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Ex-deputies involved in Guardado shooting indicted federally in separate abuse case

Masked protesters holding signs on a sidewalk beside a vehicle with "DEFUND POLICE" on its window
The shooting of Andres Guardado in 2020 sparked widespread protests. Three years later, the deputies involved in his killing — Miguel Vega and Chris Hernandez — have been federally indicted in an unrelated case.
(Dania Maxwell / Los Angeles Times)
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Two former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have been indicted on charges of violating the civil rights of a skateboarder they allegedly forced into the back of their cruiser and threatened before crashing the vehicle in 2020, prosecutors announced Thursday.

According to a five-count indictment, Miguel Vega and Chris Hernandez — who were also involved in the highly publicized 2020 killing of 18-year-old Andres Guardado — were charged with conspiracy, witness tampering, falsification of records and deprivation of rights. Vega was charged with a count of falsifying records.

The indictment, which echoes a 2021 Times investigation into the case, also accuses the former deputies of obstructing justice in multiple ways to hide their “unlawful detention and false imprisonment” of 24-year-old Jesus Alegria.

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“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,” Martin Estrada, the U.S. attorney for Los Angeles, said in a statement.

Both former deputies turned themselves in Thursday morning and appeared in court later in the day. If convicted as charged, they could face decades in prison. Their attorneys did not comment on the charges. An lawyer for Alegria applauded the arrests.

“I’m very pleased to learn that these two corrupt deputies were arrested and charged with a federal crime,” said Humberto Guizar, who represented Alegria in his lawsuit against the county. “Hopefully that will be a deterrent.”

News of the charges comes exactly three years after the two deputies allegedly snatched Alegria off the street and took him for a wild ride that left him bleeding from the head.

Afterward, the Sheriff’s Department waited months to dole out discipline, leaving both deputies on the streets in June 2020, when Vega shot Guardado in the back five times following a brief foot chase in Gardena. The two deputies remained on active duty until December 2020, when they were stripped of their badges.

“If the LASD had conducted a timely, thorough investigation of the first incident, it is likely that Andres Guardado would be alive today,” Sean Kennedy, who chairs the Civilian Oversight Commission, told The Times on Thursday.

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Guardado’s killing led to widespread protests and a lawsuit filed by his family against the county that was settled for $8 million. The Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has not said publicly whether it will file charges in the Guardado case, though records reviewed by The Times show that a prosecutor initially recommended against it last year.

Tiffiny Blacknell, director of communications for the district attorney’s office, said Thursday that prosecutors “are in the process of meeting with the Guardado family” and that they expect to be able to announce a decision afterward.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to pay $47.6 million to settle several lawsuits over allegations of misconduct by sheriff’s deputies

Nov. 1, 2022

On April 13, 2020, Alegria was skateboarding in a park in Compton when Vega and Hernandez pulled up. According to Alegria, the deputies approached a group of teens, and Alegria and his friends shouted at them to stop harassing the kids.

The deputies exchanged words with the skateboarders before one of them — Vega — grabbed Alegria and shoved him into the back of a patrol car. Alegria told The Times that the deputy didn’t handcuff him or ask his name.

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies involved in a controversial shooting are under investigation for an encounter with a skateboarder, who accuses the deputies of lying to cover up misconduct.

Jan. 15, 2021

Instead, he said, the deputies taunted him.

“We’re gonna get you set up right now,” one said, according to Alegria. The deputy threatened to kick him out of the car in a gang-controlled neighborhood, Alegria said, and tell people on the street that he belonged to a rival gang.

The deputies continued to taunt him and curse at him, Alegria said. A few minutes later, they spotted a group of young teenagers on bikes and steered toward them. Hernandez jumped out and chased some on foot, while Vega sped down an alley after one of them.

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According to Alegria, as the biker wove past a parked car and a concrete wall, Vega accelerated, hitting the wall and a parked BMW.

By Alegria’s estimate, they’d been traveling 55 to 60 mph at the time of the crash. Vega told authorities he was driving 30 to 35 mph. According to an incident report, the speed limit was 15 mph. After the wreck, the patrol vehicle was damaged enough that, instead of opening the door, Vega had to climb out a window. He surveyed the scene and told Alegria to leave.

“Get the f— out of here,” he said, according to Alegria. As he walked away, Alegria realized there was blood dripping down his face from a gash on his eyebrow.

According to the indictment, Vega then got on the radio and reported a man fleeing with a gun whose clothing he described as much like what Alegria had on that day.

When California Highway Patrol officers arrived at the scene — an alley near Mona Boulevard and 130th Street in Willowbrook — Vega told them he had gone in pursuit of a bicyclist he suspected of carrying a gun.

Authorities blocked off the street, and when another deputy spotted Alegria walking in the area, he grabbed the man and put him in handcuffs without explaining why. Deputies let him sit in the back of a patrol car for more than half an hour, then drove him to a hospital where, according to Alegria, they pressured him to sign a citation to appear in court for being under the influence of meth.

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“I didn’t wanna sign it because I know my truth: I’ve never even touched that drug in my life,” he told The Times. But when Alegria called his father for advice, his father persuaded him to sign the paper so he could go home and avoid further harassment in jail.

In the arrest report describing the incident, Vega wrote that Alegria had been acting erratically and seemed to be on drugs when the deputies first spotted him. A “large crowd” was advancing toward them, he said, and they didn’t feel that they could safely conduct a sobriety test so they fled before either deputy had time to handcuff Alegria or fasten his seatbelt.

According to the indictment, in that same report — which Hernandez allegedly helped prepare — Vega also falsely accused Alegria of threatening violence against the deputies while at the skate park.

In a second report, which Vega allegedly prepared on his own, prosecutors said the deputy falsely claimed to have transferred Alegria into a second cruiser.

Though the Sheriff’s Department sent the case against Alegria to the district attorney’s office, prosecutors declined to file charges. In early 2021, Alegria filed a lawsuit accusing Vega and Hernandez of fabricating the drug charge and the arrest report to justify their reckless behavior. Last year, the county agreed to settle for $450,000.

By that point, Vega and Hernandez had come under scrutiny for their role in the Guardado killing in June 2020.

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Two months after the Alegria incident, the deputies were on patrol when they came upon Guardado talking with someone outside an auto body shop. The Sheriff’s Department said Guardado brandished a gun and ran into an alley, and Vega and Hernandez chased him. An autopsy showed that Vega shot the teen five times in the back. Vega’s attorney said that was because Guardado was reaching for a gun.

L.A. County coroner’s office determines that Andres Guardado, the 18-year-old killed by an L.A. County sheriff’s deputy, was shot 5 times in the back.

July 10, 2020

Coming on the heels of George Floyd’s killing, Guardado’s death prompted weeks of protests and increased scrutiny of the Compton sheriff’s station, which has been roiled by allegations about a violent deputy gang known as the Executioners. Following the Guardado shooting, a whistleblower claimed that Vega and Hernandez were prospective members of the group. Their attorneys denied the allegation.

Before the Guardado and Alegria cases, Vega had a history of misconduct allegations, including accusations that he was discourteous and that he used unreasonable force — though the latter of those was found to be without merit. The most serious discipline he faced was in 2017, after he was accused of making false statements in an investigation. He was eventually suspended for four days for the lesser infraction of failing to properly screen an inmate.

Then in 2019, both he and Hernandez were among the deputies named in a lawsuit filed by a man who said he’d been mauled by a Sheriff’s Department canine during an arrest. He accused deputies of planting a gun on him afterward. Records show that the parties agreed to a settlement this week, pending approval by the Board of Supervisors.

Yana Henriks, the attorney who handled that case, has been suing the long-troubled Sheriff’s Department for roughly a decade. She said Thursday’s indictments could be a positive sign.

“But, I don’t think the feds getting involved is enough to make a change,” she added. “I don’t think anything will change until the county takes affirmative action.”

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Times staff writer Alene Tchekmedyian contributed to this report.

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