LOS ANGELES — Four Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials are refusing to testify in the coroner’s inquest into the deputy shooting death of Andres Guardado, invoking their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination even though none of them have been accused of a crime.
Deputies Miguel Vega, who opened fire, and his partner Chris Hernandez, as well as two homicide detectives investigating the case, Mike Davis and Joseph Valencia, have indicated they would not answer questions about what led up to the shooting of Guardado, 18, who was shot five times in the back and killed in an incident that generated weeks of large protests, Los Angeles Times reported.
A Sheriff’s Department spokesman said each person made the decision on the advice of his legal counsel, not at the direction of Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Legal experts said the move shows a refusal by the Sheriff’s Department to cooperate in a proceeding that Villanueva dismissed in a radio interview earlier this month as a circus stunt.
“I think you can take it for what it is: No one is volunteering from that sheriff’s office to cooperate in that inquiry,” said Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson, who was not surprised by the move. “It was clearly coordinated. It was clearly designed to protect them, and to make it more difficult to make findings that could be used against them or others.”
The inquest is the first in Los Angeles County in more than 30 years, NBC Los Angeles reported.
The Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Sept. 1 to ask the coroner to conduct the inquest into the death. The board passed a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas alleging the department violated state law by failing to allow oversight of law enforcement investigations.
The coroner’s office subpoenaed documents to present at the inquest and witnesses to testify.
Retired California Court of Appeals Justice Candace D. Cooper, as the hearing officer, will make findings related to the cause and manner of death, and she will then forward her decision and recommendation to the coroner’s office.
The death of Guardado, who was shot in the back while reportedly reaching for a gun on the ground, prompted multiple protests and calls for disciplinary action and prosecution of the deputies involved, NBC reported.
Sheriff’s officials said they recovered a handgun near Guardado’s body, and say he was reaching for the weapon when he was shot. Guardado’s family said he was armed because he was working as a security guard for the auto body shop. Deputies said he was not wearing a guard’s uniform when they responded to a report of a non-fatal shooting in the area and wasn’t licensed as a guard or old enough to hold that job under state law.
Lianna Darabedyan, a coroner’s investigator assigned to the case, testified that a gun was found about 3-5 feet to the right side of Guardado’s head as his body lay face-down on the ground. County firefighter/paramedic Andrew Clemens, who responded to the shooting scene, said Guardado was pronounced dead within about three minutes after paramedics arrived.
Guardado’s family has filed a suit against the county alleging wrongful death and civil rights violations.