A wild ride, a crash, a cover-up: Skateboarder alleges abuse by deputies involved in Guardado shooting
Jesus Alegria was skateboarding with some friends at a Compton park on an afternoon in April when Deputy Miguel Vega and his partner, Chris Hernandez, pulled up.
Hands on their holsters, the deputies approached a group of teens. Alegria, 24, and his friends shouted at them to stop harassing the kids. The deputies, he said, rounded on them and words were exchanged. Vega suddenly grabbed Alegria’s wrists and shoved him into the back of the patrol car. The deputy didn’t handcuff him and didn’t ask Alegria’s name.
The wild minutes that followed ended with Alegria bleeding from the head and eventually triggered a criminal investigation into the deputies, who also face a civil lawsuit filed by Alegria that alleges they kidnapped him and then lied to cover up their actions.
This account of what happened is based on interviews with Alegria, his father and others, as well as the lawsuit, video footage, and law enforcement and medical records. Lawyers for the deputies declined to discuss the case. Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials did not answer questions about Alegria’s claims, leaving it unclear whether the department challenges his account of what happened. A spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department confirmed Friday that Vega and Hernandez are under criminal investigation.
Sheriff’s officials have also not explained why it took more than two months to open an investigation into the incident and nearly eight months before Vega and Hernandez were stripped of their badges. That timing meant Vega and Hernandez were still on the streets one night in June when they came upon 18-year-old Andres Guardado and Vega killed him in a controversial shooting that led to widespread protests and remains under investigation.
The Times reported last month that Vega and Hernandez have been relieved of duty pending the outcome of the investigation into the incident, but the details of what occurred have not been reported.
L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has ordered Deputies Miguel Vega and Chris Hernandez to be suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into an unrelated crash.
As Vega drove off from Wilson Park, Alegria sat in the car’s hard plastic backseat without handcuffs and without a seatbelt — a violation of department policy.
The deputies taunted him. “We’re gonna get you set up right now,” one said, telling him they were going to kick him out of the car in a neighborhood controlled by a gang and tell people on the street that he belonged to the Bananas, a rival gang.
Fear churned with anger inside Alegria. “This is what you call justice? What is this?” he asked.
The deputies unleashed a torrent of insults and threats from the other side of a cage divider that separated the front and back seats. Alegria couldn’t tell who was saying what.
“Shut the f— up.”
“You’re scared now, huh?”
A few minutes later, the deputies spotted a group of young teenagers on their bikes. Vega hit the gas and steered toward them. The boys scattered.
Hernandez jumped out of the car to chase some of the teens on foot. Vega sped off down an alley after one of them. Alegria noticed the deputy didn’t broadcast anything over the car’s radio about the chase.
The alley narrowed. Up ahead, the biker threaded past a parked car and a concrete wall. Alegria didn’t think Vega would clear the tight space. Vega accelerated.
The SUV smashed into the wall and the parked BMW. Alegria’s head slammed into the cage divider.
Unable to open the door, Vega climbed out of his window and onto the hood of the car, looking left and right. Still, he said nothing into his radio. The deputy jumped down and opened the back door. Alegria begged him to let him leave, promising not to tell anyone what happened.
“Get the f— out of here,” Vega said.
As he walked away, Alegria realized blood was dripping down his face from a gash on his eyebrow. He pulled his shirt up over his face and pressed it against the wound as he walked out of the alley and around the corner. A family unloading groceries from their car gave him water and let him use a phone to call his father. His belongings were in his backpack at the skatepark.
A California Highway Patrol officer responded to the scene. Vega told him he had been chasing a man with a gun on a bike, but acknowledged he hadn’t activated his lights and sirens. The deputy estimated he had been driving 30 to 35 mph in the alley, while Alegria told the CHP it was 55 to 65 mph. The CHP officer wrote in his report that Vega caused the crash by traveling at an “unsafe speed” above 35 mph through the alleyway, where the limit is 15 mph.
By the time Alegria’s father arrived, deputies had blocked off the street and a helicopter hovered overhead. As Alegria walked toward his dad, a deputy grabbed him and put him in handcuffs. He asked why.
“I don’t know, I’m gonna find out right now,” the deputy said, putting him in the back of another patrol car.
Every 10 minutes or so a deputy asked if he needed medical attention and each time Alegria said he did, but nothing was done. After about 40 minutes, paramedics arrived and took him to a hospital.
Deputies followed the ambulance and crowded around as hospital staff tended to Alegria. As they put a few stitches in his forehead, doctors and nurses seemed to sense something was off and wrote Alegria notes so the deputies couldn’t see. At one point, a deputy refused to move when he was told to get out of the way.
A deputy pressed his ticket book toward Alegria, demanding he sign a citation to appear in court. Alegria asked what crime he had committed, but the deputy wouldn’t answer and kept the part of the paper that noted the offense concealed beneath the book’s thick band. He said only that he wouldn’t leave until Alegria signed it.
Alegria grabbed the book out of the deputy’s hand and saw he was being cited for being under the influence of meth. Incredulous, he asked hospital staff for a drug test but was told they couldn’t perform one.
“I didn’t wanna sign it because I know my truth: I’ve never even touched that drug in my life,” he said. The paramedics who evaluated Alegria at the scene reported no signs of him being under the influence of any drugs.
Alegria called his father using a deputy’s phone. He urged his son to sign the citation. They’ll mess with you in jail if you don’t, he pleaded.
Reluctantly, Alegria signed the citation and the deputies cleared out.
In an arrest report, Vega wrote that when he and Hernandez first encountered Alegria, he was acting erratically, swearing, sweating and grinding his teeth, and appeared to be under the influence of a stimulant. The deputy said he and his partner had been unable to conduct a sobriety test because a “large crowd” of 15 to 20 people was advancing toward them and he feared the group would “attempt to aid” Alegria. Vega wrote that they had to flee without handcuffing Alegria or securing his seatbelt in order to find a “safe location” where they could continue their investigation.
A video recorded by one of Alegria’s friends calls Vega’s account into question. The brief footage shows a fence separated Alegria’s friends from the deputies. In the video, Vega does not rush as he closes the back passenger door and walks to the driver’s door.
The video captures someone in the group yelling at the deputies, telling them they should spend their time looking for gang members “who got guns and drugs.” Before driving off, Vega points at the group through an open window. “You should know the program,” he says.
In his arrest report, Vega said Alegria continued to be belligerent in the SUV and he and Hernandez decided to take him to a sheriff’s jail to complete the sobriety test. Vega made no mention of chasing a bicyclist with a gun. Instead, he wrote that he simply crashed while transporting Alegria and added that the report the CHP officer filed about the crash had more information.
Alegria’s lawsuit accuses the deputies of fabricating the drug charge and the arrest report to justify their recklessness.
“It’s clearly a cover-up,” said Mariam Danielyan, an attorney representing Alegria.
The deputies “just kidnapped him,” Alegria’s father said.
A spokeswoman for the hospital where Alegria was treated said staff who tended to him were too busy during the pandemic to be available for comment. Fire officials did not respond to requests for interviews with the paramedics.
Based on Vega’s account, the Sheriff’s Department took the case to the district attorney’s office, but prosecutors declined to file charges. In a memo explaining the decision, a prosecutor wrote that there was “insufficient evidence to prove identification” — an acknowledgment that they wouldn’t even be able to prove in court that Alegria was the person allegedly high on drugs.
For more than two months afterward, Vega and Hernandez went about their jobs patrolling in and around Compton. On a night in June, they came upon 18-year-old Andres Guardado as he was talking with someone outside an auto body shop. Guardado brandished a gun and ran into an alley, according to a Sheriff’s Department account of the shooting. Vega and Hernandez gave chase and Vega shot Guardado five times in the back, an autopsy concluded.
An attorney for Vega said shortly after the shooting that Guardado had stopped, obeyed commands to surrender and placed the weapon he was allegedly holding on the ground. Vega opened fire, the attorney said, when Guardado allegedly reached for the weapon as Vega tried to handcuff him. The shooting remains under investigation.
Days after the shooting, the Sheriff’s Department opened an investigation into the deputies for the incident involving Alegria. It is not clear what ultimately triggered the investigation. Six more months passed before the deputies were relieved of duty in early December.
Danielyan said investigators with the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau, which investigates criminal allegations against deputies, contacted her last month seeking to interview Alegria. She declined to allow the interview.
Alegria thinks back on the day with disbelief.
“I thought it only happened in movies,” he said. “I’m just glad I made it out alive.”
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