Both deputies and homicide detectives have said they were advised by attorneys not to answer questions nor provide testimony at Monday’s inquest about the circumstances of the shooting.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva criticized
A spokesman for the department added that Sheriff Alex Villanueva had no role in their decisions, although he has been publicly critical of the investigation, saying during a recent radio interview that the probe was a circus stunt, the Times reported.
Legal experts who spoke to the Times suggested the sheriff was otherwise preempting the investigation to protect his men.
“I’m sure what they’re thinking is, ‘We don’t know where this is headed. We don’t know who this is going to target. We don’t know if they’re going to claim there’s some kind of cover-up. We don’t know enough not to assert our 5th Amendment right,’” said Loyola Law School Professor Laurie Levenson. “I think you can take it for what it is: No one is volunteering from that sheriff’s office to cooperate in that inquiry.”
She added: “It was clearly coordinated. It was clearly designed to protect them, and to make it more difficult to make findings that could be used against them or others.”
Also at odds with Villanueva are county officials who accuse him of stonewalling oversight and rebuffing efforts to hold him accountable, the Times reported.
Mike Gennaco, a policing expert and one-time watchdog of the sheriff’s department, expressed surprise that the homicide investigators refused to testify in Monday’s inquest.
“I find that remarkable and disappointing,” Gennaco said, according to the Times. “They were fact-finders, and there’s no allegation that there was some sort of conspiracy to cover up the facts.”
More about the inquest
The hearing was held to determine the cause and manner of Guardado’s death, however, the official autopsy results released in July had already concluded that he died as a result of a homicide.
Still, the coroner’s office ordered the inquest for an independent review of the findings in the closely watched case “in the interest of public transparency,” the Times reported.
Four other witnesses testified Monday. They were the medical examiner who performed the autopsy, a coroner’s investigator who responded to the scene and authored a summary of the incident, and two firefighters who tried to save Guardado’s life, according to the Times.
The presiding official adjourned the hearing but left open the possibility of calling more witnesses.
It’s unclear when the proceedings will resume, or if there will be an effort to compel the four sheriff’s officials to testify, the Times reported.
That fateful night
Guardado was on his regular patrol June 18 when two deputies encountered him at the entrance of the business.
He was talking to someone in a car that was blocking the entrance to the body shop and was not wearing a security guard’s uniform at the time.
Deputies said Guardado was also wielding a handgun and immediately turned and fled when he saw them. After a brief foot chase, the 18-year-old was dead from five fatal wounds.
An independent autopsy report in early July determined he was shot five times in the back and that each shot was fatal.
Delays, no body cameras
Months passed with investigators providing few details about the shooting except to claim that Guardado was armed and got into a confrontation with officers after fleeing the scene.
Authorities have never said Guardado pointed the gun at officers and have never reported that any shots were fired at deputies.
Neither officer was wearing a body camera at the time of the shooting, leading to increased skepticism about the police version of events.
The police department also delayed releasing the results of the official autopsy report prepared by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The shooting happened amid nationwide protests against police brutality and heightened racial sensitivities in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and one day after another deputy on the same force shot and killed the half-brother of a Black man found hanged from a tree.
Officers said they first spotted Guardado about 6 p.m. outside the front of the business on Redondo Beach Boulevard, near South Figueroa Street, in Gardena.
Before he was killed, Guardado was talking to someone in a car whom police have not been able to identify.
Protesters crowded the streets of Gardena for weeks to demand answers.