Los Angeles, CA – The coroner’s office announced Tuesday that it would conduct the first independent inquest in nearly 30 years into the officer-involved, fatal shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado in June by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies.
The findings of that inquest will be turned over to the newly-elected Los Angeles district attorney who will determine whether charges will be filed against any of the deputies involved in the incident, the Los Angeles Times reported.
District Attorney-Elect George Gascón repeatedly promised during his campaign to re-open investigations into a number of controversial cases involving law enforcement officers if he won the election.
The shooting of Guardado sparked violent protests in the city and there has been significant public pressure to charge the deputies involved.
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner spokeswoman, Sarah Ardalani, said the inquest into the Guardado’s death will give the coroner the opportunity to present evidence to an independent hearing officer who “will make findings related to the cause and manner of death,” the Los Angeles Times reported.
Ardalani said the inquest was a “public quasi-judicial inquiry where witnesses may be called and documents may be subpoenaed in order to inquire into the cause, manner and circumstances of death.”
This is the second time the medical examiner’s office has made an unusual move related to the Guardado case, the Los Angeles Times reported.
In July, Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Jonathan Lucas released Guardado’s autopsy report to the media over the objections of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
“The Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner is committed to transparency and providing the residents of Los Angeles County an independent assessment of its findings in this case,” Lucas said in a statement. “An inquest ensures that our residents will have an independent review of all the evidence and findings of our office and of the cause and manner of death of Mr. Guardado.”
The officer-involved shooting occurred at about 6 p.m. on June 18 near the 400-block of Redondo Beach Boulevard, KCAL reported.
Deputies patrolling the area said that the 18-year-old Guardado flashed a gun at them and then took off between two businesses, KCAL reported.
The deputies pursued Guardado on foot and caught up with him behind one of the businesses, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said at a press briefing after the incident.
One of the deputies – later identified as Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Miguel Vega – fired six shots at Guardado during the encounter.
Adam Marangell, an attorney representing Deputy Vega, said that Guardado stopped and obeyed deputies’ commands to surrender, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Marangell said Guardado also followed commands to place his weapon on the ground.
But when Deputy Vega tried to put handcuffs on the 18 year old, Guardado tried to grab his weapon and the deputy shot him, the attorney told the Los Angeles Times.
Police said an unregistered handgun with a large-capacity extended magazine was found at the scene near his body, KCAL reported.
Despite rampant social media rumors to the contrary, Guardado was not legally-armed and working as a security guard when he was shot.
The sheriff’s department said Guardado was not old enough to be legally licensed as an armed security guard in the state of California, where the required age for such a license is 21, KCAL reported.
Furthermore, he was not wearing a security uniform and he was not equipped with the tools of a security officer, according to the sheriff’s department.
The sheriff’s department told reporters that Guardado was not carrying anything to indicate he was working security when he fled police, including extra magazines for his weapon, handcuffs, or even a holster for his illegal weapon, KCAL reported.
Sheriff Villanueva has faced harsh criticism for the handling of the Guardado investigation and the fact that the deputies were not wearing bodycams because the department doesn’t have them yet.
Los Angeles County Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas faced off with him when he released Guardado’s autopsy results to the public before he had Sheriff Villanueva’s approval, KCAL reported.
“The unprecedented release of the Andres Guardado autopsy report today by the Medical Examiner-Coroner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, has the potential to jeopardize the investigation, the filing of the case, and any possible future criminal or administrative proceedings,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement after the autopsy was released. “This move will now force the Sheriff’s Department to use court orders to enforce security holds that exist for only one purpose – to prevent tainting witness testimony prior to interviews.”
The autopsy report said Guardado was shot in the back five times, KCAL reported.
“Dr. Lucas has acknowledged succumbing to pressure from the Board of Supervisors and the Office of Inspector General, and has now made the astonishing admission that he sacrificed the integrity of the investigation in a bid to satisfy public curiosity,” the sheriff’s department’s statement read.
But Sheriff Villanueva’s office told the Los Angeles Times on Nov. 10 that he was supportive of conducting an inquest.
The sheriff “is committed to transparency. As such, he previously recommended and invites the process of a medical examiner’s inquest,” the sheriff’s department said in a statement. “This process can be beneficial in bringing to light facts to the public. Medical examiner inquests are conducted to determine manner and cause of death.”