A former deputy with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of conspiring to violate the civil rights of a 23-year-old man at a Compton skatepark.
Former LASD Compton Station Deputy Christopher Blair Hernandez agreed to plead guilty to one felony charge of conspiracy on Thursday.
Hernandez and his then-partner Miguel Angel Vega were in uniform and on patrol in an LASD squad car near Wilson Park in Compton on April 13, 2020, when the incident occurred.
“While on patrol, Hernandez and Vega saw two young Black males, one of who Hernandez believed was on probation, outside a skateboard park enclosed by a tall fence within Wilson Park,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California said in a statement. “Vega parked the SUV on the grass near the skatepark, after which Hernandez and Vega got out…and approached the individuals, whom they ordered to lift their shirts.”
At this point, the victim of the false imprisonment, identified in court documents as J.A. but identified by the Los Angeles Times as Jesus Alegria, began “yelling” at the officers to leave the two Black males alone.
“J.A. did not threaten Vega or Hernandez or any of the other approximately 10 to 15 people inside the skatepark, who likewise did not pose any danger to Vega or Hernandez,” the DOJ said. “Vega and J.A. then got into an argument during which Vega challenged J.A. to a fight.”
According to Hernandez’s plea agreement, Vega then grabbed J.A. through an opening in the skatepark fence and confined him to the back of the LASD squad car as Hernandez looked on. J.A. was not handcuffed, his seatbelt was not secured, he was never told he was under arrest nor was he read his rights at any time, despite Hernandez and Vega having “ample time to do so.” Hernandez’s plea agreement also said that he knew that he and Vega did not have “any lawful basis” to detain J.A., particularly after Vega challenged him to a fight.
After leaving the park, Vega again challenged J.A. to a fight while he was confined in the back of the police car. In addition, Vega taunted J.A. and told him that the deputies were going to drop him off in gang territory and that they would beat him up if he fought.
“Vega made statements to J.A. suggesting to Hernandez that the two deputies were going to fabricate and falsely allege that J.A. exhibited symptoms of being under the influence of a stimulant as a pretext to justify their false imprisonment,” the U.S. Attorney’s Office said. “Even though he did not believe that J.A. was under the influence of a stimulant, Hernandez did not take any steps to release J.A., challenge Vega’s actions or alert a supervisor about what had occurred and what was occurring.”
As the two deputies continued with J.A. in the back of the car, Vega began pursuing a group of young men on bicycles down an alley. While Hernandez got out to pursue them on foot, Vega drove the SUV down the alley and crashed into a wall and another vehicle, causing J.A. to hit his face and head and sustain a cut above his right eye that required stitches, according to court documents.
“Following the collision, Vega removed J.A. from the patrol vehicle and told him to leave,” court documents said. “After J.A. was released…he walked out of the alley and tried to get help from strangers at a nearby house.”
After the traffic collision, Vega radioed to LASD that a person, whom he described as wearing clothes similar to what J.A. was wearing that day, purportedly had a gun and fled through an alley. Numerous LASD personnel responded and set up a containment zone, and even though Vega reported the traffic collision over radio, neither he nor Hernandez disclosed during radio calls or subsequent conversation with their supervising sergeant at the scene that they had detained J.A. at the skatepark, or that J.A. was present during the traffic collision involving the LASD squad car, Hernandez’s plea agreement said.
It was only after Vega learned that J.A. had been independently detained by another deputy as the purported gun suspect that Vega informed other deputies and his supervising sergeant of J.A.’s presence in the vehicle during the crash.
“While J.A. was at a hospital later in the day to receive treatment for the injuries he sustained from the collision, Hernandez spoke with another deputy who had escorted J.A. to the hospital,” the Justice Department said. “Consistent with the plan suggested and articulated by Vega earlier in the day, Hernandez directed the deputy at the hospital to issue J.A. a citation for being under the influence of methamphetamine, even though Hernandez knew this to be false.” The deputy followed Hernandez’s direction and issued the citation.
The former deputies authored two incident reports which intentionally included false, misleading and ambiguous information in the reports to justify, legitimize and ultimately cover up their unlawful conduct, Hernandez admitted in the plea agreement.
“The first report falsely stated that J.A. appeared to be 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,” the DOJ said. “The second report likewise falsely stated that Vega transferred J.A. to another patrol vehicle after the collision, which both Hernandez and Vega knew to be false.”
Vega has pleaded not guilty to a five-count indictment charging him with conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, witness tampering and two counts of falsification of records.
His trial is scheduled for Oct. 24.
The two former deputies were also involved in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado two months later near Gardena. Charges were never filed against the deputies in that case, but the L.A. County Coroner’s Office did launch their first inquest in more than 30 years into Guardado’s death.
His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county and the LASD, alleging deputies used excessive force when they killed the teen.