I would love to get advice from you. I want to give you my condolences. I spoke with your attorney. I am going to seek legal advice from him. Would it be to emotional for you to call me? God bless you.
By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
It was his second arrest, and it made Vega, not yet 16 years old, a target in the eyes of the Rampart CRASH unit. By September, according Prudhomme and Vega's sister Alma, his sunny disposition had turned fretful and nervous. He took to draping blankets over his bedroom windows, "like he didn't even feel safe in his own home," his mother said.
Alma Vega, in her sworn statement, said that in September, her brother confided the source of his anxiety. "He said, like several other members of the 18th Street gang, he was being threatened, intimidated and beaten by officers with the LAPD gang squad." She said her brother identified several of the officers by name, including Montoya, Rios and Ethan Cohan.
Cohan, in particular, "was the main one being mean to him," Alma Vega said. "He said they would see him walking in the neighborhood and stop him, then search him and take him into an alley and just beat him up," she said of her brother. Blanca Prudhomme added that she learned from Vega's girlfriend that Cohan had threatened Vega's life.
Vega had reason to take such a threat seriously. That October, CRASH Officers Perez and Nino Durden shot and paralyzed Javier Ovando, a member of the 18th Street gang, in the same abandoned building where Vega had been found sleeping. Ovando was charged with assault on an officer, but his friends that night knew Ovando was unarmed, and his shooting sent a jolt of fear through the gang members claiming turf in the Pico-Union district.
THE NIGHT OF OCTOBER 2, VEGA ARRIVED HOME WITH HIS shirt torn and "looking like he had been in a fight," Alma said. He told her he had been picked up by Cohan and Rios, and they had driven him into the territory of a rival gang and dropped him off. As Alma recalled it, Vega said, "Officer Cohan then got on the car P.A. system and announced they were dropping off an 18th Streeter." Rival gangsters promptly closed in on him, but he escaped the gauntlet with just a few scratches.
Cohan and Rios were asked by detectives a month after Vega's death to answer the charge they had dropped Vega in enemy territory. The officers acknowledged they stopped Vega because he resembled a suspect in a shooting, but after deciding he was not involved, the officers drove him home. They left him off "a few blocks away" because he feared local gang members would identify him as a snitch.
In the sworn statement she gave attorney Yates, Alma Vega offers a different version. "He told me the police officers wanted him to sell drugs for them . . . and the stronger he said no to them, the more angry they would get with him." Vega's friend Sam Alfaro makes the same allegation. "On several occasions, Erik personally told me that certain LAPD officers in Rampart had aggressively pressured him to sell drugs for them," Alfaro said in a sworn declaration.
It's not the first suggestion that Rampart officers pressed gang members to engage in drug sales. Rafael Perez, in his confessions, admitted forcing some informants to sell drugs for him, the better to obtain information about street trafficking. And in October 2001, an 18th Street gang member named Danny Tapia testified before an LAPD discipline hearing that he himself had sold cocaine for Cohan. Tapia said Cohan assaulted him and sent him to prison when he failed to pay for the drugs. The case against Tapia was overturned and he was released from prison, but his allegation about drug sales was never investigated.
Cohan was fired from the department in 1998 for failing to report a beating administered by another officer inside the Rampart station. This past February, he pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the beating of still another gang member.
Blanca Prudhomme reported two contacts of her own with police in the weeks before Vega's murder. The first was with a pair of detectives looking for Vega who wanted to take his statement regarding a shooting he had witnessed. Vega reluctantly consented and was taken to the Rampart station.
The second contact was a visit by Cohan and Officer Lucy Diaz. Erik wasn't home, but Prudhomme said Cohan "pushed past me at the door and walked in," then demanded to search Vega's belongings. Cohan "didn't find whatever it was," Prudhomme said, but as the officers left, Diaz "told me I should watch out for my son because he was going to get himself killed."
ERIK VEGA SPENT MUCH OF THE LAST HOUR OF HIS LIFE with the CRASH unit.
On the afternoon of November 5, Vega was again hanging out with Sam Alfaro and other friends from the 18th Street gang on South Lake Street. They were in a three-story house with a large stone porch across the street from where Vega had been arrested and Javier Ovando was shot.
Around 3:30 p.m., Montoya and Rios said they witnessed Eva Garcia soliciting narcotics sales outside the house. They radioed for backup, and the rest of the CRASH unit assembled, including Diaz, Cohan and four other officers, each later named by Perez as "in the loop" of corrupt Rampart officers. Together they moved on the house.