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Sheriff asks attorney general to monitor shooting while stonewalling inspector general

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva faces criticism for not handing over records to watchdog agencies.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

The independent monitors for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department were brought in for moments like these.

The law enforcement agency is facing outrage from the community and questions about back-to-back shootings that left two men dead as well as its handling of the death of Robert Fuller, 24, who was found hanging from a tree near Palmdale City Hall.

But the two institutions tasked with overseeing investigations of deputies’ use of force — the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and its investigative arm, the Office of Inspector General — say they are running into roadblocks.

Inspector General Max Huntsman said his office on Monday asked the Sheriff’s Department for reports, documents and video relating to the shooting death of 18-year-old Andres Guardado, who was killed by a deputy near an auto body shop in Gardena. Huntsman said he hasn’t received a response.

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The office also requested the report that detailed events surrounding the death of Fuller’s half-brother, Terron Boone, who was killed in a shootout with undercover detectives, to “analyze the underlying reason for the manner in which the arrest was conducted,” Huntsman said. “But they refused to give it to us.”

The watchdogs’ functions were centerpieces of reforms enacted at the Sheriff’s Department in the wake of a corruption and brutality scandal in the jails that led to indictments of several sheriff’s deputies and high-ranking commanders, including former Sheriff Lee Baca. But the agencies have increasingly complained that the administration of Sheriff Alex Villanueva is refusing to share information and stonewalling efforts to provide true oversight.

And it is set against the backdrop of a national movement stemming from the death in Minneapolis police custody of George Floyd that is demanding greater transparency and a radical change of course in policing to combat police brutality and other systemic racial injustices.

“We can’t make recommendations if we don’t get information from them. So our work can be stymied when there’s not cooperation and collaboration,” said Patti Giggans, chair of the oversight commission. “We need a willing partner in the sheriff.”

The dispute over access to Sheriff records prompted the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in January to grant the Civilian Oversight Commission subpoena power at a time of heightened tensions between the law enforcement agency and those who oversee it. The oversight agencies said they were not given access to information about the agency’s internal discipline system and hiring process, as well as documents related to secret deputy cliques with matching tattoos that have been accused of misconduct.

The Sheriff’s Department said at the time that increasing the inspector general’s power could harm investigations and would pit county departments against one another.

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

“We’re not gonna piecemeal it,” he said.

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He did not answer a question about whether the deputies involved in the Gardena incident have been interviewed yet by investigators. Villanueva said ongoing witness interviews prompted the Sheriff’s Department to place a “security hold” on the results of Guardado’s autopsy, but he did not identify the witnesses.

“If you’re still interviewing witnesses, you don’t release information that’s gonna prejudice the testimony of the witness,” he said.

The tight-lipped responses come as Villanueva reached a tentative agreement this week with local law enforcement leaders to have all police killings investigated by a special task force. Members would be prohibited from investigating officers or deputies from their own agencies.

The Sheriff’s Department has said little about what led up to the Gardena shooting, which has sparked large protests and widespread demands for answers. Villanueva asked Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra to monitor the investigations of Guardado and Fuller, citing the public outcry.

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“The current nationwide political climate, lends itself to a public demand for police accountability, and the propensity of antagonists to assemble large amounts of people in a short amount of time in protest to any perception of impropriety,” he wrote in a letter to Becerra.

The attorney general’s office has taken on an oversight role in Fuller’s case, but has not said whether it would accept Villanueva’s request to review the Guardado shooting.

“Our office is aware of the matters you reference. However, to protect its integrity, we are unable to comment on a potential or ongoing investigation,” the attorney general’s office said in a statement.

Guardado was speaking with someone in a car that was blocking the entrance to an auto body shop when deputies from the Compton sheriff’s station pulled up at about 6 p.m. on June 18, said Capt. Kent Wegener of the homicide bureau.

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Guardado “produced a handgun” and ran away, and two deputies chased him on foot, Wegener said. When the deputies caught up, one of them fired six rounds at Guardado, killing him, the department said.

Authorities said they did not know whether Guardado had pointed his weapon at the deputy, and said they “don’t believe” Guardado fired any shots.

Guardado’s family said he had worked as a security guard for Street Dynamic Auto Body, close to where he was shot. He was under the 21-year age requirement to be a security guard in California and was not wearing a uniform, authorities said. They said the .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol he was carrying was not licensed.

In the other case, deputies were investigating a report that Boone, 31, had kidnapped and threatened a former girlfriend when they trailed him to an apartment complex in Rosamond, 20 miles north of Palmdale, and attempted a traffic stop before the shooting that left him dead.


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