LOS ANGELES – Two former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies are scheduled to be arraigned this afternoon on federal charges alleging they violated the civil rights of a young man at a skatepark by falsely imprisoning him and then obstructing justice to cover up the illegal detention.
Miguel Angel Vega, 32, and Christopher Blair Hernandez, 37, both of whom were deputies assigned to LASD’s Compton Station, surrendered this morning to federal authorities after being named in a five-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on March 21.
That indictment, which was unsealed this morning, charges both defendants 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.
According to the indictment, Vega and Hernandez were on patrol on April 13, 2020, when they unlawfully detained and falsely imprisoned the then-23-year-old victim in the back of their patrol vehicle. The victim remained confined in the back of the vehicle during a subsequent chase, which ended when Vega crashed, injuring the victim. The indictment further alleges that the defendants obstructed justice in multiple ways to conceal and cover up their unlawful detention and false imprisonment of the victim.
“The indictment alleges that these two deputies violated a young person’s constitutional rights by willfully and illegally detaining him without just cause,” said United States Attorney Martin Estrada. “Officers who abuse their power must be held accountable, and my Office is committed to prosecuting violations of civil rights by those who violate their oaths and victimize those who they were sworn to protect.”
“Officers of the law are sworn to protect the communities they serve, not to create crimes and victimize residents,” said Donald Alway, the Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office. “The civil rights violations alleged in the indictment – including false imprisonment, falsification of records and witness tampering – corrode trust in law enforcement and undermine efforts by the vast majority of law enforcement professionals who serve their communities honorably.”
The incident started at Wilson Park in Compton, where the victim – identified in court documents as “J.A.” – was in an enclosed skatepark when 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 defendants pulled J.A. through an opening in the skatepark fence and confined J.A. in the back of the patrol vehicle, according to the indictment.
“Vega and Hernandez did not handcuff J.A., did not secure J.A.’s seatbelt, did not tell J.A. that J.A. was under arrest, and did not inform J.A. of J.A.’s rights at any time,” the indictment alleges.
According to the indictment, after leaving the park, Vega, who was driving the LASD patrol vehicle with Hernandez in the front passenger seat and J.A. confined in the backseat, allegedly told J.A. that the deputies were going to set up J.A. and drop J.A. in gang territory, and Hernandez added that J.A. 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. Following the collision, Vega removed J.A. from the patrol vehicle and told him to “get the [expletive] out of here,” or words to that effect, according to the indictment. J.A. then walked to a nearby residence that was unknown to J.A. to seek assistance.
According to the indictment, 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 the alley near 130th Street and Mona Boulevard. The indictment alleges that, even though Vega also reported the traffic collision, neither Vega during the radio calls, nor Vega or Hernandez during a subsequent conversation with their supervisor, disclosed that J.A. had been in the patrol vehicle during the collision in the alley.
It was only after J.A. had been independently detained on a neighboring street by other LASD deputies as the purported gun suspect that Vega informed his supervising sergeant that J.A. had been in Vega’s LASD patrol vehicle during the crash, falsely reporting to his supervisor that J.A. had been detained because he was suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance, according to the indictment.
J.A. was transported to the hospital to receive treatment for the injury he sustained from the collision, and the indictment alleges that 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.
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.