L.A. County public defender stays jailed in Venezuela after practically 9 months

When Eyvin Hernandez stopped calling whereas vacationing in Colombia in late March, his youthful brother thought the worst had occurred.

Hernandez, a Los Angeles County deputy public defender, lastly left a voice message on April 4, saying he was detained in Venezuela however ought to be free in 45 days.

“They don’t have anything on me,” he mentioned. “I’m not a spy. I’m not a terrorist.”

Practically 9 months later, Hernandez and his brother, Henry Martinez, are nonetheless separated.

Hernandez, 44, is being held at a maximum-security navy jail in Venezuela and has been charged with prison affiliation and conspiracy, which can lead to as much as 16 years in jail.

U.S. State Division officers have decided that Hernandez is being wrongfully detained — a classification that triggers enhanced authorities consideration.

On Dec. 21, Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, Rep. Nanette Diaz Barragán (D-San Pedro) and different congressional representatives despatched a letter to President Biden, asking his administration to work to safe Hernandez’s freedom.

“Expeditious action is needed,” the letter acknowledged. “The judicial system in Venezuela is highly compromised, and any trial against Mr. Hernandez is unlikely to produce a fair result.”

A couple of days earlier than Hernandez was because of return to L.A., a good friend requested him to accompany her to the Colombia-Venezuela border, close to the Colombian city of Cúcuta, Martinez mentioned.

Hernandez’s household mentioned he had had no intention of getting into Venezuela.

On the border, Hernandez and his good friend have been intercepted by what studies have variously described as a paramilitary group, a gang or official Venezuelan forces. Hernandez and his good friend have been turned over to Venezuelan safety forces and jailed. The good friend can also be nonetheless detained in Venezuela.

A photograph of Eyvin Hernandez on his mom’s telephone. Hernandez, a Los Angeles County public defender, has been jailed in Venezuela for practically 9 months.

(Jae C. Hong / Related Press)

The Venezuelan authorities didn’t reply to requests for remark.

There was an alarming improve in wrongful detentions of U.S. residents in Venezuela and elsewhere across the globe lately, in keeping with the James W. Foley Legacy Basis, which tracks such instances and helps detainees’ households.

Earlier this month, basketball star Brittney Griner was launched in a prisoner swap after practically 10 months of detention in Russia on fees that she was carrying a small quantity of hashish oil.

In October, Venezuela freed seven American prisoners in trade for the discharge of two nephews of President Nicolás Maduro’s spouse, who have been serving time in U.S. prisons for drug smuggling.

Hernandez’s household and supporters query why he was not included within the trade.

“When a U.S. citizen is detained overseas, the Department works to provide all appropriate assistance,” U.S. State Division officers mentioned in a press release to The Occasions.

Lately, armed battle has dramatically elevated alongside the Colombia-Venezuela border. The U.S. State Division classifies the area as a high-risk space the place U.S. residents are threatened with detention beneath Maduro’s authoritarian authorities.

Martinez mentioned he thinks the U.S. authorities has let his brother down, permitting him to languish in what he describes as a “dungeon.”

In telephone calls to his household, Hernandez mentioned he was in solitary confinement at one level. His cell has no home windows, and he’s allowed to stroll solely in circles for half-hour in an out of doors space the scale of two autos. He’s sleep-deprived as a result of the lights in his cell are stored on on a regular basis, and he subsists totally on a weight loss plan of stale tortillas, he advised them.

“This place is meant to break you psychologically and spiritually,” Hernandez mentioned in a secretly recorded jailhouse message in August. “If you don’t get us out soon, then there might not be anyone left to save.”

Ana Sandoval, mother of Eyvin Hernandez checks her phone while talking with Hernandez's step-father, Pedro Martinez,

Eyvin Hernandez’s mom, Ana Sandoval, and his stepfather, Pedro Martinez, in Compton in August.

(Jae C. Hong / Related Press)

Hernandez was born in El Salvador in 1978, and his household fled with him to Los Angeles when he was 3, simply earlier than the nation’s civil conflict. He grew up in South L.A. and attended UCLA, incomes a level in physics and math, then graduating from the regulation faculty in 2005.

Hernandez then joined the L.A. County public defender’s workplace. His most up-to-date project was dealing with felony instances in downtown L.A., and he has skilled and mentored many public defenders, in keeping with his household.

When Hernandez appears particularly down throughout their telephone calls, Martinez tries to reassure him.

“‘It’s not going to be forever, man,’” Martinez says he tells him. “‘Stay strong. You’re going to be home soon.’”

Particular correspondent Mery Mogollon contributed to this report.