2 correctional deputies ordered to stand trial for assault of inmate

Two Santa Clara County correctional deputies were ordered Thursday to stand trial for the assault of an inmate at a San Jose jail facility last year.

Phillip Abecendario, 27, and Tuan Le, 32, were held over for trial in the alleged beating of Ruben Garcia on July 23, 2015 at the Main Jail’s sixth floor. They have pleaded not guilty to a felony charge of assault under the color of authority.

The defendants appeared out of custody this afternoon at the Hall of Justice in San Jose before Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge JoAnne McCracken, who also ruled against a defense motion to reduce the charge to a misdemeanor.

Santa Clara County Deputy District Attorney John Chase brought sheriff’s investigators and correctional deputies to the witness stand during the preliminary hearing that began in September and was spread out to multiple dates.

The guards remain on administrative leave from the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.

Abecendario and Le each face a maximum sentence of three years in jail if convicted, Chase said.

Garcia called the deputies b—— and lazy while he was in shackles at an interview room waiting to be placed in a cell and fell asleep, Chase said in court today.

The inmate woke up to two guards punching him, telling him to shut the f— up and pulled down his pants and underwear before he was taken to the cell, Chase said.

The testimony from a sheriff’s investigator who interviewed Garcia indicated the inmate was thrown to the wall and floor before the guards took off his shackles and left him inside the cell, ignoring his cries for help.

All the inmates interviewed identified Le as one of the suspects, but at least five named a second suspect other than Abecendario, according to Chase.

Garcia was vulnerable in the jail where the defendants acted in concert, Chase wrote in his opposition to the defense’s motion to reduce the charge.

Chase also added that the alleged assault took place in multiple locations and called the attack vicious.

Abecendario’s attorney Judith Odbert pointed to the inconsistent statements from the other inmates, who caught glimpses of the alleged attack and some stated that Garcia was wearing pants and underwear when he was taken to his cell.

Garcia only identified Abecendario as the other suspect based on information from a fellow inmate, Odbert said.

The victim inmate is a member of Nuestra Familia gang and a constant liar who might have made up the alleged assault to gain money under a pending lawsuit filed in Superior Court, according to Odbert.

Garcia possibly suffered a broken jaw from a fight with another inmate over methamphetamine he brought to the facility a day after the alleged assault, she said.

The inmate was also found with a minor laceration to his eyebrow and bruised leg that were considered minor, according to Odbert.

Garcia had also reported suffering many strikes to his head, but there was no evidence that he was treated for those injuries, Odbert said.

The inmate didn’t file a report on the alleged assault until September 2015 a few weeks after the beating death of 31-year-old Michael Tyree on the same jail floor, according to Odbert.

Le’s attorney Matthew Pavone argued that prosecutors blurred the lines between use of force and use of excessive force, pointing out that the defendants haven’t been charged with assault causing great bodily injury.

There was no forensic evidence that Garcia was injured in the interview room and other inmates didn’t say the victim was hurt up the stairs to his cell, Pavone said.

There was also no evidence to show the defendants planned the assault beforehand, according to Pavone.

While the jail guard didn’t file any use of force reports, Pavone questioned whether there was enough force in the first place.

The defendants are scheduled to return to court on Dec. 27.