LOS ANGELES – A former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) deputy was sentenced today to 24 months in federal prison for depriving a 23-year-old man of his civil rights in the spring of 2020 by falsely imprisoning him and then lying and cover up his illegal actions.
Miguel Angel Vega, 33, of Corona, was sentenced by United States District Judge Percy Anderson, who also fined Vega $5,000.
At today’s hearing, Judge Anderson said Vega’s conduct had “embarrassed” the Sheriff’s Department and “every man and woman that puts on a badge every day and puts their lives at risk” and that today’s sentence sends “a clear message that there are serious consequences for law enforcement officers who abuse their power and violate their sworn oath to uphold the law.”
Vega pleaded guilty on September 6 to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law.
“When law enforcement officers abuse their power, they tear at our social fabric by undermining public trust in the equal application of the law,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “By violating his sacred oath to uphold the law, Vega also betrayed his fellow deputies, the vast majority of whom sacrifice every day to keep our community safe.”
“The defendant swore an oath to protect the public he served, but instead chose to violate the civil rights of an innocent young man,” said Donald Alway, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “Today’s sentencing exemplifies the FBI’s commitment to protecting those who are illegally accused under the color of law, while restoring trust in the overwhelming majority of police professionals who devote themselves to serving their communities with integrity.”
“When the Sheriff’s Department became aware of allegations of misconduct against Miguel Vega, criminal and administrative investigations were initiated,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna. “The Department assisted federal agencies during the criminal investigation, contributing to their indictment. 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.”
On the afternoon of April 13, 2020, Vega and his then-partner, Christopher Blair Hernandez, 38, were in uniform and on patrol in an LASD SUV near Wilson Park in Compton as part of their official duties at LASD.
Vega and Hernandez saw two young Black males outside a skateboard park enclosed by a tall wrought-iron fence within Wilson Park. Vega and Hernandez got out of the vehicle, approached the individuals, and ordered them to lift their shirts to search for firearms, which the individuals did not possess.
At this point, the victim – identified in court documents as “J.A.” – began yelling at Vega and Hernandez to leave the young Black males alone, and Vega began yelling back at the victim, challenging him to a fight. Soon afterward, to teach J.A. a lesson, Vega and Hernandez illegally detained him in their patrol vehicle without telling him that he was under arrest, handcuffing J.A., informing him of his rights, or securing his seatbelt in the LASD SUV. After driving away from the park, Vega continued to taunt and threaten J.A., including threatening to drop him off in gang territory where J.A. would be beaten. J.A. was never given a valid reason for his detention, and in fact there was no legitimate basis for the false imprisonment.
While still unlawfully confined and unsecured in the back of the patrol vehicle, J.A. sustained a cut above his eye during a subsequent police car chase when Vega crashed his LASD SUV into a wall in an alley while chasing a young male on a bicycle whom Vega believed may have possessed a firearm. After the crash, Vega told J.A. to flee despite J.A. suffering a head injury and sustaining a cut above his eye that required stitches. Vega initially lied to a supervising sergeant that no one else had been in the patrol vehicle at the time of the collision. Then, after J.A. was independently re-detained by other deputies responding to the scene, Vega lied and told the sergeant that he and Hernandez originally detained J.A. for being under the influence of a controlled substance.
As further part of the coverup, Vega and Hernandez had another deputy issue J.A. a citation for being under the influence of methamphetamine, even though Vega and Hernandez knew that this accusation was false. Vega and Hernandez later filed false incident reports to cover up their illegal conduct, repeating the same and other lies about the events of the day, including that J.A. appeared to be under the influence of a stimulant and threatened people at the park and that Vega had transferred J.A. to another patrol vehicle after the collision instead of directing J.A. to flee the scene.
Hernandez pleaded guilty on July 24 to one count of conspiracy pursuant to a cooperation plea agreement. His sentencing hearing is scheduled for January 8, 2024, at which time he will face a statutory maximum sentence of five years in federal prison.
The FBI investigated 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 prosecuted this case.