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Sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot Andres Guardado faced earlier allegations

Protesters in cars drive around the Compton Civic Center on Thursday.
Protesters drive around the Compton Civic Center on Thursday to demand answers in the deputy killing of Gardena man Andres Guardado, 18.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

A week after a deputy shot and killed an 18-year-old man in Gardena, setting off heated demonstrations, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has yet to fully explain how the shooting occurred and has not interviewed the two patrol deputies involved.

But details are emerging about the deputies, including earlier allegations faced by the officer who fatally shot Andres Guardado. Sources with knowledge of the case identified them to The Times as Deputies Miguel Vega, who opened fire, and Chris Hernandez, who did not shoot.

According to the Sheriff’s Department, the events began when the two deputies saw Guardado, who family members said worked as a security guard, speaking with someone in a car that was blocking the entrance to a body shop about 6 p.m. June 18. Authorities said Guardado “produced a handgun” and ran away, and the deputies chased him. When the deputies caught up, Vega fired his weapon, officials said. Family members and activists have expressed skepticism about the narrative.

Vega joined the Sheriff’s Department in 2009, said Capt. John McBride, who heads the department’s personnel administration bureau.

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He worked as a custody assistant before going through the academy and starting as a deputy in Men’s Central Jail, where he worked until 2017.

That year, he was accused of making false statements in an investigation, according to a public safety source with knowledge of the events. The next year, when he was assigned to Compton station, Vega was disciplined with a four-day suspension in the jail investigation.

Capt. John Burcher, Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s chief of staff, said investigators determined the false statements allegation to be unfounded and that the discipline concerned breaching regulations for failing to verify an inmate’s pass for an instructional class.

Burcher said that three complaints have been lodged against Vega while he was assigned to Compton station, including one for using unreasonable force that was determined to have been reasonable. The two other complaints alleged that he was discourteous. In one, officials determined his conduct “could’ve been better,” and the second remains pending.

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The revelations come as the Sheriff’s Department faces scrutiny over unanswered questions in several serious uses of force, including Guardado’s shooting, which has prompted large protests and demands for an independent investigation by community leaders.

Days after the shooting, hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Gardena, marching down West Redondo Beach Boulevard, where Guardado was shot, filling the street as they headed toward the sheriff’s station in Compton more than three miles away.

Guardado’s aunt, Edis Abarca, said the family felt “broken.” Protesters held signs that read “He ran because he was scared,” and the crowds chanted “Why’d you kill that kid?” His family said Guardado had worked as a security guard for Street Dynamic Autobody, near the location where he was shot.

Authorities have yet to explain what prompted Vega, 30, to fire his weapon at Guardado.

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Adam Marangell, an attorney representing Vega in the Guardado shooting, said it would be a “disservice for all concerned” to comment on a pending investigation.

“At the appropriate time, we hope all will realize Deputy Vega’s actions were within policy, completely justified and legal,” he said.

Tom Yu, an attorney representing Hernandez, said he expects his client to give a voluntary statement soon and that it would corroborate Vega’s account of the incident, “which is that the firearm that was possessed and that led to the shooting was in fact the firearm that Deputy Vega saw,” he said. “I believe Deputy Vega feared [for] his life.”

“I think it’s important for the public to understand that these deputies didn’t go to work that day intending to harm or to discharge their firearm or to kill anybody,” Yu said.

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Vega fired six rounds at Guardado, killing him with multiple shots to his upper torso, authorities said. It is unclear whether Guardado had pointed his weapon at the deputy. Capt. Kent Wegener has said they “don’t believe” Guardado fired any shots.

The Sheriff’s Department put a “security hold” on Guardado’s autopsy, which would reveal how many times and where on his body he was struck.

Vega declined to give a statement to investigators, according to a second source with knowledge of the investigation. Sheriff’s officials have said deputies are not compelled to speak with investigators until the criminal investigation is completed but usually voluntarily give a statement after an on-duty shooting.

Villanueva declined on Wednesday to discuss the Guardado shooting, saying he would supply information when he could.

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“We’re not gonna piecemeal it,” Villanueva said, adding that ongoing witness interviews prompted investigators to put a security hold on the autopsy. “If you’re still interviewing witnesses, you don’t release information that’s gonna prejudice the testimony of the witness.”

Vega’s conduct at the Compton Station has come under scrutiny before. A licensed security guard told The Times that Vega arrested him on false charges in a case that was ultimately dropped.

The guard, who did not want to be identified for fear of being targeted by deputies, said Vega pulled him over in Compton last year and immediately barked, “Where’s the gun?” over and over.

Vega pried open a locked compartment, found the man’s unloaded handgun and loaded it, the man said. The man, who was in lawful possession of the weapon, said he was arrested on suspicion of carrying a loaded firearm in public, but the charges against him were dismissed, according to his attorney.

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The ordeal, which landed the man in jail before he was able to bond out, almost cost him his job, he said.

Marangell, Vega’s attorney, declined to comment on the allegations.

Vega is also named as a defendant in a lawsuit over an arrest.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of Flenoid McCleary and his cousin, alleges that Vega falsely arrested McCleary in Gardena on suspicion of several offenses after McCleary was shot by an armored-car driver who accused him of brandishing a gun in Compton.

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Richard Allen Jorgensen, an attorney representing McCleary, said McCleary did not have a gun and that Vega had the armored car moved to “cover up” that the guard tried to kill McCleary. He also said Vega returned the driver’s gun to him after the shooting, instead of booking it into evidence.

The charges against McCleary were eventually dropped, Jorgensen said.

Marangell declined to comment about the lawsuit.

Eric Wilson, the cousin of McCleary who said he was held for nearly two hours in the back of a hot patrol car during that incident, didn’t recall interacting specifically with Vega that day. But as a longtime Compton resident, he said the Sheriff’s Department there is like an “exclusive boys club.”

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“Even if the rough ones get out of hand, even the good sheriffs still back their play, whether they’re right or wrong,” Wilson said.

The Sheriff’s Department rarely names the deputies involved in shootings despite a 2014 California Supreme Court decision saying police agencies generally must tell the public the names of officers involved in such incidents. The department has not yet equipped deputies with body cameras, so there is no officer recording of the Gardena shooting.

Compton has long had a troubled history with law enforcement. In 2000, the city disbanded its police force after struggling to contain rising crime and gang violence.

The solution, as city leaders saw it, was to hire the Sheriff’s Department to patrol the streets, a move advertised as a way to have more sophisticated policing that would save the city $7 million a year out of its $20-million budget for policing costs. Proponents claimed the money would be reinvested in the community and would lead to an economic revival.

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But sheriff’s deputies in Compton were increasingly seen as outsiders and developed a reputation among some locals for aggressive tactics. Deputies were heavily criticized in 2005 after firing about 120 rounds at a moving vehicle driven by an unarmed man, who was shot four times. In 2009, a 16-year-old boy was fatally shot in the back by a Compton station deputy, who claimed the boy pointed a gun at him. An attorney for the boy’s family suggested the deputy planted the weapon.

The Compton station is has more recently come under scrutiny for its band of deputies with matching skull tattoos, representing what many in the community see as a criminal gang within law enforcement.


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