IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Inquest upholds homicide death of young Latino by sheriff's deputy in LA County

Investigating detectives, officer who fired the fatal shots invoked their 5th Amendment rights, did not testify.
Image: Andres Guardado
Mourners hold images of Andres Guardado at a memorial site in Gardena, Calif., on June 19, 2020.Damian Dovarganes / AP

The parents of Andres Guardado hoped that a rare inquest looking into their 18-year-old son's fatal shooting involving two Los Angeles sheriff's deputies would bring clarity to the circumstances that led to the young man's killing seven months ago.

But the first inquest that Los Angeles County has seen in more than 30 years barely revealed any new information. Former Court of Appeals Justice Candace Cooper, who conducted the inquest at the request of Los Angeles County Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas on Nov. 30, upheld a previous conclusion by the office that Guardado's death was a homicide, officials said Friday.

Cristobal and Elisa Guardado, the dead young man's parents, said in a statement that "Justice Cooper has confirmed what we knew all along." Cooper concluded that Guardado died June 18 in a driveway off Redondo Beach Boulevard in Gardena, California. The medical cause of his death was multiple gunshot wounds and the manner of death was “by the hands of another person other than by accident,” Cooper wrote in her findings.

Cooper said she based her findings on the testimonies of medical experts, investigators and witnesses to the shooting as well as subpoenaed records from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which were not released publicly. However, multiple members of the sheriff's department, including the two deputies involved in Guardado's killing, declined to answer questions during the Nov. 30 inquest.

Deputy Miguel Vega, who opened fire, did not attend the proceeding. But he submitted a declaration “indicating that if he were to appear and be questioned at the inquest, he would assert his Fifth Amendment right not to testify,” Cooper wrote in the inquest findings. Deputy Chris Hernandez, who didn't shoot, as well as two homicide detectives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department who were assigned to investigate Guardado's death repeatedly refused to answer questions, saying that under advice from counsel they were invoking their Fifth Amendment rights, NBC Los Angeles reported.

Cooper said she had sufficient evidence to conclude the inquest without calling more witnesses or requesting more evidence, consequently deciding she will “not pursue the Fifth Amendment issues raised during the inquest.

Cooper's decision to end the inquest with no new revelations essentially means that the sheriff’s department’s previous account of Guardado’s death, which triggered protests throughout the summer, will remain the official version unless the case is revisited during a trial.

Guardado was shot five times in the back while working as a security guard at an auto body shop in Gardena last summer. The deputies involved in his killing, Vega and Hernandez, allegedly saw the 18-year-old with a gun on the day of the shooting. Guardado then ran away, and deputies chased him into an alley in the back of a building where he was killed, Capt. Kent Wegener, head of the homicide bureau, said at a news conference in June. While a 40-caliber semiautomatic pistol that hadn't been fired was found at the scene, authorities are unable to clarify whether Guardado ever aimed the gun at the deputies.

Investigators have said there is no video of the shooting because deputies had no body cameras; they said a program to provide the cameras had been stalled for years. They also said deputies were unable to find video footage of the shooting from surrounding businesses.

The decision on whether to charge the deputies involved in Guardado's death will fall on the shoulders of the recently elected District Attorney George Gascón.

Cristobal and Elisa Guardado, who filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Los Angeles County and its sheriff's department two months before the inquest, are now urging Gascón to "do what the Sheriff's Department has not, and that is to take action and hold these deputies accountable for their criminal actions."

"Andres was a good person with his whole life ahead of him. That life was violently taken from him, and we suffer the consequences as his killers remain free. Our family will not rest until we have justice for Andres," Guardado's parents added.