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Local News

Federal Grand Jury Indicts Former Santa Barbara County Custody Deputies

Christopher Johnson and Robert Kirsch are facing charges for allegedly assaulting an inmate

Two former Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department custody deputies already facing local charges of assaulting an inmate at the County Jail have been indicted a federal grand jury in Los Angeles.

Christopher Johnson, 28, and Robert Kirsch,  30, were each charged by the Santa Barbara County District Attorney's Office last August with assault by a public officer, a felony, stemming from an alleged attack on an inmate being housed at the jail.

Both have entered not guilty pleas.

According to the one-page complaint against the two men, Kirsch and Johnson assaulted and beat Charles Alonzo Owens "under color of authority, the defendants being then and there public officers" on June 17.

Owens, 25, of Lompoc had been in custody since 2011 on a variety of serious charges, including a 2007 gang-related slaying in Lompoc, and a related case that involves rape, forced sodomy, attempted oral copulation, domestic battery and witness intimidation.

In Nov. 2013, Owens was found guilty on all charges and sentenced to serve life without parole at Folsom State Prison.

On Thursday, that case against the deputies took a new twist when a federal grand jury announced it was indicting them.

Johnson, who was hired in 2005, was indicted on charges of deprivation of rights under the color of law, obstruction of justice and aiding and abetting.

Kirsch, who was hired in 2004, was indicted on charges of deprivation of rights under the color of law and aiding and abetting.

The Sheriff's Department placed the men on administrative leave and began investigating the claims.

"Upon completion of the investigation, Kirsch was terminated from the Sheriff’s Office on March 7, 2014, and Johnson was terminated on March 19, 2014," a statement from the Sheriff's Department said.

"The termination of these employees was an administrative action. They are still entitled to due process, as this case works itself through the legal system.

“It’s a somber day for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office," said Sheriff Bill Brown in the statement.

"This agency does not tolerate the excessive or unnecessary use of force. The alleged actions are disturbing and not reflective of the professional work carried out each and every day by 99.9 percent of the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office.”

Noozhawk staff writer Lara Cooper can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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