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L.A. County sheriff's deputy is charged with perjury

April 24, 2009|Jack Leonard and Richard Winton

A nine-year veteran Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy who gave conflicting testimony in a drug possession case that was dismissed two years ago has been charged with lying on the witness stand, authorities said Thursday.

The charges followed a complaint by the public defender's office in which a defense attorney accused David Anthony Hernandez of falsely testifying about events that led to a July 2007 arrest. After hearing the deputy testify at a preliminary hearing in the case, a Superior Court judge dismissed the drug possession charge, saying that sheriff's records contradicted Hernandez's testimony.

Sheriff's officials said Hernandez, 31, was relieved of duty Wednesday, a day after prosecutors charged him with perjury and filing a false police report. Sheriff Lee Baca said the deputy had manufactured events during his testimony to justify his decision to stop the suspect before arresting him.

"There is no such thing as shortcuts in police work," Baca said. "Law enforcement is about arrests by legal means, and that didn't happen here."

Hernandez could not be reached for comment.

Court records show that the allegations revolve around testimony the deputy gave about why he detained Frisco Cervantez, 24, who was sitting in a Toyota Camry with friends in a 7-Eleven parking lot in an unincorporated area of Whittier.

The deputy testified that he was conducting routine checks on nearby parked vehicles when he typed the Camry's license plate into his patrol car's computer. He said he discovered there were several arrest warrants outstanding for people connected to the address where the car was registered.

Based on the information, Hernandez said, he approached Cervantez and detained him. Hernandez said he retrieved Cervantez's wallet and found a small bag of cocaine behind his driver's license. But Hernandez backed away from his testimony after defense attorney Lynn Storing confronted him with Sheriff's Department records from his computer checks that evening.

The records showed that the deputy discovered the warrants at the address 20 minutes after he had checked Cervantez's driver's license for possible arrest warrants -- and found none -- and 14 minutes after he notified the department that he had taken someone into custody. Hernandez said he may have made a mistake in his testimony.

Superior Court Judge Mark G. Nelson noted the deputy's admission and concluded that his testimony was at odds with Sheriff's Department records. "There's just no possible way to reconcile them," Nelson said, dismissing the drug possession charge against Cervantez.

Storing, who retired from the public defender's office last year, said Thursday that the district attorney's office rarely charges peace officers with perjury involving their testimony in criminal cases. He said he was gratified that prosecutors followed up on his complaint.

"It's very egregious," said Storing, a former L.A. County sheriff's deputy before he became a defense attorney. "He was making up a false reason for stopping a car that contains Hispanic juveniles. . . . I don't think it's an isolated example."

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jack.leonard@latimes.com

richard.winton@latimes.com

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