LOS ANGELES - Two former sheriff's deputies who were involved in a fatal shooting in Gardena appeared in federal court Thursday to face charges in a separate case alleging they falsely imprisoned a 23-year-old skateboarder in their patrol car, which crashed during a subsequent chase, injuring the man.
The indictment also alleges the former Los Angeles County sheriff's deputies, Miguel Vega, 32, and Christopher Hernandez, 37, obstructed justice in various ways to conceal and cover up the unlawful detention three years ago.
Both Vega and Hernandez pled not guilty to the charges.
According to court papers, Jesus Alegria 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. After Alegria yelled at the deputies to stop bothering the youths, one or both defendants pulled the skate boarder through an opening in the park fence and placed him in the back of their vehicle, according to the indictment.
The victim remained confined in the back of the vehicle during a subsequent chase, which ended when Vega crashed and Alegria was injured, federal prosecutors allege.
The sheriff's department did not immediate respond to a request for comment.
Vega and Hernandez, both of whom were assigned to LASD's Compton station, are expected to be arraigned Thursday afternoon in Los Angeles federal court.
The five-count indictment, which was unsealed Thursday morning, charges both defendants with conspiracy, deprivation of rights under color of law, witness tampering, and falsification of records. Vega alone is charged with an additional count of falsification of records.
"The indictment alleges that these two deputies violated a young person's constitutional rights by willfully and illegally detaining him without just cause," U.S. Attorney Martin Estrada said in a statement.
"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."
The indictment alleges that Vega and Hernandez locked Alegria in the back of their patrol car without handcuffs and without a seatbelt -- a violation of department policy -- and never told him he was under arrest or advised him of his rights.
According to the indictment, after leaving the park, Vega, who was driving the LASD patrol vehicle with Hernandez in the front seat, allegedly told Alegria that the deputies were going to set him up and drop him in gang territory. Hernandez also said that Alegria would be beaten, prosecutors allege.
Not far from the skate park, while Alegria was still confined in the back of the patrol vehicle, Vega began pursuing a young male on a bicycle down an alley, where Vega crashed into a wall and another vehicle, causing Alegria to sustain a cut above his right eye, according to the indictment.
Following the collision, Vega removed Alegria from the vehicle and told him to "get the (expletive) out of here," or words to that effect, the indictment alleges. Prosecutors say Alegria then went to a nearby home to seek help.
According to the indictment, after the collision, Vega reported over LASD radio that a person purportedly with a gun, whom Vega described as wearing clothes similar to Alegria's attire that day, had fled through the alley near 130th Street and Mona Boulevard.
The indictment alleges that, even though Vega also reported the traffic collision, neither Vega during the radio calls, nor Vega or Hernandez during a subsequent conversation with their supervisor, disclosed that Alegria had been in the patrol vehicle during the collision in the alley.
It was only after Alegria had been stopped on a neighboring street by other deputies as the purported gun suspect that Vega informed his supervising sergeant that Alegria had been in Vega's patrol car during the crash, falsely reporting to his supervisor that the skateboarder had been detained because he was suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance, according to the indictment.
Alegria was taken to a hospital to receive treatment for the injury he sustained from the collision, and the indictment alleges that Hernandez directed a deputy at the hospital to issue Alegria a citation for being under the influence of methamphetamine.
If convicted as charged, both former deputies face decades in prison.
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.