Four Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies pleaded not guilty on Monday to charges that they violated the civil rights of a truck driver by beating him in a Whittier parking lot and falsifying reports on the 1987 incident.
Deputies Sam Ferri, Joseph Lomonaco, Everett Maldonado and Bruce Prewett, all from the Norwalk station, entered their pleas in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles before being released on personal recognizance bonds. No trial date was set.
After the court hearing, only Ferri would comment.
"I believe in the court system we have, and I look forward to my day in court so I can vindicate myself," said Ferri, a 14-year department veteran who is on the department's list to be promoted to sergeant.
The four deputies, who have been reassigned to administrative duties, are accused of beating Coy Blane Willbanks after he refused to move his illegally parked tractor-trailer from the parking lot of a mini-mall in February, 1987.
"When all the evidence is in, I expect that my client will be completely exonerated," said attorney Michael Nasatir, who represents Prewett.
Attorney Roger Cossack, who represents Maldonado, said of his client: "He's not guilty . . . and we'll show he's not guilty."
Attorney Victor Sherman, who represents Lomonaco, could not be reached for comment.
Willbanks, who was charged with resisting arrest and assaulting officers, was hospitalized for three days with head cuts and leg injuries from the incident.
During his criminal trial, Willbanks testified that he had pulled his rig into the parking lot because he was exhausted after driving for 36 straight hours. Willbanks said he was abruptly awakened by deputies and that words were exchanged before the officers suddenly began battering him with batons and kicking him although he offered little or no resistance.
The deputies said Willbanks had struggled violently, but a number of witnesses at the scene supported Willbanks' account. The Missouri native, now 31, was acquitted of criminal charges and later received $150,000 to settle his lawsuit against the county.
After an FBI investigation, the deputies were indicted last month, accused of using excessive force and conspiring to submit false evidence to justify Willbanks' arrest.
Attorney Suzanne Drouet of the Justice Department's civil rights division, who will prosecute the case, declined comment.
If convicted, Ferri and Lomonaco face a maximum sentence of 13 years' imprisonment and $13,000 in fines. Prewett and Maldonado face a possible 11 years in prison and $11,000 in fines.