The Plea Agreement
A former Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputy will plead guilty to a federal felony offense for depriving a 23-year-old man of his civil rights in Compton in 2020. In his plea agreement, Miguel Angel Vega, 33 admitted that he falsely imprisoned the victim; engaged in a vehicle pursuit with the victim still unlawfully detained in an LASD SUV, resulting in a traffic collision that injured the victim; and then filed false reports to cover up the deputy and his partner's unlawful conduct.
Vega agreed to plead guilty to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law, a crime that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison. Vega is expected to formally plead guilty to the charge in the coming weeks.
The Facts of the Case
On the afternoon of April 13, 2020, Vega and his then partner, Christopher Blair Hernandez, 37, were in uniform and on patrol in an LASD vehicle near Wilson Park in Compton as part of their official duties at LASD.Vega and Hernandez saw two young Black men, one of whom Vega believed was associated with a street gang, outside a skateboard park enclosed by a tall wrought-iron fence within Wilson Park. Vega and Hernandez got out of the SUV, approached the men, and ordered them to lift their shirts to search for firearms even though the men had no firearms.
Then, from inside the enclosed skatepark, the victim (“J.A.”) began yelling at Vega and Hernandez to leave the Black males alone. J.A. did not threaten Vega or Hernandez or any of the other 10 to 15 people inside the skatepark, who posed no danger to Vega or Hernandez. Vega began yelling back at J.A., and while they continued exchanging words, Vega challenged J.A. to a fight.
Then, Vega directed J.A. to come to an opening in the skatepark fence where Vega grabbed J.A. and confined him in the back of the SUV as Hernandez watched. Vega kept J.A. in the SUV because Vega was angry that J.A. had told Vega and Hernandez to leave the Black men alone and wanted to teach J.A. a lesson. Although Vega and Hernandez had time to handcuff and secure J.A.‛s seatbelt, the officers never told J.A. he was under arrest nor advised him of his rights - in violation of LASD policy. Throughout the ongoing false imprisonment, Vega knew he and Hernandez unlawfully detained J.A.
After leaving the park, Vega, who was still driving the SUV with Hernandez in the front passenger seat and J.A. confined in the backseat, continued to taunt and threaten J.A., including telling J.A. that the deputies were going to drop off J.A. in gang territory where J.A. would receive a beating.
While in the vehicle, Vega and Hernandez ignored J.A.'s multiple questions about why they detained him. Vega decided to concoct a story that he and Hernandez were arresting J.A. for being under the influence of a stimulant as a pretext to justify their false imprisonment of J.A. Vega then asked J.A. if he was taking any medications to signal to Hernandez that the deputies were going to fabricate and falsely allege that J.A. exhibited symptoms of being under the influence of a stimulant. Vega did not believe that J.A. was under the influence of a stimulant, and because this purported basis for the false detention and arrest was fabricated, Vega and Hernandez never took any steps to determine whether J.A. actually exhibited any signs of being under the influence of a controlled substance.
While Vega and Hernandez continued driving with J.A. still confined in the back of the SUV, Vega saw a group of young males on bicycles, including one Vega believed had a look of surprise and fear on his face upon encountering the LASD deputies. Believing the young male may possess a firearm, Vega stopped the SUV to let Hernandez get out of the vehicle and proceed on foot, and Vega began pursuing the bicyclist down an alley. As Vega drove the SUV down the alley in pursuit, Vega crashed into a wall and another vehicle, causing J.A. to hit his head and sustain a cut above his right eye that later required stitches. After the collision, Vega removed J.A. from the patrol vehicle and told him to leave. Hernandez responded on foot to the alley shortly, and Vega told his partner that he had released J.A. J.A. walked out of the alley and tried to get help from strangers at a nearby house. After the traffic collision, Vega reported over LASD radio that a person purportedly with a gun had fled through an alley, which prompted numerous LASD personnel to respond to the scene to set up a containment zone. Even though Vega also reported the traffic collision over LASD radio, neither Vega during the radio calls nor Vega or Hernandez during a subsequent conversation with their supervising sergeant at the scene, initially disclosed that they had detained J.A. at the skatepark or that J.A. had been in the SUV during the collision in the alley.
When Vega learned that J.A. had been independently detained on a neighboring street by another LASD deputy as the purported gun suspect, Vega told the other deputies and his supervising sergeant that J.A. had been in the SUV during the crash. When asked by the supervising sergeant why J.A. had been in the SUV at the time of the collision, Vega lied and said J.A. had been detained for being under the influence of a controlled substance. While J.A. was at a hospital later in the day to receive treatment for the injuries he sustained from the collision, Hernandez talked to another deputy who had escorted J.A. to the hospital. Consistent with the plan concocted by Vega earlier in the day to fabricate a false basis for J.A.'s detention and arrest, Hernandez directed the deputy at the hospital to issue J.A. a citation for being under the influence of methamphetamine, even though Hernandez and Vega knew that this accusation was false. The deputy followed Hernandez's direction and issued the citation.
Vega and Hernandez later wrote two incident reports about the day's events. They intentionally included false, misleading, and ambiguous information in the reports to justify, legitimize, and ultimately cover up their unlawful conduct, Vega admitted the first report falsely stated that J.A. appeared to be under the influence of a stimulant; that J.A. had threatened to harm people in the skatepark, and Vega and Hernandez; that a crowd of people were moving toward the LASD patrol vehicle as the Vega and Hernandez drove away after unlawfully detaining J.A; and that, after 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. The second report falsely stated that Vega transferred J.A. to another patrol vehicle after the collision, which both Vega and Hernandez knew to be false.
Hernandez pleaded guilty on July 24 to one count of conspiracy pursuant to a cooperation plea agreement. He faces a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.