A man who was serving a 39-year sentence for assaulting a Long Beach police officer will be released from prison in light of the officer’s own criminal charges for allegedly lying on a police report in an unrelated case.
Miguel Vargas, 34, was convicted in 2011 of assault on a peace officer, based on the testimony of Officer Dedier Reyes, following an incident in Central Long Beach in which Vargas ran from Reyes and his partner and was then shot in the back multiple times by both officers.
Vargas recovered from his injuries and had been in prison for more than a decade when Reyes and another Long Beach officer, David Salcedo, were both charged in December with felonies for allegedly lying about the manner in which they recovered a gun in a 2018 arrest.
Prompted by Reyes’ criminal charges, Vargas’ lawyer, Matt Kaestner, filed a petition for Vargas to be released from prison, noting that the conviction was based almost entirely on the jury’s belief that Reyes provided honest testimony.
In a rare move, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office agreed to vacate Vargas’ assault conviction and resentence him due in part to the officer’s criminal charges.
“In this case there was a single witness to the assault that was alleged to have occurred and that witness has now been charged in a criminal complaint with felony perjury and falsification of a police report,” Los Angeles County Deputy District Attorney Lara Bazan wrote in a court brief.
“Additionally, a review of the record in this case has given the LADA concern that there may have been procedural errors at trial, the cumulative impact of which has resulted in LADA’s inability to maintain confidence in the overall integrity of the assault conviction.”
The LADA also noted that Vargas does not have a history of violent offenses and has been “positive and productive” in prison, working to obtain his autobody certification.
On Thursday, Vargas was resentenced to time served and ordered to be released from custody. He was ordered to participate in a post-prison support program called Amity Foundation and will serve a year of post-release community supervision.
Standing outside the courtroom on Thursday, his father and brother both shared their relief.
Vargas’ brother, Oscar Vargas, said their large family, who are all from Central Long Beach, were devastated when Miguel was sentenced to four decades in prison.
“We were just in shock; we couldn’t believe it,” he said. “He didn’t do anything, he just ran. Murderers get less time.”
Oscar Vargas said the family is looking forward to catching up with Miguel, who was just 22 when he went to prison.
“He’s missed out on a lot,” he said.
The Miguel Vargas case is the latest fallout from the criminal charges against Reyes and Salcedo, who are both due in court on Sept. 9 for a preliminary hearing.
The incident, in which they allegedly lied on a police report, led to the wrong person being arrested and briefly jailed, according to the LADA, which is handling the case.
The fallout also impacted a civil case in which the city of Long Beach in March agreed to pay $499,800 to settle a police brutality lawsuit involving Reyes in an unrelated incident in which he allegedly injured Christopher Williams, a bus driver from Lomita, while detaining Williams in an incident outside a Pine Avenue bar in March 2018.
Williams sued the city in 2019. In December, a judge issued a sanction against the city for failing to disclose to Williams’ lawyer that Reyes was the subject of an internal affairs probe and criminal investigation.
Williams’ lawyer said she only learned of the investigations after the criminal charges were filed against Reyes in December, despite years of requests for his personnel records.
Reyes, a 16-year veteran, has since been fired from his job with the Long Beach Police Department. He has been the subject of dozens of complaints over the years.
Kaestner said Reyes had 16 complaints on his record at the time of the incident with Miguel Vargas in 2010, though he had only been on the force for a handful of years. He had racked up nearly 50 complaints by 2019, according to court documents.
Oscar Vargas said Reyes had a reputation in his Central Long Beach patrol area as antagonistic and overly aggressive.
“He was known in the neighborhood,” he said.
In the case of Miguel Vargas, Reyes was on patrol with his partner in the area of 10th Street and Cerritos Avenue on the night of Oct. 16, 2010, when they encountered Miguel Vargas.
Miguel Vargas fled from the officers into a nearby alley, where he threw a gun he was holding, Kaestner said. Reyes, however, testified that Miguel Vargas still had the gun in his hand and that he feared for his life when he fired two shots, hitting Miguel Vargas in the back. As Miguel Vargas hit the ground, Reyes’ partner also fired two shots, hitting him in the back.
The gun was found in a nearby yard, 25 feet from where Miguel Vargas was running, Kaestner said.
Miguel Vargas, who at the time had a record of non-violent felony convictions for mostly drugs and theft, was convicted on one felony count each of assault on a peace officer with a semiautomatic firearm and possession of a firearm by a felon. His sentence was pushed to 39 years due to a 20-year gun enhancement.
Kaestner said Miguel Vargas, when he is released, is looking forward to working as a mechanic and getting his graduate equivalency degree.
“He wants to turn his life around,” he said.
The criminal charges against Reyes and Salcedo could also compromise a trove of misdemeanor cases, as Long Beach City Prosecutor Doug Haubert is reviewing hundreds of cases connected to Reyes or Salcedo. Haubert on Thursday said his office has so far dismissed eight cases that were set for trial because the officers will not be available to testify.
“We continue to review each case carefully and are taking the time necessary to ensure we notify every defendant in every pending case,” Haubert said in a statement.
Kaestner said he hopes that more people who have been arrested or have had a negative encounter with Reyes will come forward.
“There has to be more people like Miguel out there, unfortunately,” Kaestner said. “With this happening for Miguel, it might give hope to others that justice can come, even if it’s a little bit late.”
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