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Criminal Justice

No Criminal Charges for LA Sheriff’s Deputy Who Knelt on Handcuffed Man’s Head

Three L.A. Sheriff's deputies knees over a man; one has his knee on the man's head. Six other deputies stand watching. Two other deputies are off to the side.
A screenshot from a jailhouse surveillance video obtained by LAist shows Deputy Douglas Johnson kneeling on the head of Enzo Escalante.
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The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office has declined to file criminal charges against a Sheriff’s deputy who was seen on video with his knee on the head of a handcuffed man for three minutes.

Deputy Douglas Johnson’s actions came after Enzo Escalante had punched Johnson in the face in a hallway at the San Fernando Courthouse in March 2021. “The available evidence is inconclusive and suggests the amount of force used was not excessive,” according to the DA’s memo on the decision.

The memo noted Escalante was subsequently convicted of two murders and assault on another deputy, which would make it hard to prosecute the deputy in this case.

“Escalante’s initial assault upon Johnson, his opinion that he ‘got the best of’ Johnson, and his history of serious and extensive criminal conduct would make him a particularly unsympathetic victim,” the memo states.

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Security camera video of the incident is at the heart of allegations that Sheriff Alex Villanueva tried to cover it up. Former Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon and two former officials have filed whistleblower lawsuits claiming Villanueva saw the video a few days later, then sought to cover it up by blocking a criminal investigation.

Limon claimed the sheriff feared the video looked too much like the George Floyd video. The sheriff claims he did not see the video until eight months later, and that when he did he immediately ordered an investigation.

The DA has convened a grand jury to investigate whether Villanueva or other department officials engaged in any wrongdoing.

After the video was leaked, Villanueva said he had opened an investigation into the Los Angeles Times reporter who obtained it. After a firestorm of criticism, the sheriff reversed himself.

Learn more about that incident, as well as the tenure of Villanueva and his handling of the deputy gang issue, on the podcastImperfect Paradise: The Sheriff from LAist Studios.

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