A former sheriff deputy who arrested a man without reason, fabricated a story for the arrest and crashed a police car causing injuries to the man agreed to plead guilty to federal felony charges Tuesday.
Former Los Angeles County sheriff deputies Miguel Vega and Christopher Hernandez arrested Jesus Alegria, identified as J.A. in court records, without telling him he was arrested, reading his rights, handcuffing him or securing his seatbelt on April 13, 2020 at Wilson Park in Compton, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said.
Vega, 33, also taunted him during the arrest, including a threat to drop him off in gang territory where he would get beaten up. He later crashed the police car with Alegria in the backseat, who hit his head and suffered a cut above his eye that required stitches, officials said.
Hernandez agreed to plea guilty in July, and Vega filed his plea agreement Tuesday to one count of deprivation of rights under color of law, a crime that carries a statutory maximum sentence of 10 years in federal prison, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Vega ‘wanted to teach J.A. a lesson,’ plea agreement says
During a patrol three years ago, the officers approached two young Black men outside a skatepark in Compton and ordered them to lift their shirts to check for guns, which they did not have, the plea agreement said.
At that point, a man inside the skatepark, Alegria, began yelling at the officers to leave the two men alone. Alegria did not threaten the officers or anyone else at the park, court filings said. Vega began to yell back at Alegria and eventually challenged him to a fight.
Soon after, Vega detained Alegria in the police SUV, because he was angry that he had told him and Hernandez to leave the two Black men alone and “wanted to teach J.A. a lesson,” the plea agreement said.
Cop crashes car while chasing cyclist, injuring Alegria
Vega continued to taunt and threaten Alegria during the drive. Alegria repeatedly asked the officers why he was being arrested but received no answer. Instead, Vega began to fabricate a story to justify the arrest, saying that Alegria was arrested for being under the influence of a stimulant, believing that he and Hernandez could book Alegria for the offense without being questioned, given the “subjective nature of the offense,” the plea agreement said.
While he was driving, Vega saw a group of young men on bicycles. He saw what he believed to be a fearful look on one of the person’s faces and formulated the belief that he was carrying a firearm, court filings said. He began to chase the bicyclist in the police SUV, eventually crashing the car into the wall of an alley and parked car, resulting in Alegria’s injuries.
Vega had never seen or heard of Alegria before the encounter at the skatepark, according to the plea agreement.
“The Sheriff’s Department is committed to holding employees accountable for their actions and expects them to exhibit the highest moral and ethical standards when serving our communities,” the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said in a statement.
The department did not answer questions about the former deputies’ official records or whether there have been departmental changes since the incident.
In 2021, Alegria sued the county, sheriff and two deputies regarding the fabricated drug charges and subsequent arrest report, which the county agreed to settle last year for $450,000.
Humberto Guizar, the attorney who represented Alegria in his lawsuit, said the former deputies’ agreements to plead guilty have brought peace and justice.
“This should send a very strong message to other deputies who are engaging in criminal misconduct that they will be held accountable for their actions when they violate the law and mistreat people from the community,” Guizar told USA TODAY.
Officer fatally shot Latino teen two months after wrongful arrest
Two months after Alegria’s wrongful arrest, Vega fatally shot an 18-year-old Latino teen, Andres Guardado, five times in the back, NBC News reported. He was working as a security guard at an auto body shop in Gardena at the time.
Sheriff’s officials have alleged that Guardado displayed a handgun when Vega and Hernandez spotted him talking to someone in a car outside the shop, according to NBC News. Guardado then ran away, and officers chased him into an alley behind a building where he was killed. The family of Guardado filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county, which was settled for $8 million last year.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Ex-deputy to plead guilty to civil rights charges after wrongful arrest