'It was clearly coordinated': L.A. sheriff's officials refuse to testify in Andrés Guardado inquest
The Los Angeles County coroner’s office last month announced an independent inquest into the police shooting of Andrés Guardado, a historic decision that would give officials power to subpoena witnesses and relevant documents. But four members of the L.A. County sheriff’s office, including the deputy who shot and killed Guardado, refused to testify, “invoking their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination even though none of them have been accused of a crime,” the Los Angeles Times reports.
“First @LACoSheriff dismissed the investigation into Andres’s death as a ‘circus stunt,’” tweeted Julián Castro, who as a 2020 presidential candidate released an ambitious policing reform plan addressing the exact kind of police violence that led to the 18-year-old’s death at the hands of law enforcement this past summer. “Now officers refuse to cooperate with the inquiry. You’re there to serve and protect the people, not yourselves. This looks like a cover up to protect officers and prevent accountability.”
Castro referred to a remark from Sheriff Alex Villanueva last month, who called the inquest “a circus stunt,” the LA Times continued. This “circus stunt” is being overseen by a former court of appeals justice and is the first such investigation in the area in more than three decades, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office said at the time. The only stunt here is what the parties involved in Guardado’s death are trying to pull off.
The sheriff’s department claims that the four officials who refused to testify—including shooter Miguel Vega, his partner Chris Hernandez, and two homicide detectives—made their decision based solely on independent legal advice and not the department. However, Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson told the LA Times that their decision “was clearly coordinated.”
“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,’” she said in the report. “I think you can take it for what it is: No one is volunteering from that sheriff’s office to cooperate in that inquiry.” LAist reports that Villanueva himself recently refused a subpoena from the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission relating to the spread of the novel coronavirus inside his jails.
The fact that the homicide detectives also joined in on refusing to testify was “remarkable and disappointing,” former sheriff’s department official Mike Gennaco said in the report. “They were fact-finders, and there’s no allegation that there was some sort of conspiracy to cover up the facts.”
Right now it’s unclear how retired Justice Candace Cooper will proceed in light of the blockading from the four sheriff’s department officials. “Cooper said she wouldn’t make any findings Monday and adjourned the hearing, leaving open the possibility of calling more witnesses,” the LA Times report said. “It’s unclear when the proceedings will resume, or if there will be an effort to compel the four sheriff’s officials to testify.”
Guardado’s family in June filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the county, the sheriff’s department, Vega, and Hernandez, alleging they “not only used unreasonable and excessive force in fatally shooting the young man but were possibly acting in connection and in agreement with members of one or more LASD gangs of which they may be affiliated,” a release said.
Court testimony from a sheriff’s deputy this past August identified Vega and Hernandez as potential recruits for a racist and violent law enforcement gang. According to Austreberto “Art” Gonzalez, “the ‘Executioners’ use violence against other deputies and community members as well as illegal arrest quotas to increase their standing within the group,” NBC News reported.