LOS ANGELES – A former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to violate the civil rights of a 23-year-old man at a Compton skatepark by falsely imprisoning him and to then obstruct justice to cover up the illegal detention, the Justice Department announced today.
Christopher Blair Hernandez, 37, who was a sheriff’s deputy formerly assigned to LASD’s Compton Station, agreed to plead guilty to one count of conspiracy, according to a plea agreement filed today in United States District Court.
Hernandez is expected to formally plead guilty to the felony charge in the coming weeks.
According to his plea agreement, on the afternoon of April 13, 2020, Hernandez and this then-partner, former LASD deputy Miguel Angel Vega, were in uniform and on patrol in an LASD sports utility vehicle in the area near Wilson Park in Compton as part of their official duties at LASD. While on patrol, Hernandez and Vega saw two young Black males, one of whom Hernandez believed was on probation, outside a skateboard park enclosed by a tall fence within Wilson Park. Vega parked the SUV on the grass near the skatepark, after which Hernandez and Vega got out of the SUV and approached the individuals, whom they ordered to lift their shirts.
At this point, the victim – who is identified in court documents as “J.A.” – from inside the enclosed skatepark, began yelling at Hernandez and Vega to leave the Black males alone. J.A. did not threaten Vega or Hernandez or any of the other approximately 10 to 15 people inside the skatepark, who likewise did not pose any danger to Vega or Hernandez. Vega and J.A. then got into an argument during which Vega challenged J.A. to a fight, according to the plea agreement.
Vega then grabbed and pulled J.A. through an opening in the skatepark fence and confined J.A. in the back of the SUV as Hernandez looked on, the plea agreement states. During this incident, although Hernandez and Vega had ample time to do so, J.A. was not handcuffed, his seatbelt was not secured, he never was told he was under arrest, nor was he informed of his rights at any time. According to the plea agreement, Hernandez knew that Hernandez and Vega did not have any lawful basis to detain J.A., particularly after Vega had challenged J.A. to a fight.
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, again challenged J.A. to a fight and taunted J.A. that the deputies were going to “set up” J.A., or words to that effect, and drop J.A. in gang territory, the plea agreement states. Hernandez added that Hernandez would beat up J.A. if they fought, according to the plea agreement. In addition, Vega made statements to J.A. suggesting to Hernandez that the two deputies were going to fabricate and falsely allege that J.A. exhibited symptoms of being under the influence of a stimulant as a pretext to justify their false imprisonment of J.A. Even though he did not believe that J.A. was under the influence of a stimulant, Hernandez did not take any steps to release J.A., challenge Vega’s actions, or alert a supervisor about what had occurred and was occurring.
While Vega and Hernandez continued driving with J.A. still confined in the back of the SUV, Vega began pursuing a group of young males on bicycles, one of whom appeared to grab his waistband and began riding away down an alley. Hernandez got out of the SUV to attempt to capture the bicyclist on foot, and Vega drove the SUV down the alley, where Vega crashed into a wall and another vehicle, causing J.A. to hit his face and head and sustain a cut above his right eye that later required stiches, court documents state. Following the collision, Vega removed J.A. from the patrol vehicle and told him to leave, informing Hernandez, who responded on foot to the alley shortly thereafter, that he had done so. After J.A. was released by Vega following the collision, 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, whom Vega described as wearing clothes similar to J.A.’s clothing that day, 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, Hernandez admitted in the plea agreement.
It was only after Vega learned that J.A. had been independently detained on a neighboring street by another LASD deputy as the purported gun suspect that Vega informed other deputies and his supervising sergeant that J.A. had been in the SUV during the crash. While J.A. was at a hospital later in the day to receive treatment for the injuries he sustained from the collision, Hernandez spoke with another deputy who had escorted J.A. to the hospital. Consistent with the plan suggested and articulated by Vega earlier in the day, Hernandez directed the deputy at the hospital to issue J.A. a citation for being under the influence of methamphetamine, even though Hernandez knew this to be false, according to the plea agreement. The deputy followed Hernandez’s direction and issued the citation.
Hernandez and Vega authored two incident reports regarding the day’s events. Hernandez and Vega intentionally included false, misleading, and ambiguous information in the reports to justify and legitimize, and ultimately cover up, their unlawful conduct, Hernandez admitted in the plea agreement. 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, 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. The second report likewise falsely stated that Vega transferred J.A. to another patrol vehicle after the collision, which both Hernandez and Vega knew to be false, according to the plea agreement.
Vega has pleaded not guilty to a five-count indictment charging him with conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, witness tampering, and two counts of falsification of records. His trial is scheduled for October 24.
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 FBI is conducting the investigation into this matter. The LASD’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau and Internal Affairs Bureau provided substantial assistance.
Assistant United States Attorneys J. Jamari Buxton and Brian R. Faerstein of the Public Corruption and Civil Rights Section are prosecuting this case.