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Coroner: Andres Guardado was shot 5 times in the back. Sheriff condemns disclosure

 Jennifer Guardado, sister of Andres Guardado, who was fatally shot by a sheriff's deputy in Gardena, and other relatives
Andres Guardado’s sister Jennifer, surrounded by other relatives, speaks at a June rally seeking justice for her brother.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

The Los Angeles County coroner’s office has determined that Andres Guardado, the 18-year-old killed by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy last month in Gardena, was shot five times in the back, according to the official autopsy report, released Friday.

All five gunshot wounds were fatal, the report said. The cause of death was certified on July 7 as multiple gunshot wounds, and the manner of death was certified as homicide, the coroner’s office said.

The coroner’s office released the document despite a “security hold” put in place by the Sheriff’s Department, after the family’s attorneys earlier this week released the results of an independent autopsy that drew the same conclusion.

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“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,” Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan 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.”

There had been growing demands for answers by activists and Guardado’s family, who called the shooting unjustified. The Guardado family attorneys said the independent findings showed that Guardado’s death was “the result of unjustified police violence against an innocent young man” and called on the Sheriff’s Department to release the coroner’s report.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas commended the coroner’s disclosure in a statement Friday and called it “deeply troubling” that the Office of Inspector General, which provides oversight of the Sheriff’s Department, has still not received documents related to the investigation.

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“I commend the coroner for upholding the autonomy and integrity of his office by releasing the autopsy report of Andres Guardado, despite attempts to block its release,” Ridley-Thomas said. “The community deserves to know the facts. This is a matter of public interest and public trust.”

In a statement, Sheriff Alex Villanueva blasted what he called an “unprecedented” disclosure, saying it has “the potential to jeopardize the investigation, the filing of the case and any possible future criminal or administrative proceedings” and would force the Sheriff’s Department to use court orders to enforce security holds that exist to prevent tainting witness interviews.

“Dr. Lucas has acknowledged succumbing to pressure from the Board of Supervisors and the Office of Inspector General and has now made the astonishing admission that he sacrificed the integrity of the investigation in a bid to satisfy public curiosity,” Villanueva said.

He also criticized Ridley-Thomas for praising the coroner’s move.

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“Supervisor Ridley Thomas lauded the coroner’s efforts, unwittingly demonstrating a poor grasp of both the investigative responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Department and the lack of authority the politically appointed inspector has to interfere with and jeopardize the integrity of criminal investigations,” Villanueva said. “As sheriff of Los Angeles County, I find it deeply troubling that an elected supervisor would use the authority of his office to bully the coroner and sow mistrust of law enforcement in the community.”

The Sheriff’s Department has said that Guardado was shot and killed around 6 p.m. on June 18, after two deputies saw him speaking to someone in a car blocking the entrance to an auto body shop on West Redondo Beach Boulevard. Investigators said Guardado “produced a handgun” and ran away, and deputies chased him. When deputies reached him, one fired.

The two deputies involved have been identified as Miguel Vega, who opened fire, and Chris Hernandez, who did not shoot. Both deputies work out of the Compton station. Their duty assignments following the shooting are unclear.

Their attorneys have told The Times that the shooting was justified.
In a statement Wednesday, Vega’s attorney Adam L. Marangell gave his client’s account of the incident. He said Vega gave multiple commands for Guardado to stop during the chase, during which Guardado pulled out the gun. He said Guardado then obeyed commands to stop, turned around and raised both hands while still armed.

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Guardado was ordered to place the firearm on the ground, which he did, Marangell said. Guardado then positioned himself face-down on the ground, but the gun was near his right hand, Marangell said.

Vega holstered his weapon and began approaching Guardado to cuff him, saying, “Don’t reach for the gun,” Marangell said. He said that’s when Guardado reached for the gun, and Vega opened fire.

“The reported independent autopsy’s findings do not alter in any way the ultimate fact that Deputy Vega acted properly and lawfully,” Marangell said in the statement.


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