A second former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy has agreed to plead guilty to violating the civil rights of a man at a Compton skate park by improperly detaining him and then acting to cover up his actions, according to court papers filed on Tuesday, Sept. 5.
Miguel Angel Vega, 33, of Corona, admitted that he falsely imprisoned the 23-year-old skateboarder in his patrol car, which crashed during a subsequent chase, leaving the man injured, his plea agreement shows. He also admitted filing false reports to cover up his and his partner’s unlawful conduct. Vega agreed to plead guilty to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law, a crime that carries a sentence of up to 10 years in federal prison. He is expected to formally plead guilty to the charge in the coming weeks in downtown Los Angeles.
Vega’s former partner, Christopher Blair Hernandez, 37, pleaded guilty in July to one count of conspiracy. A sentencing hearing is set for Jan. 8, at which time he will face up to five years in federal prison.
According to the April indictment, the man identified as J.A. was in an enclosed skate park at Wilson Park in Compton on April 13, 2020, when the deputies arrived and contacted two young Black males outside the park. Prosecutors said Hernandez believed one of the males was on probation. After J.A. yelled at the deputies to stop bothering the youths, Vega allegedly got into an argument with him and challenged J.A. to a fight, prosecutors said. Vega then pulled J.A. through an opening in the park fence and placed him in the back of the deputies’ patrol SUV, according to prosecutors. The skateboarder was not handcuffed, was not told he was under arrest and was not restrained by a seat belt in the back seat of the SUV, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Prosecutors said Vega again challenged J.A. to a fight after the deputies had driven away from the park. Vega and Hernandez both “taunted” the man, suggesting they were going to set him up by dropping him off in gang territory, prosecutors said. Vega also allegedly made comments saying the 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” of him, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
As Vega was driving the SUV with J.A. still in the back seat, he began pursuing a group of young males on bicycles, prosecutors said. Hernandez jumped out of the SUV to pursue one suspect on foot, while Vega drove into an alley, where he crashed into a wall and another vehicle, causing J.A. to hit his face and head and sustain a cut over his right eye, according to prosecutors. After the crash, Vega allegedly took J.A. out of the patrol SUV and told him to leave, then reported over the sheriff’s radio that a suspect with a gun had run through an alley, and he described the suspect as wearing clothing similar to those worn by J.A. Neither Vega nor Hernandez initially disclosed that they had detained J.A. or that he was in the SUV when the crash occurred, prosecutors said.
J.A. was subsequently detained by another deputy nearby, and it was only then that Vega admitted to a supervisor that the man had been in the back of the SUV. While J.A. was being treated at a hospital for his injuries, Hernandez allegedly told another deputy to cite him for being under the influence of methamphetamine, despite knowing it was a false accusation, prosecutors said. In reports filed later that day, Hernandez and Vega “intentionally included false, misleading, and ambiguous information in the reports to justify and legitimize, and ultimately cover up, their unlawful conduct,” including that J.A. was under the influence of a stimulant and that he had threatened the deputies and other people at the skate park, prosecutors said.
Vega and Hernandez were also involved in the June 2020 killing of 18- year-old Andrés Guardado, who was shot five times in the back by Vega as the deputies pursued him in Gardena after he allegedly displayed a handgun, according to court records.
The shooting led to widespread protests, and a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Guardado’s family against the county was settled last year for $8 million. No criminal charges were filed in that case.