With Los Angeles County leaders upset with the Sheriff’s Department over its handling of its deputy’s fatal shooting of Andres Guardado earlier this year, the county coroner’s office has set the date for a public inquest into the circumstances and manner of the 18-year-old’s death.
It will be L.A. County’s first inquest in more than 30 years, a step taken “in the interest of public transparency,” according to a news release from the Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner.
Former state court of appeals Justice Candace Cooper has been appointed to preside over the proceedings, which will begin Nov. 30. The inquest will be public, but held in accordance with COVID-19 protocols, officials said.
Guardado died June 18 after being shot five times in the back, according to the coroner’s autopsy report. The county Board of Supervisors has identified the deputy who shot him as Deputy Manuel Vega.
In a first, the coroner’s office released its autopsy findings in defiance of a “security hold” placed by the Sheriff’s Department. The report stated Guardado’s cause of death was multiple gunshot wounds and his manner of death was homicide.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva swiftly criticized the autopsy release, painting it as a political move that “has the potential to jeopardize the investigation.” But county officials say its release was required under California’s 2018 Right to Know Act, which set parameters for transparency in police shootings.
On Sept. 1, citing concerns surrounding the Sheriff’s Department’s ability to police itself, the Board of Supervisors passed a motion directing the coroner’s office to conduct an inquest.
The motion’s author, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, said the investigation was being conducted “under a deliberate cloud of secrecy” and noted the department’s resistance to oversight.
Ridley-Thomas said among his concerns are that Vega was not interviewed by sheriff’s investigators until a month after Guardado’s killing, after the department had determined there was no video capturing the shooting. He also said the Sheriff’s Department abruptly cut off the Office of Inspector General’s access to deputy discipline records last summer and has since repeatedly blocked monitoring.
Also on Sept. 1, Guardado’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county and Sheriff’s Department, alleging excessive force and that Vega and his partner, Chris Hernandez, may have been working with the alleged Executioners gang at the Compton sheriff’s station.
Coroner’s officials will subpoena witnesses to testify and documents to present at the inquest. After hearing testimony, Justice Cooper will make findings on Guardado’s cause and manner of death, which will be presented with recommendation to the medical examiner-coroner.
“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,” Dr. Jonathan Lucas, L.A. County’s chief medical examiner-coroner, said in a statement.