Judge dismisses case against deputies accused of covering up assault in East L.A.

A large representation of a deputy's badge on the lawn in front of the Sheriff's Department's East L.A. station
A Superior Court judge said there was insufficient evidence to prosecute two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies accused of lying to cover up an on-duty assault.
(Francine Orr/Los Angeles Times)

A Superior Court judge dismissed charges against two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies who were accused of lying to cover up an on-duty assault, finding there was insufficient evidence for them to stand trial.

Judge Ronald Coen tossed the case against Jonathan Miramontes and Woodrow Kim earlier this month after a prosecutor presented video of the incident at a preliminary hearing as evidence that reports the deputies wrote were false. It is rare for a criminal case to be dismissed so early in the prosecution process.

The district attorney’s office now is seeking to reinstate the charges, arguing in a recent court filing that Coen’s ruling was wrong and that a different judge should consider the evidence. A hearing date has not been set.


The deputies had each faced a felony count of filing a false report about a September 2018 incident in which Kim allegedly knocked a suspect to the ground using the door of his patrol car. Kim was also charged with assault under the color of authority in the incident.

Kim was behind the wheel and Miramontes in the passenger seat as the pair was chasing a black BMW suspected of being involved in an assault with a deadly weapon. The BMW drove into Ruben Salazar Park in East L.A. and, when it came to a stop, a man exited from the front passenger seat and ran through the park. Kim and Miramontes followed in their patrol car.

The discrepancies, prosecutors alleged, began when Kim wrote in his report that as he drove closer to the suspect, he opened his door to be ready to give chase on foot. At that point, Kim wrote, the man stopped running and Kim tried to stop the patrol car to prevent a collision. The man then “walked closer to our patrol vehicle and collided” with his door after which he was “still standing.”

Miramontes’ report doesn’t mention the collision. He wrote that Kim stopped the vehicle and the man attempted to “give up by suddenly stopping and turning toward us.”

The video, which was recorded by a nearby home’s security camera, “shows something completely different,” Deputy Dist. Atty. John Perroni wrote in his motion after the dismissal. The video, he wrote, shows the car strike the suspect, who is launched “a number of feet in the air.”

“What is clear is that rather than admit their use of force and accept responsibility for that tactical decision, both defendants wrote reports and made statements that sought to obscure the use of force, minimize the force of impact, and shift responsibility for the collision to” the suspect, Perroni wrote.

When Kim and Miramontes went in pursuit of the man, other deputies remained focused on the BMW. According to Sheriff’s Department and district attorney records, a man with a gun got out of the driver’s side and opened fire on the deputies. A shootout ensued, leaving the driver and another passenger who remained in the BMW dead. Two deputies, along with a law enforcement technician who was doing a ride-along, were injured.


Tom Yu, an attorney representing Miramontes, said his client reported the collision to several supervisors and that the judge who dismissed the case was correct.

“If you’re going to hide the use of force, which a collision is not a use of force, why did you report to all these supervisors?” Yu said. “This is not a use of force, this is an accident. ... A collision is not a crime.”

He also argued that the only reason a criminal investigation was initiated was because the Sheriff’s Department did not complete its internal administrative investigation within the one-year statute of limitations required by law. After missing the deadline, sheriff’s officials could not impose discipline on the deputies even if the internal investigation found they had lied on their reports or committed other misconduct.

An investigator’s log shows an entry three months after the statute of limitations expired, noting that time had run out and that a commander was requesting a criminal assault investigation against Kim. Criminal cases are typically handled before administrative cases.

Josh Ritter, an attorney representing Kim, also agreed with the judge’s ruling.

“I’d also say that video is low-definition, from at least 100 yards away, through some trees — it could easily be argued that what is shown on that video is consistent with what they described,” Ritter said.

He added the prosecution “put on as good a case as they had and Judge Coen felt that that wasn’t good enough.”