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Santa Barbara County jail guards indicted by federal grand jury

Two employees of the Santa Barbara County Sheriff's Department were indicted Thursday by a federal grand jury in Los Angeles on charges of assaulting an inmate last year at the county jail, according to department spokesperson Kelly Hover.

Former custody deputies Christopher Johnson and Robert Kirsch are accused of attacking inmate Charles Owens last August while he was awaiting trial on murder and rape charges. Owens is now serving life without parole at Folsom State Prison after being convicted of those charges in October.

The Santa Barbara County Public Defender's Office brought the allegations of misconduct to the sheriff's department where a criminal and an internal affairs investigation were launched and the two deputies were placed on administrative leave. Both Johnson and Kirsch were fired by the department last month.

“It’s a somber day for the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office," said Sheriff Bill Brown in a statement released late Friday night. "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% of the men and women of the Sheriff’s Office.”

The grand jury indictment is just the first step in a formal accusation that a crime was committed. Johnson and Kirsch are not considered guilty until convicted by a federal court.