Monday, June 24, 2024

2nd ex-deputy pleads guilty, admits to false imprisonment of skateboarder in Compton

Must read

A second former deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has agreed to plead guilty to a felony, admitting he wrongfully detained a 23-year-old skateboarder by forcing him into the back of a patrol cruiser during an April 2020 incident in Compton.

For the record:

5:14 p.m. Sept. 5, 2023An earlier version of this article said former Sheriff’s Deputy Miguel Vega admitted wrongfully detaining a skateboarder in June 2020. The incident was in April 2020.

According to a plea agreement entered in federal court Tuesday morning, former Deputy Miguel Vega and his partner later tried to cover up their actions by filing reports falsely claiming that the skateboarder, Jesus Alegria, was on drugs and acting aggressive.

Vega pleaded guilty to deprivation of rights under color of law, a felony that carries a maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, prosecutors said. Following Tuesday morning’s court filings, the 33-year-old Corona man is expected to appear in court in the coming weeks to formally enter a guilty plea. His attorney declined to comment Tuesday afternoon. The case had been scheduled for trial in October.

News of the plea comes less than two months after Vega’s former partner, Christopher Hernandez, pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy. He is scheduled for sentencing in January and could face up to five years in federal prison. Hernandez’s legal team did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

In a statement Tuesday, the Sheriff’s Department said “criminal and administrative investigations were initiated” into the deputies when the misconduct allegations were reported, and that the department assisted the federal agencies that launched their own probes.

“The Sheriff’s Department is committed to holding employees accountable for their actions and expects them to exhibit the highest moral and ethical standards when serving our communities,” the department statement said.

Both former deputies were relieved of duty in connection with the incident in late 2020, by which point they’d already both been involved in another high-profile case — the June killing of 18-year-old Andres Guardado, who was shot in the back five times after a foot chase in Gardena. Though the teen’s death sparked widespread protests and led to a hefty legal settlement, that case has not led to any criminal charges against the ex-deputies.

The plea agreement filed in court this week echoes allegations detailed in a Times investigation into the incident two years ago. On the afternoon of April 13, 2020, Vega and Hernandez pulled up to a group of young Black men outside a skate park in Compton. The deputies got out of their cruiser and ordered the men to lift their shirts to show they did not have guns, according to court filings.

From inside the skate park, Alegria yelled at the deputies to stop harassing the kids. According to the plea agreement, Vega challenged the skateboarder to a fight, then grabbed him and pulled him through an opening in the fence. The deputy shoved the skateboarder into the back of the cruiser as Hernandez watched. In a violation of department policy, they didn’t inform him of his rights or say whether he was under arrest. In an interview afterward, Alegria told The Times that the deputies didn’t even handcuff him or ask his name.

Instead, he said, they taunted him, threatening to kick him out of the car in a gang-controlled neighborhood and tell people on the street that he belonged to a rival gang.

According to the plea agreement, it was Vega who made those threats as he drove, though Hernandez chimed in from the passenger seat. Court filings say Vega told Alegria the deputies would lie and say he was on drugs to justify picking him up. In his plea agreement, Hernandez admitted that he did not intervene, even though he didn’t believe Alegria was on drugs.

After a few minutes in the car, the deputies spotted a group of young teenagers on bikes and Vega started to chase them as they fled down an alley. Hernandez jumped out to follow them on foot.

When Vega tried to drive down the alley after one biker, he crashed into a concrete wall and a parked BMW. He then climbed out the cruiser’s window and told Alegria to leave.

According to court filings, Vega then got on the radio and reported a man fleeing with a gun whose clothing matched what Alegria had on that day. When other deputies picked up Alegria, they drove him to a hospital, where he said they pressured him to sign a citation to appear in court for being under the influence of methamphetamine, a drug he later told The Times he had “never even touched.”

In his plea agreement in July, Hernandez admitted he told another deputy at the hospital to issue the citation for meth even though he knew it wasn’t true. Then, he and Vega wrote up false reports to cover up what had happened.

“They intentionally included false, misleading, and ambiguous information in the reports to justify, legitimize, and ultimately cover up their unlawful conduct,” federal prosecutors wrote in a news release Tuesday.

In early 2021, Alegria sued Vega and Hernandez, saying they’d fabricated the drug charge and the arrest report to justify their reckless behavior. Last year, the county agreed to settle for $450,000.

Humberto Guizar, who represented Alegria in the civil case, celebrated the news of the latest plea.

“I’m pleased to learn that two very crooked cops are facing the justice system for having done something wrong,” he said. “It was egregious what they did to Alegria.”

By the time of the lawsuit, the deputies had already come under scrutiny for their role in the Guardado killing in the summer of 2020.

That June, the deputies were on patrol when they spotted Guardado talking with someone outside an auto body shop. The Sheriff’s Department said Guardado brandished a gun and ran into an alley, and Vega and Hernandez chased him. An autopsy showed that Vega shot the teen five times in the back. Vega’s attorney previously said Guardado was reaching for a gun.

The teen’s death prompted weeks of protests and increased scrutiny of the Compton sheriff’s station, which has been roiled by allegations about the presence of a violent deputy gang known as the Executioners. After the Guardado shooting, a whistleblower claimed that Vega and Hernandez were prospective members of the group. Their attorneys denied the allegation.

Guardado’s family filed a lawsuit that the county settled last year for $8 million.

More articles

Latest article