Second ex-LASD deputy to plead guilty to federal charge
LOS ANGELES (CNS)—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 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 US 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 US 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 methampheta- mine, 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.
Sheriff Robert Luna addresses press conference.
Sheriff's deputy union challenges tattoo, gang probe orders
LOS ANGELES (CNS)—A union representing Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies has taken legal action against Sheriff Robert Luna and the Office of the Inspector General for their directives requiring deputies to show certain tattoos and answer questions about alleged deputy gangs.
The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs maintains in the Los Angeles Superior Court petition brought Monday that their members' constitutional rights are at stake and that the issue should have been dealt with
beforehand in bargaining.
"As a matter of law, the implementation of those changes must be preceded by reasonable advance notice to ALADS, the opportunity to meet and confer with authorized representatives of defendants as well as exhaustion of any and all applicable impasse procedures," the petition states.
An LASD representative issued a statement Wednesday regarding the petition, saying the department is aware of the legal action and that labor and legal representatives are better equipped to address specifics of the
On May 12, the OIG sent letters to the affected deputies, including ALADS-represented employees, as part of its investigation into alleged law enforcement gangs existing within the department.
"You are directed to appear in person to participate in an interview to be conducted by the Office of Inspector General concerning the presence of law enforcement gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department," according to the order, which further states the OIG is "conducting a series of witness interviews to establish the membership of the Banditos and Executioners."
The affected deputies are asked by the OIG to bring a photograph of any tattoos on their left or right legs from the area of the ankle to the knee and a photograph of any tattoo anywhere on their bodies that has any symbol or images of the nature specified in the directive.
ALADS filed an unfair employee relations practice charge with the Los Angeles County Employee Relations Commission on March 19 over the compelled compliance and is seeking to preserve the status quo until the outcome of their case is decided.
Luna also sent an email to the affected deputies on May 18, but the ALADS petition states that the communica- tion does not state whether those ordered to testify before the OIG will receive an admonition or will otherwise receive protection against any incrimination in a potential criminal action.
ALADS further maintains that the deputies have a "reasonable expectation of privacy in non-visible tattoos that are covered by clothing" and that a judge must determine this issue.
Despite the alleged obligation to do so, the OIG "failed to meet and confer in good faith with ALADS" prior to sending out the OIG's May 12 order, the petition states.
A trial-setting conference is scheduled Aug. 8 before Judge James Chalfant.
Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian's announced Thursday night he wants the council, at its next meeting, to appoint Heather Hutt to fill out the remainder of Mark Ridley-Thomas' unexpired term, which runs until December 2024.
Ridley-Thomas seat void
Bright career ends 'ignominiously'
By FRED SHUSTER
LOS ANGELES (CNS)—Heather Hutt, who has been filling the District 10 City Council seat on a temporary basis, today is—for the short term, at least—its "caretaker'' following the conviction of now-former Council- man Mark Ridley-Thomas on federal corruption charges.
But that caretaker title figures to change in about two weeks following City Council President Paul Krek- orian's announcement Thursday night that he wants the council, at its next meeting, to appoint Hutt to fill out the remainder of Ridley-Thomas' unexpired term, which runs until December 2024.
Krekorian's plan—in which he formally declared the seat vacant—emerged Thursday evening, hours after a federal jury in downtown Los Angeles convicted Ridley-Thomas of bribery and conspiracy charges, along with mail and wire fraud, stemming from his time on the L.A. County Board of Supervisors.
The charges stem from what prosecutors called a quid pro quo arrangement between Ridley-Thomas and a former head of the USC School of Social Work, with the politician accused of steering county contracts toward the school in exchange for benefits to Ridley-Thomas' son, former Assemblyman Sebastian Ridley-Thomas.
Mark Ridley-Thomas faces years in prison when he is sentenced Aug. 14.
"While the federal legal process is continuing, and Mr. Ridley-Thomas may choose to pursue his right to appeal, his office nonetheless has now become vacant as a matter of law as provided by Section 207(a) of the Charter of the City of Los Angeles," Krekorian said in a statement.
"While charges against Mr. Ridley-Thomas were pending, the Council appointed Heather Hutt to hold the office of Council member for District 10 for so long as the temporary vacancy continues to exist. Because the vacancy of this office is no longer temporary but is now permanent, Ms. Hutt's temporary appointment is no longer in force and the Council must decide what action, if any, to take to address this vacancy.''
In the short term, Krekorian said, he has appointed Hutt to serve as Caretaker, effective immediately. Beyond that, he said, his plan is to call on the council, at its next meeting, to appoint Hutt to fill out the remainder of Ridley-Thomas' term. The council is on recess, and is next scheduled to meet on April 11.
"Mark Ridley-Thomas has been convicted of multiple felonies following a trial on charges described in the federal indictment of Oct. 13, 2021," Krekorian said.
"I am deeply saddened that a career of extraordinary public service and achievement has been brought to a close in this way. Mr. Ridley-Thomas leaves behind an irrefutable legacy of leadership, activism and effec- tive policymaking that have shaped our city, county and state."
Councilman Marqueece Harris-Dawson recognized Ridley-Thomas' verdict, but also acknowledged the veteran politician's longstanding career and the contributions toward his community.
"When those in power choose to forget our community, Mark Ridley-Thomas centered and uplifted us," Harris-Dawson wrote on Twitter. "We are called to acknowledge this history in the coming days as we navigate the next steps."
Councilman Bob Blumenfield said in a statement, "I am disappointed and saddened by the reality that he
is the third City Council colleague to either plead or be found guilty of corruption"—a reference to former councilmen Jose Huizar and Mitchell Englander.
"It further tears the fabric of trust in local public officials,"
Blumenfield added. "I am also saddened as this verdict ignominiously ends the career and stains the legacy of a man who had been a trailblazer, an icon and effective legislator for many years."
Ridley-Thomas had been suspended from City Council in 2021.
Hutt was temporarily appointed by the council to the seat in September 2022. Prior to that, she was serving as caretaker while former Councilman Herb Wesson—who was originally appointed to fill in during Ridley-Thomas' suspension—was legally barred from performing his duties on the council and eventually had to resign because of term-limit issues.
Hutt has announced her intention to run for a full term in the 2024 election.