Four officers cite attorney’s advice while refusing to answer questions
LOS ANGELES — Four members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, subpoenaed to testify in the first Coroner’s Inquest to be held in the county in 30 years, refused to testify before a retired California Court of Appeals judge Nov. 30.
The hearing, called by the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner’s Office to investigate the shooting of Andres Guardado in an unincorporated area between Gardena and Compton in June, continued without the testimony of the four.
The two deputies involved in the shooting, Deputy Miguel Vega, the reported shooter; and his partner Deputy Christopher Hernandez, didn’t even attend the hearing.
Two Sheriff’s department detectives who investigated the shooting for the department, Mike Davis and Joseph Valencia, repeatedly declined to answer questions, saying that under the advice of their attorneys they were invoking their rights against self-incrimination under the Constitution.
Justice Candace D. Cooper, who oversaw the hearing, excused Davis and Valencia, but said she will determine if their blanket refusals to answer questions was appropriate and they may be called back later.
The refusal of the sheriff’s personnel to testify outraged U.S. Rep. Maxine Waters, who released a statement on the matter.
“It is outrageous that the officers involved in the killing of Andres Guardado are now refusing to testify in the coroner’s inquest into Guardado’s death,” Waters said. “It is this type of obfuscation by the LASD that has fueled decades-long outrage and resentment among the communities who find themselves victims of police violence time and time again. LASD has a known history of serious abuses and allegations of misconduct that include racist gangs, the targeting of people of color and shootings of civilians.”
A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department said each person made the decision on the advice of their legal counsel, not at the direction of Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
The inquest has been dismissed by Villanueva as a “stunt” which will not change the outcome of determining the manner of Guardado’s death.
“I have never seen an inquest performed since the 70s and anything that is testified to under oath will be admissible in a future civil trial,” said Carl Douglas, noted civil rights attorney. “Since the cops chose not to testify, there will be no real benefit for the family, but it makes the cops look bad for taking the Fifth.”
The Guardado family and members of the public have alleged that the sheriff’s department has not been forthcoming with investigation results which is why the county Board of Supervisors requested the inquest.
Despite the Guardado’s family attorney previously releasing results of an independent autopsy, with accompanying photos of the bullets that pierced his back, Judge Cooper refused to allow the photos into the record, describing them as “too gruesome” for the public to view.
Testimony by both coroner and Los Angeles County Fire Department officials at the scene of the shooting, stated a gun was visible approximately 3-5 feet from the right side of Guardado’s body.
They were unable to determine how long before the shooting took place before they arrived nor where they able to determine if the gun was moved.
The official autopsy report determined that the five gunshot wounds to Guardado’s back were fatal.
The coroner’s office subpoenaed investigative documents from the sheriff’s department, which were provided to Cooper under seal.
Cooped adjourned the hearing after taking less than a full day worth of testimony. She said she would review the documents provided by the department before resuming the inquest in the Board of Supervisors hearing room with a limited number of persons allowed inside.
Guardado, 18, was shot and killed June 18 after running from deputies who approached him at an auto body shop where he worked as a security guard. Guardado was not licensed to work as a security guard.
The public continues to be concerned with the ongoing events happening with this case.
“Keeping facts of the shooting in the public’s conversation is always a good thing,” attorney Douglas said. “This was a horrific shooting.”
“Similar to a death investigation, the objective of an inquest is to collect information that supports the cause and manner of death, but it is 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,” said Sarah Ardalani, public information officer for the medical examiner’s office.
“The inquest supports the department’s mission and purpose to provide independent, evidence-based death investigations, address the public’s interest in the death, and is in accord with a motion approved by the Board of Supervisors on Sept. 1, 2020,” Ardalani added.
Law enforcement officers see this differently.
“This inquest is the perfect way to taint a potential jury by asking questions in a mock trail where the findings can’t be used by either party,” said a law enforcement official who asked not to be identified.
The reaction to the deputies’ refusal to testify was expected from Waters, who previously, along with U.S. Rep. Nanette Barragan, had asked state Attorney General Xavier Becerra to investigate the shooting.
Separately, Sheriff Villanueva also requested that Becerra monitor the investigation, but Becerra declined both requests.
Waters said she would now formally request that U.S. Attorney General William Barr investigate the shooting.
“Enough is enough,” she said.
2 Urban Girls is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Compton and Inglewood area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.