The Board of Supervisors this week unanimously approved a motion asking the White House and the county congressional delegation to investigate and secure the release of local public defender Eyvin Hernandez from a maximum security prison in Venezuela.
Hernandez has been a county deputy public defender for 15 years. While on vacation in Colombia in late March, Hernandez joined a friend on a trip to the Colombian-Venezuelan border to resolve a passport issue involving the friend’s stay in Venezuela.
At the border, Hernandez and his friend were intercepted by what has been described in various reports as either a paramilitary group, a gang or official Venezuelan forces. Hernandez and his friend were eventually turned over to Venezuelan security forces, and jailed in a maximum security prison in Caracas.
Hernandez is accused of criminal association and conspiracy, which are punishable with up to 16 years in jail in Venezuela.
Several L.A. County public defenders spoke during Tuesday’s board meeting about Hernandez and expressed their support of the motion, and their fears about his well-being while being held in Venezuela. County Public Defender Ricardo Garcia told the board that Hernandez was in intermittent and unpredictable contact with his family, who are fearful about his condition.
Prior to the vote, Supervisor Janice Hahn said she wanted Hernandez and his family to know that Hernandez’s “county family” had not forgotten about him.
Late last week, Venezuela freed seven American prisoners in exchange for the release of two nephews of President Nicholas Maduro’s wife. Those nephews were imprisoned in the United States on drug smuggling convictions.
Hernandez’s family issued a statement Monday saying they were “devastated’ that Hernandez was not included in the prisoner swap, but they expressed hope that the government is working to get Americans out of Venezuelan custody.
“One of those Americans, Mr. Osman Khan, was Eyvin s best friend while in custody,” according to the family. “Eyvin wants Osman to know he is happy that Mr. Khan is finally free. While we applaud President Biden on obtaining the release of the seven Americans in Venezuela, we ask him now, what is his plan to obtain Eyvin’s release?
“We look forward to working collaboratively with President Biden and his administration to obtain designation by the State Department that Eyvin has been unlawfully detained by Venezuela, to support the president’s efforts for humanitarian prisoner exchanges and whatever else it takes to obtain Eyvin’s release. We want our Eyvin–our son, brother and friend–home immediately.
Whole. Strong. Unbroken.”
The statement describes Hernandez’s imprisonment for the last six months as grueling, and “dungeon” like, without access to proper medical care.