Records show how Orange County police and judge wrongfully jailed 14-year-old for nearly two years
Authorities in Santa Ana, California ignored statements from two informants and kept a 14-year-old boy in jail for nearly two years for a 2009 shooting he did not commit, OC Weekly reported.
Prosecutor Steven Schriver dismissed charges against Luis Francisco Vega in February 2012, after he had been imprisoned for more than 640 days for trying to kill Brian Marin, Carlos Vega and Manuel Ventura three years earlier in Santa Ana.
The details of the case surfaced during evidentiary hearings recently conducted by Judge Thomas M. Goethals, showing how the case against Vega was allowed to proceed by a former reserve police officer despite no documented connection between Luis Vega and a local street gang, Delhi, connected to the incident.
Schriver told Assistant Public Defender Scott Sanders during the hearings that he lost the case file and could not remember the details of the informants’ statement, and also argued that it was more important to keep the informants’ identities a secret than to reveal evidence that could clear defendants like Vega. Sanders called such practices “deceptive and dishonorable.”
Police said at the time of the shooting that an unidentified man attacked the three victims after identifying himself as a Delhi member. Detective Andy Alvarez arrested Vega after two of the victims said they saw him in the same vehicle as the gunman.
However, the victims’ statements conflicted, with one saying Vega was sitting in the front while another said he was in the back. The victims also could not agree on the type of vehicle the gunman was in, and reportedly had a “hostile” relationship with Vega before the incident.
Vega was taken to jail and held on a $1 million bond. Superior Court Judge W. Michael Hayes, a former reserve officer in Anaheim, allowed the case against Vega to proceed despite the lack of a clear connection between the suspect and Delhi.
Alvarez argued to Hayes during a preliminary hearing that Vega was affiliated with the Delhi gang because of his behavior in school, calling it “unruly” and “common [among] people pursuing the gang lifestyle.” Alvarez also said that Vega knew more about the gang than he was letting on, since both he and his father knew about the gang’s rivalry with another gang, the Alley Boys while living in Santa Ana.
“That was quite a bit of information for him to know about these two gangs,” Alvarez reportedly said. Hayes overruled objections from Vega’s attorney that Alvarez was engaging in speculation, and allowed the case to continue.
According to OC Weekly, prosecutors concealed a statement from one jail informant, Jose Calderón, saying Vega was not involved in the shooting. Calderón identified another person, 17-year-old Alvaro Sanchez, as being present for the incident. Sanchez, who reportedly went by the nickname “Pave,” was prosecuted as a co-defendant in the case alongside Vega, and sentenced to 16 years in prison.
But Vega was not cleared until 11 months after police got a statement from a second informant, Oscar Moriel, in January 2010. Moriel told authorities that Sanchez said to him that Vega “wasn’t even there” for the shooting, while complaining that Vega “isn’t down for the neighborhood.”
“Pave tells me that it’s kind of f*cked up because [Vega] gets popped for this case while the three other people who were actually there [are] still out there,” Moriel, a member of the Mexican Mafia gang, said to authorities.
OC Weekly reported that Vega’s attorney was raising questions about the handling of evidence in the case when Schriver dropped the charges against him. He did not receive an apology for his imprisonment.