Guardado family sues county citing unreasonable force

Wave Wire Services

LOS ANGELES — The parents of an 18-year-old man shot to death near Gardena in June by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy have sued the county, alleging the lawman used unreasonable force and that he and his partner had “possible affiliations” with an internal Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department gang.

Elisa and Cristobal Guardado brought the wrongful death/civil rights complaint in Los Angeles Superior Court Aug. 31 in connection with the death of their son, 18-year-old Andres Guardado. The suit also names as defendants Deputies Miguel Vega and Chris Hernandez and seeks unspecified damages.

A Sheriff’s Department representative could not be immediately reached for comment.

Guardado was shot June 18 at an auto shop on Redondo Beach Boulevard where he was working as a security guard, according to the suit. Sheriff’s officials say Guardado had no license to work as a security guard in California and was not wearing any clothing that would indicate such work.

Vega and Hernandez arrived at the auto shop and “in a display of unreasonable and excessive force, immediately drew their weapons and chased Andres down an alley in violation of defendants’ policies and procedures,” the suit states.

The complaint further alleges that Vega, without provocation, fired six shots at Guardado, five of which hit him in the back.

Guardado “never posed a risk” to the deputies and they had no reason to believe he had committed a crime, the suit states.

The suit further alleges that the Sheriff’s Department knew Vega and his partner were unfit to carry out the duties of a police officer and that each had a history of using unjustified excessive force, including improper discharging of their firearms.

The suit alleges that the department and Sheriff Alex Villanueva knew about deputy gangs within the Sheriff’s Department, and knew that the deputies involved had “possible affiliations” with at least one of those gangs, including the Executioners and the 3,000 Boys.

Guardado’s death has deprived his parents of his life-long love and affection, according to the suit, which seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.

Sheriff’s officials have said the patrol deputies were at the scene in a marked vehicle and saw Guardado speaking to someone in a car blocking the entrance to a body shop. Investigators allege Guardado pulled out a handgun, then began running. Deputies chased him and caught up with him in an alley, where the shooting occurred.

Sheriff’s officials said a weapon was discovered at the scene — an unregistered .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol with a polymer frame and no serial number, a Smith & Wesson slide and a prohibited Glock magazine.

Officials have said there is no evidence Guardado fired any shots.

A criminal investigation into the shooting is ongoing, and the results will not be made public until it is submitted to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for review, sheriff’s officials have said. The FBI is also reviewing the case.

On Sept. 1, the county’s Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to ask the coroner to conduct an inquest into the death, and indicated its plan to file suit against the sheriff’s department for allegedly violating state law by failing to allow oversight of law enforcement investigations.

The board directed the county’s lead lawyer to report back on the feasibility of a lawsuit within 10 days.

The board voted in favor of a motion by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who also recommended the inquest and using the coroner’s subpoena power to create a record of investigative steps taken by the Sheriff’s Department related to the cause and circumstances of death.

For far too long we have accepted the status quo — we haven’t sufficiently challenged law enforcement’s incessant demands that investigations remain shrouded in secrecy,” Ridley-Thomas said. “This board must not sit by and allow the county’s law enforcement department to entrench itself in traditional patterns of behavior that profoundly harm not only vulnerable communities but the entire justice system.”  

Inspector General Max Huntsman told the board that his office would have been better able to gauge allegations against deputies in the Guardado case if his staff still had access to Sheriff’s Department computers, but the department locked them out some time ago.

We have made requests for information that have been denied,” Huntsman said.

The inspector general mentioned an accusation that the deputy who witnessed the shooting was involved in a deputy gang. Huntsman also revealed that the deputy who shot Guardado “didn’t give a statement for weeks,” saying that delay could raise concerns in the community about some kind of deal between the department and the deputy’s lawyer.

The county’s Sheriff’s Department’s refusal to comply with state law and permit monitoring of their investigations of themselves deeply undermines law enforcement credibility,” Huntsman said.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she was sorry to be forced to move against the department.

I am saddened that this motion had to be brought before us today,” she said. The Guardado family deserves answers and the community as a whole is deserving of transparency.

“The apparent resistance to oversight is eroding years of work by this board and our law enforcement partners, and it is a disservice to the men and women of the Sheriff’s Department that is undermining the good work that many of them are doing. It is an odd position to have to remind this sheriff that even as the chief law enforcement of L.A. County, he is not above the law.”

Sheriff Alex Villanueva has consistently pushed back against the board’s allegations that he does not favor transparency, pointing to his direct communication with the public through postings of department policy and other information on his website and community town hall meetings. In addition to legal wrangling with the board, the department has sued Huntsman, accusing his office of conspiracy, unauthorized computer access and theft of confidential files.

Before the board vote, the sheriff took aim at Ridley-Thomas’ motion.

The motion proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is poorly written, riddled with inaccuracies and contradictory to the law as well as best practices employed in death investigations,” Villanueva said.

The sheriff said the motion portrayed the deputy involved in a negative light that could be deemed slanderous and open the county up to civil liability. He challenged the board’s authority to request an inquest. He said releasing information earlier could compromise an investigation.

Transparency cannot come at the expense of integrity in any criminal investigation,” the sheriff said.

Villanueva said his department’s criminal investigation bureau has handled 69 cases since he took over as sheriff, leading to 14 filings with the District Attorney’s Office to date.

We do hold our employees accountable, so any suggestion or inference that we cannot hold ourselves accountable to the rule of law is factually false,” Villanueva said.

UCLA Black Policy Project Executive Director Isaac Bryant hailed the board’s move.

The Sheriff’s Office, under this administration, has illegally avoided all attempts to move transparently in the investigation of Andres Guardado. Now at a time when the entire nation is calling for us to re-imagine public safety and accountability, and with the shooting of Dijon Kizzee [this week], I applaud the leadership of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas to hold this department accountable and further calls for justice,” Bryant said in a statement.