Against Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s wishes, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office released an autopsy report Friday confirming that an 18-year-old man who was fatally shot by a sheriff’s deputy near Gardena was shot five times in the back, and ruling the death a homicide.
The official autopsy report confirms details included in an independent medical examination commissioned by Andres Guardado’s family and released on Wednesday.
The county coroner’s office autopsy of Andres Guardado — whose full name was listed as Andres Guardado Pineda — had been on a security hold requested by the sheriff’s department.
Villanueva said earlier investigators were still trying to identify and interview witnesses, and releasing the report might compromise the probe into the June 18 shooting.
However, Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas said in a statement Friday he decided to release the report “after careful thought and deliberation.”
“In doing so, I have given careful consideration to the major variables in this case — supporting the administration of justice, as well as the public’s right to know,” Lucas said in a statement.
“I do not believe that these are mutually exclusive ideals. Both are important, particularly amid the ongoing national discussion about race, policing and civil rights. I believe that government can do its part by being more timely and more transparent in sharing information that the public demands and has a right to see,” Lucas said.
Villanueva on Friday afternoon blasted Lucas for breaking protocol and releasing the autopsy.
“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,” Villanueva said, accusing Lucas of bowing to pressure from the Board of Supervisors, Office of Inspector General and the public.
The coroner’s office released a statement Friday evening emphasizing the department’s neutrality and independence from law enforcement.
“The Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner’s sole mission and purpose is to provide independent, evidence-based death investigations to the public. We value our political neutrality and reject any characterization to the contrary,” the coroner’s office said in the statement.
“Our office is separate from any law enforcement agency in Los Angeles County and has the authority and discretion to make its own independent decisions on death investigations and the release of information.”
Guardado’s family attorney praised Lucas’ decision to release the autopsy.
“We would like to recognize the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner for doing the right thing by releasing the report and standing on the side of truth — we are in agreement with Dr. Lucas that the administration of justice, as well as the public’s right to know, should not be mutually exclusive ideals,” attorney Adam Shea said.
“The findings of both autopsies are indisputable, and establish that Andres’ death was, without a doubt, the result of unjustified police violence against an innocent young man.”
Guardado was fatally shot around 6 p.m. June 18 near the 400 block of West Redondo Beach Boulevard by Deputy Miguel Vega, whose partner, Deputy Chris Hernandez, was also at the scene but did not open fire.
Sheriff’s officials have said the patrol deputies were at the scene in a marked vehicle when Guardado pulled out a handgun, then began running. Deputies chased him and caught up with him in an alley, where the shooting occurred.
Guardado was pronounced dead at the scene. 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 15-round Glock magazine. Officials have said there is no evidence Guardado fired any shots.
Guardado’s shooting has sparked waves of protests and demands for the firing and prosecution of Vega.
The coroner’s report noted that in addition to the five fatal gunshots to the back, Guardado also had two graze wounds on his forearms “along with other secondary fragment wounds.” The report labeled the death a homicide, meaning he killed by another person.
On Wednesday, Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials said the deputy who fired the fatal shots still had not been interviewed by investigators. Villanueva said he could not offer an opinion on the shooting until the homicide investigation is completed.
Cmdr. Chris Marks, who oversees the sheriff’s Detective Division Headquarters, said the deputy who didn’t fire a weapon has been interviewed by investigators. He said officials were hoping the deputy who shot Guardado would issue a voluntary statement.
“This is a criminal investigation, so all persons that are going to be interviewed are entitled to the Fifth Amendment, and deputies are no exception to this, so they provide a voluntary statement,” Marks said.
“We’re not in an administrative investigation at this time, so we cannot compel the statement. We’re relying on that deputy to provide a voluntary statement.”
Marks said investigators determined that the deputy fired a total of six shots. Cameras seized at the scene did not contain any video recording of the shooting, Marks said.
An attorney for Vega, the deputy who fired the shots, told the Los Angeles Times in a statement on Wednesday that Guardado ignored multiple commands to stop while he was running from the deputies, and that Guardado pulled out a gun during the chase.
Attorney Adam Marangell said Guardado eventually turned around and raised both arms, still holding the weapon. Under orders from Vega, Guardado put the firearm down then got on the ground, face-down, but the gun was still near his right hand, the attorney told The Times.
According to Marangell, Vega holstered his weapon and approached Guaradado to put him in handcuffs, warning him, “Don’t reach for the gun.” But Guardado reached for the gun near his hand, prompting Vega to open fire, Marangell said.
The attorney told The Times that the findings of the family’s autopsy “do not alter in any way the ultimate fact that Deputy Vega acted properly and lawfully.”
Tom Yu, an attorney for the second deputy, Hernandez, told The Times his client saw Guardado pull out a weapon while running and eventually saw him start to get on the ground under orders from Vega. When the shots rang out, Hernandez had only a partial view of Guardado, Yu said.
Relatives have said Guardado was working as an informal security guard for an auto body shop in the area, and was doing so when he was approached by the deputies.
“The Guardado family, and their attorneys, believe that the preliminary findings from the second autopsy prove that Andres’ death was, without a doubt, the result of unjustified police violence against an innocent young man,” according to a statement from the family’s lawyer issued earlier this week.
Following the release of the independent autopsy on Wednesday, Guardado’s parents, Ciristobal and Elisa Guardado, issued a statement saying:
“These findings confirm what we have known all along, which is that Andres was unjustifiably killed by a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy. Andres was a good boy, he was our son and he had so much life ahead of him. Our son did not deserve to die this way. We understand that there is still a long way to go, but we are going to continue to keep fighting for justice for Andres.”
Inspector General Max Huntsman sent a letter to Villanueva this week, saying his office on June 22 requested documents and video recovered in the investigation but have received no response.
“I ask you to provide us the items requested immediately,” Huntsman wrote.
Huntsman also indicated that his office has offered to participate in interviews and assist in outreach to witnesses who are “reluctant to cooperate with the sheriff’s department.”
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