A Lancaster man, Bret Phillips, testified recently before a federal jury at U.S. District Court that the reason two sheriff’s deputies beat him into unconsciousness was because he threw a milk carton at one of them. Phillips said he wanted to “get the attention” of one of the guards at Men’s Central Jail because he had been left tightly handcuffed to a waist chain inside his cell, instead of having the restraints removed once the cell door had closed.

Federal authorities allege that deputies Joey Aguiar and Mariano Ramirez violated the civil rights of Phillips by assaulting him on Feb. 11, 2009 while he was in chains. The indictment alleges that deputies kicked Phillips in the head and upper body, struck him with a flashlight, pepper-sprayed him in the face and then lied about the incident in official reports.

John Maestaz, a 48-year-old state prison inmate, took the stand after Philips and said he “watched unseen” how the jail guards beat an apparently unconscious Phillips, noting the images seven years ago were “impossible to erase” from his mind.

“[The memories] were beat into my brain,” Maestaz testified. “It was a memory I can see frame-by-frame in my mind, because it was that fierce of a beating.”

Maestaz, halfway through a 21-year sentence for gang-related voluntary manslaughter, testified that he was incarcerated at the jail when he secretly watched as Aguiar and Ramirez battered the “unmoving” head and body of the handcuffed and unconscious Phillips. He said he was in the shower area when he heard noises, turned and saw Phillips “laying on the ground with two deputies on top of him.” Maestaz testified that he saw one of the deputies “riding” on Phillips’ back, repeatedly “slamming” his fist into the back of the man’s head, while a second deputy was also striking the inmate. Maestaz also said he saw the jail chaplain standing about 15 feet away, also watching the incident, and he was apparently unseen by the deputies.

“He looked astonished,” Maestaz said, “with the expression like ‘Oh, my God.’ It was a brutal beating.”

Phillips, who suffers from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, said earlier that after one of the milk cartons touched Aguiar’s shoe, he was taken out of his cell and ordered to face a wall.

“I just had that feeling that something was going to happen,” the former inmate testified. “I was nervous. I knew I did something wrong by throwing the milk cartons.” Phillips said he could tell he was in trouble by the “demeanor” of Aguiar and Ramirez. At that point, Phillips said his head was “slammed” into the wall, Ramirez placed him in a chokehold and he passed out.