case that also resulted in the guilty pleas of two other former MDC officers,” said Carol K.O. Lee, Special Agent in Charge of the Albuquerque Division of the FBI. “I would like to congratulate the FBI Special Agents for their hard work, and the U.S. Attorney's Office and the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division for three successful and important civil rights prosecutions. I also want to thank the Bernalillo County Sheriff's Office and the Metropolitan Detention Center's executive management and internal affairs staff.”
This case was investigated by the Albuquerque Division of the FBI and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark T. Baker for the District of New Mexico and Trial Attorney Fara Gold of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice.