Jury convicts Calif. CO in ‘code of silence’ trial, but deadlocks on 4 counts
The ex-CO was convicted of perjury before the grand jury, but jurors couldn’t decide on other counts accusing her of trying to get other COs to cover up the attack
By Sam Stanton
The Sacramento Bee
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A Sacramento jury convicted a former California corrections officer late Monday of lying to a federal grand jury investigating an assault on an inmate, but deadlocked on four other counts accusing her of trying to get other correctional officers to cover up the attack.
Brenda Villa was convicted in federal court of perjury before the grand jury, but jurors could not reach unanimous verdicts on one count of conspiracy to commit falsification of records and three counts of falsification of records.
Villa was not present for the assault on the inmate, who died two days later, but was accused of orchestrating a cover-up of how the incident happened.
She is the third former corrections officer from California State Prison, Sacramento, to be charged in what prosecutors say was an example of the “code of silence” among correction officers inside California prisons.
The other two, Arturo Pacheco and Ashley Aurich, took plea deals and were sentenced to prison terms.
Jurors told Senior U.S. District Judge William B. Shubb just before 5 p.m. Monday they were unable to agree on the four remaining counts after deliberations that began Thursday following two days of testimony.
“We have come to the conclusion that any further deliberations will not change our vote,” the jury foreman wrote in a note to Shubb.
The judge declared a mistrial on the four counts and set a hearing for next Monday to hear from prosecutors on whether they intend to seek a new trial on those charges.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Anderson, who tried the case with fellow prosecutor Rosanne Rust, declined to comment afterward, and a spokeswoman for U.S. Attorney Phil Talbert had no immediate answer on whether Villa would face another trial.
Her attorney, Eric Hintz, also declined to comment in advance of next week’s hearing.
Shubb lauded the jurors for the effort they had put into the case.
“You did your job admirably,” the judge told jurors. “It took you longer in your deliberations than it took the lawyers to try this case.”
Villa, who is not in custody, could face up to five years for the conviction.
The case stemmed from a Sept. 15, 2016, incident at New Folsom during which Ronnie Price, a 65-year-old inmate, was being escorted from one cell to another by three correctional officers.
Price had his wrists handcuffed behind his back when he suddenly stopped walking for a moment and Pacheco yanked his legs backward out from under him.
Price hit the concrete floor face-first and was taken to UC Davis Medical Center, where he died two days later from a pulmonary embolism.
Pacheco pleaded guilty last July to two counts of deprivation of rights under color of law and two counts of falsifying records. He was sentenced to 12 years and seven months in prison.
Aurich, Pacheco’s partner during the escort, pleaded guilty in January 2021 to falsifying records in a federal investigation and testified at trial. She was sentenced to 21 months in prison.