Crime & Justice

Abrego's family focuses on civil suit after DA declines to charge LAPD officers in custody death

Omar Abrego was shot and killed by Los Angeles police officers in 2014.
Omar Abrego was shot and killed by Los Angeles police officers in 2014.
Victims of Police (via YouTube)

Los Angeles County prosecutors have declined to file charges against the police sergeants involved in the 2014 arrest and in-custody death of Omar Abrego in South L.A.

A coroner determined last year that the 37-year-old man's death was caused primarily by "acute cocaine intoxication" but at the same time ruled it a homicide.

The coroner found that Abrego had multiple bruises on his face and a serious concussion and that the physical and emotional duress of the arrest likely contributed to his death.

In a report Wednesday, the office of District Attorney Jackie Lacey found that LAPD sergeants Robert Calderon and Jeff Mares used reasonable force in detaining Abrego, and that while the struggle may have contributed to his death, "it was not a sufficiently proximate cause to establish criminal liability."

The D.A.'s office said it couldn't prove "beyond a reasonable doubt" that Abrego's physical or emotional duress during the arrest arose from an excessive use of force.

Abrego's death came a week before the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, whose death in Ferguson, Missouri, set off protests and was itself followed by the police shooting of Ezell Ford in South L.A. just two days later.

Abrego was arrested on Aug. 2 after being pulled over in a white van. While much of the D.A. report has been redacted, it does note that Abrego was "intoxicated and out of control" and that he resisted arrest.

The report cites dash camera video and video from a witness that has been posted to YouTube. In the video, Abrego can be seen pinned to the ground, face down, with an officer's knee to his back, while officers tell him to "calm down," according to the report.

(Warning: The video below includes scenes of graphic violence.)

Video

Unseen in the video is the altercation that preceded Abrego's takedown. But an officer cited in the report said Abrego tried to hit the officers with his head. The report also indicates that Mares suffered a broken hand and Calderon dislocated a knee cap during the struggle, and that several officers were needed to subdue Abrego.

An attorney for the family also said claims that Abrego was "throwing punches" were "nonsense" and that police exaggerated reports of his intoxication.

"The reality is that the D.A.'s office has whitewashed this case, not charging any of the officers, notwithstanding that they had 25 to 30 police officers swarming poor Mr. Abrego," said Steven Lerman, who is also representing the family of Ezell Ford and represented Rodney King during the L.A. Riots.

Abrego is survived by a wife and three children, Lerman told KPCC. The family is now suing the department.

"I'm saddened but not surprised by the D.A.'s office," Lerman said.

Both sides in the lawsuit are now taking depositions and will soon begin designating expert witnesses, Lerman said.

"I can't say at this time, but there's some real surprise coming in the Abrego case, and when the whole — shall we say, the whole deal — is unrolled, the public will see what really happened to Abrego, and it's totally criminal," Lerman said.

You can read the district attorney's redacted report on the incident below: