Two former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputies who were involved in the fatal shooting of Andres Guardado in 2020 have been indicted in a separate case alleging false imprisonment.
Miguel Angel Vega and Christopher Blair Hernandez face federal charges alleging they violated the civil rights of a skateboarder at a Compton park by falsely imprisoning him and obstructing justice to cover it up, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
The former Compton deputies surrendered to federal authorities Thursday morning after being named in a five-count indictment returned by a federal grand jury last month.
Vega and Hernandez are being charged with conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, witness tampering and falsification of records, officials said. Vega is also charged with an additional count of falsification of records.
The incident involving the skateboarder occurred on April 13, 2020, at Wilson Park in Compton.
The defendants allegedly “unlawfully detained and falsely imprisoned” the victim, who was 23 years old at the time, 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,” officials detailed in a news release. “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.”
Authorities allege the defendants violated the skateboarder’s constitutional rights by “willfully and illegally detaining him without cause.”
“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,” United States Attorney Martin Estrada said in the news release.
False reports after a chance encounter
The victim, identified as J.A. in the indictment but as Jesus Alegria by the Los Angeles Times, was in the enclosed skatepark when the deputies arrived and contacted two Black teens outside the park. J.A. then yelled at the deputies to stop bothering the teens when one or both defendants allegedly pulled the victim through an opening in the park fence, confined him to the back of their patrol vehicle and did not inform J.A. of his rights at any time, officials allege.
According to the indictment, Vega and Hernandez didn’t handcuff J.A., didn’t secure his seatbelt and didn’t tell him he was under arrest.
After leaving the park, Vega, who was driving the patrol vehicle, allegedly told J.A. that the deputies were going to “set up J.A.” and drop him off in gang territory. Hernandez allegedly added that J.A. would be beaten.
Shortly after, Vega began chasing a young man on a bicycle down an alley, where Vega crashed into a wall and another vehicle, causing J.A. to get a cut above his right eye.
Following the crash, Vega allegedly removed J.A. from the patrol vehicle and told him to “get the (expletive) out of here,” leaving the victim to walk to a nearby residence that was unknown to him to seek help.
After the crash, Vega allegedly reported that a person, purportedly with a gun, who he described as wearing clothing similar to J.A.’s had run through the alley. The indictment alleges that even though Vega reported the crash, he never disclosed in radio calls or during a subsequent conversation with their supervisor that J.A. had been in the patrol vehicle during the crash.
It was only after J.A. was detained in the neighborhood over the false description of an armed suspect that Vega informed his supervising sergeant that the victim had been in the patrol vehicle during the crash, officials allege. He also allegedly falsely reported that J.A. had been detained because he was suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance.
J.A. was taken to a hospital for his injury, and the indictment alleges that Hernandez asked a deputy at the hospital to cite him for being under the influence of methamphetamine.
The deputies are accused of falsifying records pertaining to two incident reports prepared and filed with the Sheriff’s Department related to this case in mid April of that year.
A fatal shooting months later
Two months later, on June 18, 2020, the same deputies were involved in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Guardado in Compton.
The shooting led to protests and calls for justice, but charges were never filed against the deputies in that case.
According to the autopsy, released by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s Office against the wishes of then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva, Vega shot Guardado five times in the back.
A wrongful death lawsuit filed by Guardado’s family against the county and Sheriff’s Department alleges Vega and his partner Hernandez may have been working with the alleged Executioners gang at the Compton sheriff’s station.
The deputies were eventually relieved of duty in December 2020.
The conspiracy count against the defendants carries a maximum sentence of five years in federal prison, while the civil rights offense carries a maximum sentence of 10 years, officials said. Additionally, the witness tampering and falsification of records counts each carry a maximum sentence of 20 years.
The FBI is investigating the incident that led to the indictment.