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2 Ex-Officers Sentenced in Stun-Gun Torture of Youth

February 23, 1988|RICHARD HOLGUIN | Times Staff Writer

A former Huntington Park police officer was sentenced Monday to two years in prison for torturing a teen-ager with a stun gun to extract a confession, while another former officer was sentenced to six months in jail for aiding in the torture.

William J. Lustig, 32, was silent as Superior Court Judge Michael Berg sentenced him to prison and ordered him into the custody of a bailiff, who led him out of the courtroom.

Robert Rodriguez, 27, turned and winced at his crying wife, Nancy, as he was taken into custody after he was sentenced.

Defense attorneys Richard A. Levine and William J. Hadden argued for probation for their clients because the defendants had no previous criminal records and had served the public well before they used the electric stun gun on Jaime Ramirez, 18, on Nov. 30, 1986.

The defense attorneys also claimed the officers, who were fired weeks after the incident, had suffered public embarrassment and had been punished enough.

Berg brushed aside the arguments, calling the use of the stun gun "violent and vicious."

"In our society, a suspect in police custody has a right to be free from torture," Berg said. "These acts constituted a gross betrayal of the public trust."

In December, a Superior Court jury convicted Lustig and Rodriguez of felony assault under the color of authority and misdemeanor inhumane treatment of a prisoner. The charges carried a maximum sentence of three years in prison.

However, the jury found that Rodriguez had only aided and abetted in the crime and did not actually touch the 50,000-volt stun gun to the youth's leg in the incident, which occurred as Ramirez sat handcuffed in the back seat of a police car.

Minutes before the sentencing, the judge rejected a motion for a new trial for Rodriguez.

"The jury properly convicted Mr. Rodriguez, and I independently reached the same result," Berg said.

The judge, however, did note the jury's findings in deciding on a milder sentence--six months in jail and three years' probation--for Rodriguez.

Levine, who represented Lustig, said in an interview that his client's sentence appeared to be "unnecessarily harsh," considering that a probation officer had recommended that neither man serve prison time. He said, however, that there were no plans to appeal Lustig's conviction.

"I've not received instructions from my client . . . to appeal," he said.

Rodriguez's lawyer, Hadden, filed an appeal Monday morning on behalf of his client, who was expected to be released on bail later in the day. Berg agreed to stay Rodriguez's jail sentence pending the appeal and set bail at $3,000.

Hadden said his appeal will contend that the jury was not properly instructed on what constitutes being an accomplice to a crime. "I was pleased that my client's testimony was vindicated on not (directly) having tortured a kid," he said.

The victim of the stun-gun torture, Ramirez, attended the sentencing with his mother and father. "I think it's fair. It's the law," Ramirez said outside court.

Lustig and Rodriguez remained in custody Monday afternoon at County Jail, an official said. It had not been determined where Lustig would serve his sentence.

At the officers' trial, Ramirez testified that they burned him with the stun gun shortly after 4 a.m. in front of his Huntington Park home. Ramirez, then 17, was carrying a paper bag containing car stereo equipment when he was arrested by Officer Eric Ault, handcuffed and placed in the back of his police car. A short time later, Lustig and Rodriguez drove up in separate cars.

The youth testified that Rodriguez shocked him three times on his upper left leg before Lustig took the stun gun and shocked him four more times. During the interrogation, Ramirez stuck to his story that he bought the stereo equipment from a man for $25. Later, at the police station, Ramirez admitted he had burglarized a car.

A Nova stun gun was found in Lustig's police locker several days after the episode. Such devices are not authorized Police Department equipment.

Two other persons were present during the interrogation. Rodriguez's brother, Donald Rodriguez, was on a civilian ride-along, and Ault was accompanied by Explorer Scout Maria Fragoso, a 17-year-old high school student.

Ault, Fragoso and Donald Rodriguez testified that they saw Lustig leaning or reaching in toward Ramirez as the prisoner moaned in pain. None saw Lustig touch the stun gun to the teen-ager's leg. The three testified that Robert Rodriguez was standing back and they never saw him move toward Ramirez when the prisoner cried out.

Robert Rodriguez testified that he never used the stun gun. He said he did not try to stop Lustig because officers do not interfere with one another. Rodriguez testified that he did not turn in his fellow officer because of a policeman's "code of silence."

Ault received a disciplinary suspension, but was granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony.

Rodriguez, a Los Angeles resident, has been working as a truck driver, according to court documents. Lustig, who moved to San Diego, was unemployed.

Ramirez, alleging his civil rights were violated, has filed a $10-million federal lawsuit naming as defendants Lustig, Rodriguez, Ault, Fragoso, Donald Rodriguez and the city.

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