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
Inside, the officers found Garcia in possession of cocaine, and arrested her. While they were there, both Montoya and Rios say Vega approached them to volunteer information about the 18th Street gang.ä According to Rios, Vega "asked to be handcuffed and taken from the location." The officers obliged, leaving the scene "shortly after" 4:21 p.m.
After driving away, however, the officers found Vega had little useful information to share. They then asked where he wanted to be left off, and he chose a known 18th Street stronghold. Minutes later, at 4:39 p.m., a police dispatcher announced that an ambulance was en route to a shooting two blocks from Vega's location. Montoya and Rios were the first to arrive and found Vega lying on the sidewalk dying from three gunshot wounds.
As the first one on the scene, Montoya gave a statement to Detective John Curiel, who handled the Vega homicide. But Curiel said Montoya never mentioned driving Vega from Lake Street. Nor did Montoya — or any other officer — mention Vega in reporting the Eva Garcia arrest.
Curiel did take statements from two witnesses to the shooting. They said they saw Vega and another "male Hispanic" struggling over a gun on Pico Boulevard. The gun went off and Vega ran; the suspect assumed a two-handed stance and fired two more rounds.
The radio log from that afternoon sheds some light on the fast-paced events. It shows that Montoya and Rios called for a meeting with two other officers, Kulin Patel and Lucy Diaz, at 11th and Union, three blocks from where Vega was dropped off, at 4:29 p.m.
That radio call slices in half the time allotted by Montoya and Rios for driving and dropping off Vega. It also adds two other officers in close proximity to Vega during his last minutes of life. Yet by the time they were interviewed by police, in July 2001, none of the four officers could recall the meeting at 11th and Union, or whether they saw Erik Vega there.
Ira Salzman, an attorney who represented Officer Montoya in several departmental hearings, said Montoya and Rios committed no misconduct by driving Vega from the arrest or by releasing him soon after. "The officers treated Vega respectfully and appropriately," Salzman said. Montoya left his name out of his reports, Salzman said, "because Vega was a snitch."
The gang members present for the Lake Street arrest offer a different account. For starters, they said no drug sales were conducted in front of the house, but the CRASH detail arrived in the usual fashion — "jumping fences, guns drawn," said Julio Escamilla, one of the gang members at the scene.
Eva Garcia admitted having a single rock of cocaine, and said she was smoking it inside the house at the time of the raid. It wasn't until she was arraigned, Garcia said, that she learned she was falsely charged for possession of 12 rocks. She said she agreed to plead guilty "since she had been attempting to sell the one rock in her possession."
Moreover, Garcia, Escamilla and Alfaro each deny that Erik Vega volunteered to be handcuffed. Instead, they said he was grabbed by the throat and choked until he spat out several rocks. They say he was arrested along with Garcia, but then separated at the last minute and put in Montoya's squad car.
Escamilla said he found it particularly suspicious that Vega was not booked on a drug charge. "If they catch you with rocks, you go to jail," he said. "It makes them look good." Asked what he thought happened to Erik Vega, Escamilla said, "It's not too hard to do the math."
PROSECUTOR LAESECKE, WHO WROTE THE DISTRICT ATtorney's report on the incident, did some of the calculations. Laesecke asked why, if the official version is true, would Vega walk away from an 18th Street stronghold and into rival territory after he was released? Why did Montoya and Rios call for a meeting with Patel and Diaz? And why were Montoya and Rios first to the scene if they were returning to the Rampart station to book Eva Garcia? The D.A.'s Office did not serve subpoenas on the officers, however, and Laesecke's questions go unanswered.
Laesecke further criticized the officers for failing to report to John Curiel the fact that they drove Vega from Lake Street and left him just blocks from where he was slain. In addition, she wrote, "Montoya and Rios do not adequately explain . . . why their contact with Vega was not documented in any report."
Laesecke does not criticize Detective Curiel. True, Curiel said the two officers never told him about taking Vega from Lake Street in handcuffs. But Blanca Prudhomme was at the Rampart station the very next day, demanding that police explain how her son was killed when he was last seen in their custody. Why, then, didn't Curiel press for answers from the officers involved? In fact, according to Laesecke's report, Curiel never interviewed any of the officers who attended the Lake Street arrest.
In a telephone interview, Laesecke said she did not focus her report on Curiel because he was never accused of a crime, as were Montoya and Rios. "It may have shown very poor investigative technique," Laesecke said. But "I wasn't evaluating Curiel's investigation of the homicide."