Conflicting accounts emerge of deputies' Christmas brawl
But, according to a memo released by prosecutors, one of the alleged victims may have sparked the altercation with his own gang-style lingo, followed by a second victim throwing the first blow.
According to one of the suspected aggressors, alleged victim Deputy Christian Vasquez, who later admitted to drinking at least 10 beers, escalated the exchange outside a Montebello banquet hall last December.
“I run visiting. I’m the shot caller,” Vasquez allegedly said to another deputy, using slang that describes high-ranking gang members.
After the exchange heated up, the other alleged victim, Deputy Elizario Perez, was spun around by another jailer as he tried to pull Vasquez away from the group. Perez admitted to punching that deputy in the nose, an action prosecutors concluded could be viewed as “the first blow.”
The case against the eight deputies suspected of assault broke down in part because Perez’s admission would have allowed a “defense of self-defense.” Other inconsistencies from the three apparent victims about who hit them and when would have made them unreliable, weakening the prosecution's case, according to the memo.
None of the eight suspects, six of whom the department has moved to fire, will be charged. Still, the district attorney’s review paints a picture of alcohol-fueled bad behavior among jailhouse deputies at what was supposed to be a holiday celebration.
The investigation into the incident involved more than 150 interviews, authorities said. Prosecutors seemed to have a difficult time determining who was at fault. A key moment in the altercation occurred when Deputy Hernan Delgado grabbed Perez and warned him “Don’t touch my … partner.” That's when Perez punched Delgado in the nose, according to the D.A.'s memo.
The deputies' then-captain at Men’s Central Jail told investigators he saw Perez grasping Delgado’s necktie, which the captain suggested could have been an attempt to strangle his fellow deputy, according to the memo.
At some point as Perez was coming to his aid, Vasquez described going unconscious. “He awoke to find that he was being punched and kicked in the head,” according to the memo.
A third deputy, Sussie Ayala, who acknowledged drinking three whiskey cocktails and a shot of tequila, said she approached the group, and asked why they would “jump” a fellow deputy. She said Deputy Alfonso Andrade cursed at her and told her "get … out of here,” before punching her in the chin.
Ayala was described by a witness as “hysterical and screaming” after the incident. Ayala was apparently inconsistent about who she believed struck her, and reported the alleged assault 10 days after the incident. Prosecutors said those “revelations cast doubt on the reliability of her statements,” according to the memo.
When Montebello police arrived on scene, they were told by several sheriff's department employees, including Vasquez himself, that the situation was “under control.” The Montebello officers left the area without questioning anyone in depth, according to the memo, setting up an internal sheriff’s criminal investigation into the incident.
The fight has drawn widespread attention after those involved were described as being part of an aggressive deputies' clique at Men's Central Jail known to throw ganglike hand signs. Officials say the incident has already prompted reforms, including regular personnel rotations inside the jails to prevent cliques from forming.
Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said an internal probe into the incident has expanded, with investigators “looking at other things that are connected.”
According to the district attorney’s memo, prosecutors “will take no further action” against Deputies Delgado, Andrade, Joseph Gonzales, Christopher Hernandez, Juan Navarro, Jeffrey Rivera, Mauricio Rodriguez and Jason Snyder. A lawsuit filed by Vasquez and Perez against the department has yet to be resolved.
According to Whitmore, Hernandez and Rodriguez are still active in custody, but not at Men's Central Jail. The other six deputies are facing termination proceedings, he said.
-- Robert Faturechi
Photo: L.A. Sheriff Department car. Credit: L.A. Times