Teacher who was choked by deputy had domestic violence history - CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8

Teacher who was choked by deputy had domestic violence history

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By David Gotfredson

EL CAJON, Calif. (CBS 8) -- A South Park elementary school teacher who died after a struggle with an off-duty deputy had a history of domestic violence complaints.

News 8 has learned Gabriel Vanegas, 33, had two restraining orders filed against him in past years that alleged he beat up former girlfriends.

In 2005, an ex-girlfriend filed a declaration in family court asking for a restraining order against Vanegas and alleging he, "slapped me in the face then got a knife and began threatening that he was going to cut himself and kill himself."

In describing another alleged attack, the same ex-girlfriend wrote, "He's bit my finger to the point where he left (a) mark and I began to bleed. I ended up on the ground and he kicked me."

Another former girlfriend filed a similar declaration for a 1999 restraining order saying, "Gabriel punched me in the face and I fell into the wall. I fell down and he started kicking me in the legs."

"He said he was going to follow me wherever I went and if he saw me with another guy, something else was going to happen to me. I'm scared of him," the 21-year-old wrote.

Court records show restraining orders were issued in both the 1999 and 2005 cases, resulting in protective, stay-away orders being issued against Vanegas. No criminal charges were filed.

The first-grade teacher worked at the McGill School of Success in South Park at the time of his death earlier this month. Since then, faculty, students, family members and friends have participated in a series of vigils and rallies calling for justice.

On Feb. 6, Vanegas allegedly got into a scuffle with his ex-girlfriend – the mother of his 2-year-old son – at the Rancho Valley Village trailer park off the I-8 Business loop in El Cajon.

"By her account he was trying to push her into the truck and she started to yell," said sheriff's homicide Lt. Dennis Brugos in an interview days after the incident.

The woman's current boyfriend, off-duty corrections deputy Luis Escobar Jr., intervened in the fight and put Vanegas in a choke hold, Brugos said.

"They actually fell backwards with the deputy falling first and Vanegas on top of him," said Brugos.

A death certificate obtained by News 8 said Vanegas died a few hours later in the hospital from "asphyxia" and having his "neck compressed by another person(s)."

"He had him in a choke hold," said Vanegas' brother Richard Lopez.

"When you come at somebody from behind, how can you be defending yourself?" asked Lopez.

"The deputy is trained in self-defense, I understand that. So he has to know how far he can go. Did he have to asphyxiate him? He literally killed him," Lopez said.

Lopez told News 8 the family was unaware of Vanegas' past restraining orders.

"That's not the kind of person he was," said Lopez. "I mean we all have tempers but that was not in his nature. He was always cool headed and kept his cool."

Lopez and his family have called for criminal charges to be filed against Deputy Escobar in the death of Vanegas.

The sheriff's investigation into Vanegas' homicide is ongoing and will be turned over to the office of the San Diego County District Attorney for a final decision on whether criminal charges will be filed.

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