Ex-LASD deputies accused of false imprisonment, cover up after skateboarder injured in pursuit crash

Josh Haskell Image
Friday, April 14, 2023
LASD deputies accused of violating rights of skateboarder
Two Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies are accused of violating the rights of a skateboarder who had mouthed off to them.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Two former Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies have been charged with violating the civil rights of a 23-year-old skateboarder by falsely imprisoning him in a patrol vehicle before a chase that ended in a crash, authorities said. The deputies are accused of obstructing justice to cover up the illegal detention.

Former deputies Miguel Angel Vega, 32, and Christopher Blair Hernandez, 37, both assigned to the Compton station, surrendered to authorities Thursday after being named in a five-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury on March 21, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Both were expected to be arraigned later Thursday in Los Angeles.

The deputies are essentially accused of throwing the skateboarder in the back of their patrol car after he mouthed off to them at a park in Compton three years ago. They then took him along, riding in the backseat without a seatbelt, as they chased a bicyclist - and ended up crashing their car.

The skateboarder was injured, sustaining a cut above his eye, but instead of getting him help or reporting the incident, they told him to "get the (expletive) out of here," the indictment alleges.

They also allegedly threatened to drop him off in gang territory, indicating he would be assaulted.

"They grabbed him and threw him into the car without handcuffs," said attorney Humberto Guizar, who represents the skateboarder. "Just threw him into the backseat of the car, just drove off, and they threatened to drop him off in a gang neighborhood."

The skateboarder, Jesus Alegria, has already settled with Los Angeles County for $450,000.

The unsealed indictment charges Vega and Hernandez with conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, witness tampering, and falsification of records, the statement said. Vega is charged with an additional count of falsification of records.

The defendants 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," prosecutors said. "The victim remained confined in the back of the vehicle during a subsequent chase, which ended when Vega crashed, injuring the victim."

The indictment also alleges that Vega and Hernandez obstructed justice in multiple ways to conceal and cover up their detention and false imprisonment of the skateboarder.

"The majority of law enforcement with whom we work each and every day are phenomenal public servants who put their lives on the line every day to protect our community," said Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney for Los Angeles. "However when officers abuse their power and violate the law, it is imperative that we hold them accountable."

The incident began at Wilson Park in Compton. Alegria, identified in court documents by his initials, was in an enclosed skatepark when the deputies arrived and approached two young men outside the skatepark.

Sheriff's officials released new details and surveillance video amid an ongoing investigation into the fatal shooting of Andres Guardado by a deputy in Gardena.

"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," prosecutors said.

According to the indictment, the deputies did not handcuff Alegria, did not fasten his seatbelt, did not tell him that he was under arrest, and did not inform him of his rights.

Vega was driving the patrol vehicle, with Hernandez in the front passenger seat and Alegria in the back seat, as they left the skate park. Vega allegedly told Alegria that the deputies were going to drop him off in gang territory, where Hernandez allegedly said the skateboarder would be beaten.

Not far from the skate park, while Alegria was still confined in the back of the patrol vehicle, Vega initiated a pursuit of a young man on a bicycle down an alley, where Vega crashed into a wall and another vehicle, causing Alegria to sustain a cut above his right eye, according to the indictment.

After the collision, Vega removed Alegria from the patrol vehicle and told him to "get the (expletive) out of here," or words to that effect, the indictment alleges. The injured man then walked to a nearby home to seek help.

Also after the crash, according to prosecutors, Vega reported over LASD radio that a person purportedly with a gun, whom Vega described as wearing clothes similar to Alegria attire that day, had fled through the alley near 130th Street and Mona Boulevard.

The indictment alleges that, even though Vega also reported the crash, neither he nor Hernandez, disclosed that Alegria had been in the patrol vehicle during the collision.

It was only after Alegria had been stopped on a neighboring street by other deputies as the purported gun suspect that Vega informed his supervising sergeant that he had been in Vega's patrol car during the crash, prosecutors said, falsely reporting to his supervisor that Alegria had been detained because he was suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance.

The conspiracy charge carries a statutory maximum penalty of five years in federal prison, while the civil rights offense carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, if convicted, prosecutors said. The alleged offenses of witness tampering and falsification of records each carry a statutory maximum sentence of 20 years.

Vega and Hernandez were also involved in another highly controversial incident - the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado in Gardena in June 2020.

According to the Vega's account, Guardado reached for a gun, prompting Vega to fire six shots, five of which hit Guardado in the back.

Hernandez was present at the time of the shooting but did not fire at Guardado. The incident led to widespread protests, and a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Guardado's family against the county was settled last year for $8 million.