By Dan Whitcomb
LOS ANGELES, Feb 7 (Reuters) - Two Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies accused of punching, kicking and pepper-spraying an inmate, then falsely claiming that he attacked them, have been indicted on federal charges amid an ongoing probe of the country's largest jail system.
The indictments against deputies Mariano Ramirez and Joey Aguiar came two months after 18 other current or former members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department were charged with corruption and civil rights violations at the county's jails.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who had faced mounting calls to step down amid the jail investigation and allegations of mismanagement of the 10,000-member department, announced last month that he would retire rather than seek re-election.
Ramirez, 38, and Aguiar, 26, are accused in the U.S. District Court indictment of punching and kicking a handcuffed and chained inmate at the Men's Central Jail, said Thom Mrozek, a U.S. Attorney spokesman.
The two deputies also allegedly pepper sprayed the victim, who is identified in court papers only as "BP," and struck him with a flashlight, Mrozek said.
According to the indictment, Aguiar wrote a report of the incident in which he falsely claimed that the victim had tried to kick and head-butt him. Ramirez claimed in his report that the inmate had viciously kicked at the two deputies.
Both men face a maximum sentence of decades prison if convicted, although federal sentencing guidelines typically call for considerably less time.
The 18 deputies indicted in December were accused of subjecting inmates and visitors at two jails to unjustified beatings or detentions and trying to cover up their wrongdoing.
Seven of the defendants, including two sheriff's lieutenants, were accused of conspiring to obstruct a 2011 federal investigation into allegations of excessive force and smuggling of contraband by deputies in exchange for bribes.
The indictment also said the two lieutenants and others tried to prevent contact between federal investigators and an inmate informant after his cover was blown, altered records to make it appear the informant had been released from jail, then re-booked him under false names.
The indictments come more than a year after a blue-ribbon commission blamed Baca for failing to halt a persistent pattern of excessive force against inmates by his deputies.
A separate report by the American Civil Liberties Union cited the sheriff's department in 2011 for a number of abuses, including a finding that some deputies had formed gangs that encouraged assaults against inmates.
The Los Angeles County jail system ranks as the largest in the country, housing some 18,000 inmates. (Reporting by Dan Whitcomb, editing by G Crosse)