A grand jury indicted two former LA Sheriff's Department deputies Miguel Angel Vega, 32, and Christopher Blair Hernandez, 37, for allegedly violating the civil rights of a young man at a skatepark by falsely imprisoning him and then obstructing justice to cover up the illegal detention. The indictment charges the former deputies with conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, witness tampering, and falsification of records. Vega alone is charged with an additional count of falsification of records.
The indictment alleges that, on April 13, 2020, while on patrol, Vega and Hernandez unlawfully detained and falsely imprisoned the then-23-year-old man in the back of their patrol vehicle. They confined the man in the back of the car during a chase, which ended when Vega crashed, injuring the man. The indictment further alleges that the former deputies obstructed justice to conceal and cover up their alleged unlawful detention and false imprisonment of the man.
The incident started at Wilson Park in Compton, where the man (J.A.) was in an enclosed skatepark. The deputies arrived and contacted two young African-American males outside the skatepark. After J.A. yelled at the deputies to stop bothering the young males, one or both deputies pulled J.A. through an opening in the skatepark fence and confined J.A. in the back of the patrol vehicle. After leaving the park, Vega, who drove the LASD patrol vehicle with Hernandez in the front passenger seat told J.A. that the deputies were going to set up J.A. and drop J.A. in gang territory, and would be beaten.
Not far from the skatepark and while J.A. was still confined in the back of the patrol vehicle, Vega began pursuing a young male on a bicycle down an alley, where Vega crashed into a wall and another vehicle, causing J.A. to sustain a cut above his right eye. After the crash, Vega took J.A. out of the patrol vehicle and told him something like, “get the [expletive] out of here.” J.A. then walked to a nearby residence to get help. After the traffic collision, Vega reported over LASD radio that a person, wearing clothes like J.A.'s clothes and carried a gun, fled through the alley near 130th Street and Mona Boulevard. When Vega also reported the traffic collision, neither Vega during the radio calls, nor Vega or Hernandez during a conversation with their supervisor, said that J.A. had been in the patrol vehicle during the collision in the alley.
After other LASC deputies detained J.A. as the purported gun suspect, Vega told his supervising sergeant that J.A. had been in Vega's LASD patrol vehicle during the crash, and falsely reporting to his supervisor that J.A. had been detained because he was suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance. J.A. was transported to the hospital to receive treatment for the injury he sustained from the collision, and Hernandez directed a deputy at the hospital to issue J.A. a citation for being under the influence of methamphetamine.
The allegations stemming from the April 13, 2020 incident form the basis of the conspiracy, deprivation of civil rights, and witness tampering charges in the indictment. The falsification of records charges pertain to two incident reports prepared and filed with LASD in mid-April 2020.
The first report, which Vega prepared with Hernandez's assistance, allegedly falsely stated that J.A. exhibited symptoms of a person under the influence of a stimulant; that J.A. had threatened to harm people in the skatepark, as well as Vega and Hernandez; that a crowd of people were moving toward the LASD patrol vehicle as the defendants drove away after unlawfully detaining J.A; and that, following the crash in the alley, Vega checked J.A. for injuries and J.A. was placed in another patrol vehicle of an assisting LASD unit until paramedics arrived.
Vega prepared a second report, according to the indictment, in which he falsely claimed to have transferred J.A. to the second patrol vehicle.
An indictment contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed to be innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
The conspiracy count alleged in the indictment carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, while the civil rights offense carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. The offenses of witness tampering and falsification of records each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years.