Los Angeles Times

Man is released from prison after officer is charged

Miguel Vargas, 34, was shot and arrested by Long Beach police during a chase in 2010.

- By James Queally

A man sentenced to 39 years in prison for assaulting a Long Beach police officer during a 2010 chase was ordered released Thursday, part of the growing fallout after the officer’s arrest on perjury charges, officials said.

Miguel Vargas, 34, was arrested in 2010 after he was shot twice in the back by Officer Dedier Reyes, who alleged Vargas was reaching for a gun, court records show. The gun was never fired and Reyes did not allege Vargas pointed a gun at him, but Vargas was still convicted of assaulting a police officer and gun possession.

When coupled with sentencing enhancemen­ts filed because Vargas had a prior felony conviction and used a gun in the commission of a crime, the conviction­s led a judge to sentence Vargas to nearly four decades in prison.

But his conviction came into question late last year, after prosecutor­s charged Reyes and another Long Beach police officer, David Salcedo, in connection with a 2018 arrest. In that case, Reyes and Salcedo were “accused of lying about the circumstan­ces surroundin­g the recovery of a handgun, which caused the wrong person to be arrested and briefly held in custody,” ac

cording to the district attorney’s office. Reyes was charged with perjury, falsifying a record and filing a false report. Salcedo was charged with falsifying a public record and filing a false report. Reyes and Salcedo have pleaded not guilty to the charges they face, records show.

“I’m elated. I’m incredibly joyous,” said Vargas’ attorney, Matthew Kaestner. “This cop who probably shouldn’t have been on the force shot Miguel in the back two times, then his partner shot Miguel in the back two more times, and then they falsely claimed he was trying to assault them. He’s finally gotten some vindicatio­n.”

The motion filed by the district attorney’s office asked a judge to resentence Vargas, who has spent 12 years in prison, to time served on the gun possession charge and vacate the assault charge because of Reyes’ recent legal troubles. Prosecutor­s also cited Vargas’ “positive and productive” conduct in prison and the fact that he was the only person hurt in the exchange with Reyes as reasons to resentence him.

Kaestner said Vargas was leaving a party that police had responded to when he was chased by Reyes and Salcedo. He fled because he had a gun, which he was barred from possessing due to a prior felony conviction, but Kaestner said his client threw the weapon away before Reyes opened fire. Reyes had alleged Vargas was turning toward him and reaching for a firearm, but Kaestner said the handgun was found “twenty-five feet away” from where Vargas fell after being shot.

“They couldn’t explain

‘This cop who probably shouldn’t have been on the force shot Miguel in the back two times, then his partner shot Miguel in the back two more times, and then they falsely claimed he was trying to assault them.’

— Matthew Kaestner, Miguel Vargas’ attorney

that,” Kaestner said.

The Long Beach Police Department did not immediatel­y respond to a request for comment.

Tiffiny Blacknell, a special advisor to Los Angeles County Dist. Atty. George Gascón who is acting as the office’s chief spokeswoma­n, said prosecutor­s are reviewing other cases where Reyes was listed as a potential witness to see if those defendants’ sentences might be affected as well.

“Supervisor­s were further instructed to disclose the informatio­n to defense counsel and personally review the case files to evaluate the integrity of all prior conviction­s and pending cases involving the officer,” Blacknell said.

Reyes’ arrest marks the latest instance of alleged officer misconduct forcing L.A. County prosecutor­s to review cases possibly affected by an unreliable or biased officer. The office has also dismissed nearly 60 criminal cases involving Torrance police officers implicated in a racist text messaging scandal.

Vargas will be released into a reentry program run by the Amity Foundation in Los Angeles, which works with victims of violence and formerly incarcerat­ed persons to help them find work and cope with traumas, Kaestner said.

“I’ve got a lot of hope for him,” Kaestner said. “I think he’s ready to resume his life and I’m glad they’re going to do everything they can to help him reenter society.”

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