In 1991, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) framed me for a murder I did not commit. I was 16 at the time, and I ended up serving two decades in prison.
This all started when a terrible crime took place on a residential street in Lynwood — home of the notorious sheriff's deputy gang called The Vikings. A man by the name of Donald Sarpy came out to tell his son and friends to keep it down when a car suddenly drove by and gunshots flew. The boys took cover, and when the car was gone, they saw Donald on the ground bleeding. He was shot and rushed to the hospital where he later died.
The tragedy didn’t end there. The boys were interviewed and offered conflicting information about the shooter — one stated the car was white, another said it was black. The investigation was going nowhere until LASD Deputy Craig Ditsch pressured one of the boys to select my picture out of a photo lineup. The investigation, which up until that point was looking like a cold case, was now solved. They had an eyewitness positively identifying that I was responsible for Donald's murder.
I was arrested in front of my father, who was just as scared as I was when the sheriffs raided our home. We asked what was happening. The deputies ignored us. My father, an immigrant from Mexico, was made to feel invisible and insignificant. He watched while I was handcuffed and taken away. At the station, I was expecting him to be there when I was interrogated since I was a minor, but they continued without him. Interrogating a minor without a parent or legal guardian is illegal.
Law enforcement finally told me I was being accused of murder and pressured me to admit I had done it, even though I had no clue who did it. They told me if I admitted to the crime, they would let the judge know I cooperated. I told them I knew nothing about the crime and that I didn’t do it. I told the truth, but this proved to be pointless. I was soon taken to Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall and was later tried as an adult. After two jury trials, I was found guilty.
I told my truth. My father told his truth. Somehow, this wasn’t enough as the deputies and witnesses lied. LASD won, and my family and I lost. My family and I believed in the system, and the sheriff's department was abusing its power to get the outcome it wanted. I was sentenced to 30 years to life, with an additional six life sentences. I was sent to prison where I was expected to live out the remainder of my life. I refused to live like this and fought hard to prove my innocence.
After serving 20 years in prison, I did the impossible and proved my innocence. I worked with the Northern California Innocence Project and Morrison & Foerster to fight for my innocence. Finally, on March 16, 2011, I walked out of the L.A. County Men’s Central Jail a free man.
That day was so special for me. I was greeted by my family and friends who I hadn’t seen in decades. Sadly, my father wasn’t alive to be there when I walked out into the sunlight and began my new life.
I was no longer that 16-year-old boy my family and friends remembered. I was now 37, and I didn’t know who I was or what would await me. All I knew was that I wanted to continue fighting for justice and fight against those who abuse their power.
I remember that day, a reporter asked me what message I had for the community so that this tragedy doesn’t happen again, and I said: “For those listening, in order to prevent this from happening again, we have to vote for just laws and fair representatives.”
This election, voting Yes on Measure A gives us the opportunity to create oversight for a sheriff’s department plagued by decades of corruption and scandal. Measure A gives the L.A. County Board of Supervisors the power to remove a sheriff if they commit serious violations against our communities — like breaking the law, stealing county funds, or obstructing investigations into deputy misconduct.
We waited decades while LASD repeatedly said it would solve corruption itself, but the sheriffs have failed us, and we can no longer wait. Sheriffs have spent more time protecting their deputies than addressing the problems they actively cause in our communities or the corruption in their own ranks.
Measure A is the hope and vision I have for the future of our county. We will finally have a mechanism to pressure the sheriff and LASD to do the right thing. Since proving my innocence, I have used my pain for good. I call on my fellow Angelenos to recognize all the pain caused by the hands of those sworn to protect us and use it to give the power of oversight to our communities. Vote YES on Measure A.