2 ex-LA sheriff’s deputies face federal civil rights charges

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies are accused of violating the civil rights of a skateboarder in 2020 and perpetrating a coverup, federal prosecutors said Thursday.

A grand jury handed down the indictment last month, and both ex-deputies surrendered to authorities Thursday when it was unsealed.

Miguel Vega and Christopher Hernandez are accused of throwing the skateboarder – identified as “J.A.” in court papers – in the back of their cruiser and detaining him without cause in Compton in April 2020. He was still in the patrol vehicle when they engaged in a pursuit and crashed the car, injuring the skateboarder. Prosecutors say the duo then conspired to coverup the 23-year-old man’s unlawful detention.

Vega, 32, and Hernandez, 37, are charged with conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, witness tampering and falsification of records. Vega is charged with another falsification of records count. Their attorneys did not respond to an emailed request for comment Thursday.

The Sheriff’s Department said it helped federal agencies with a criminal investigation that led indicting the men, who “are no longer members of the department.”

“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,” a statement said.

The same ex-deputies were involved in the fatal shooting of an 18-year-old man later that year during a foot chase. Authorities say Vega shot Andres Guardadofive times in the back after the deputies chased him on foot. Guardado’s killing sparked protests, and his family settled a lawsuit with the county for $8 million.

The federal indictment was first reported Thursday by the Los Angeles Times. Vega and Hernandez were scheduled to be arraigned Thursday afternoon.

The deputies remained on active duty until December 2020, the LA Times reported.

“The indictment alleges that these two deputies violated a young person’s constitutional rights by willfully and illegally detaining him without just cause,” U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a news release. “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.”

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department did not immediately have a comment after the indictment was unsealed.

On April 13, 2020, Vega and Hernandez approached two young Black men outside a Compton skatepark. J.A., who was inside the enclosed park, yelled at the deputies to leave the men alone. The deputies pulled J.A. through an opening in the fence and threw him into the back of the cruiser, prosecutors said.

“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,” according to the indictment.

Vega, the driver, told J.A. that they would drop him off in gang territory as Hernandez, from the passenger seat, told the skateboarder he would be beaten. Then Vega, with J.A. still in the backseat, began pursuing a bicyclist down an alley, where the deputy crashed the vehicle, prosecutors said.

J.A. suffered a cut above his right eye in the collision. Vega pulled him out of the cruiser and told him to leave, but the deputy later reported a suspect with a gun, describing J.A.’s clothes, had fled the area. Neither deputy said the skateboarder had been inside the patrol vehicle during the crash, according to the indictment.

Vega then told a sergeant that J.A. was suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance. Prosecutors said Hernandez later directed another deputy to write him a citation for being under the influence of methamphetamine after J.A. was taken to the hospital for his cut.

Prosecutors also allege Vega and Hernandez falsified incident reports later in the month, inaccurately claiming, among other things, J.A. had threatened to harm people in the skatepark.

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