Robert Kirsch leaves a Santa Barbara courtroom after his August arraignment

Paul Wellman

Robert Kirsch leaves a Santa Barbara courtroom after his August arraignment

Grand Jury Indicts Former Jail Guards Accused of Assaulting Inmate

Christopher Johnson and Robert Kirsch Accused of Civil Rights Violations and Obstructing Justice

Friday, April 11, 2014
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A federal grand jury has indicted two recently fired Santa Barbara County Jail guards on multiple felony charges after an FBI investigation was launched into allegations that an inmate was handcuffed and forced to the ground where he was kneed and kicked during an unprovoked confrontation last summer. (Read more on the guards’ terminations here.)

The indictment was filed Thursday, and both Christopher Johnson and Robert Kirsch appeared in a Central District court in Los Angeles on Friday. After a short hearing, they were each released on $25,000 bond, and their next court date is April 18.

The indictment claims that Johnson and Kirsch, “acting under color of law,” violated inmate Charles Owens’s civil rights when they allegedly assaulted him on June 17. The charge carries a maximum penalty of 10 years in prison.

Christopher Johnson leaves his August arraignment
Click to enlarge photo

Paul Wellman

Christopher Johnson leaves his August arraignment

Johnson is also charged with obstruction of justice for allegedly filing a false report with his jail supervisor, stating that Owens — a Lompoc gang member who has since been sentenced to life in prison without parole on murder and sex crimes convictions but was in County Jail at the time awaiting trial — was only handcuffed and taken to the ground when he physically resisted the deputies. The obstruction charge has a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison.

A week after the alleged assault, Owens began complaining of pain in his upper torso and was transported to an area hospital for examination. He was returned to jail shortly after, and the extent of his reported injuries have not been made public by law enforcement officials out of concern for health privacy laws. According to sources familiar with jail operations, Owens was frequently resistant to deputies’ orders, and he was not allowed in the courtroom for his sentencing hearing because of threats he reportedly made to the prosecutor in his case.

Charles Alonzo Owens
Click to enlarge photo

Courtesy Photo

Charles Alonzo Owens

It’s unclear how the federal charges against Johnson and Kirsch will affect the pending assault charges filed by the Santa Barbara District Attorney’s Office last August. Johnson and Kirsch pleaded not guilty to the counts, but their case has not progressed past the arraignment stage. Prosecutor Anthony Davis said no decision has been made by his office on how to proceed. “I will be meeting with my supervisors to discuss the future of our case at the local level,” he explained in an email.

Supporters of Johnson and Kirsch claim the men did nothing wrong in their handling of Owens, and that they used a reasonable amount of force to gain control of Owens after he ignored commands during a routine cell transfer and became combative. Multiple sources told The Santa Barbara Independent that they have watched surveillance footage of the incident, and while they admit that Kirsch delivered three knee strikes to Owens’s legs during the struggle, they maintain the strikes were appropriate and necessary to bring the situation under control. Additionally, they state, two CHP officers witnessed the incident and have testified that they didn’t feel the deputies were guilty of any wrongdoing.

Attorneys for Kirsch and Johnson did not return requests for comment.


Independent Discussion Guidelines

If possible I'd like to see the video of this alleged incident before I form an opinion about it...

LegendaryYeti (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2014 at 12:09 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Me too Yeti, and I'd like to know if this vermin murderer/rapist was injured. Seems the authorities are hiding that. I've never heard of an officer being charged without injuries to a suspect.

Validated (anonymous profile)
April 12, 2014 at 7:28 p.m. (Suggest removal)

You two need to wake up. It's a political move by Sheriff Bill Brown because it is an election year. He has already fired these two officers before they have even had their full day in court. Funny how he had to go to the FBI! It is also fairly easy to get an indictment from a Civil Grand Jury. The defense doesn't get to present its case. How convenient to pass the buck to an outside service than doing it local. What's the reason for this??? Where has the Local DA been hiding?? To many answers that need answering.

If you ask any Sheriffs employee off the record, none are voting for the current Sheriff. What does that tell you??? I've heard many troubling issues that are affecting the employees of this dept. The reputation/leadership of ANY dept starts at the top. The men and women of the Sheriffs dept need our help to change this failing Sheriff with someone new...

Priceless (anonymous profile)
April 13, 2014 at 8:25 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Brown's sacrificial lambs.

AZ2SB (anonymous profile)
April 13, 2014 at 3:49 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yes they are AZ2SB…..

Priceless (anonymous profile)
April 13, 2014 at 6:25 p.m. (Suggest removal)

Yahoo put out in their listing of Careers for Bullies and listed Jailer/Prison Guard as their number one career for bullies and abusers.

dou4now (anonymous profile)
April 14, 2014 at 5:16 a.m. (Suggest removal)

Santa Barbara County Jail is widely recognized as the most poorly administered jail in the state. The per capita "death by natural causes" in SBCO Jail tell a tale nobody seems to acknowledge, simply because all inmates are considered "criminals".
Whether or not the plaintiff in this case is a convicted murder-rapist, the fact is that Johnson and Kirsch acted illegally and got busted for it (of course, this kind of crap goes on all day in the jail). The reason is clear: Bill Brown doesn't have a clue what's going on, nor does he have a clue as to how to correct the problem.
The fact that Undersheriff Anderson was forced to resign rather than face criminal charges for violating Federal Labor Laws pursuant to his sexual harrassment of an officer ostensibly reporting to him...a case that was summarily swept under Bill Brown's office rug...should be enough to get Brown himself to resign.

Beachgirl77 (anonymous profile)
April 16, 2014 at 7:57 p.m. (Suggest removal)

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