Weeks after launching Los Angeles County’s first inquest in more than 30 years, coroner’s officials on Friday said they would conduct a second into the death of Fred Williams, a man fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies in Willowbrook in October.
The move comes amid rising tension between the Sheriff’s Department and other L.A. County officials over the department’s handling of its deputies’ killings. The first inquest in years, which kicked off at the end of November, is into a deputy’s fatal shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado earlier this year.
The Williams inquest is set to begin Jan. 28. Former state court of appeals Justice Candace Cooper, who’s presiding over the Guardado inquest, has been appointed to oversee the Williams proceedings as well.
The inquest will be public, but held in accordance with COVID-19 protocols, officials said.
The proceedings are meant to “provide independent, evidence-based death investigations” in light of public uproar surrounding the shootings, the coroner’s office said in a news release.
Williams, 25, died Oct. 16 following a brief foot pursuit. Coroner’s records show he died of a gunshot wound to the back.
The Sheriff’s Department says deputies were canvassing the area in light of other recent fatal shootings when they spotted Williams with a handgun. Williams fled, and deputies gave chase.
Williams’ was the first L.A. County deputy shooting captured on body-worn camera. A deputy on the footage can be heard saying Williams’ gun was pointed at him, but the video shows Williams being shot from behind as he jumps over a fence.
On Oct. 27, the county Board of Supervisors passed a motion directing the coroner’s office to conduct an inquest into Williams’ death, citing concern of the Sheriff’s Departments trend toward “shrouding deputy-involved use of force incidents in secrecy.”
Coroner’s officials will subpoena witnesses to testify and documents to present at the inquest. After hearing testimony, Justice Cooper will make findings on Guardado’s cause and manner of death, which will be presented with recommendation to the medical examiner-coroner.
As the Guardado inquest began Nov. 30, at least five sheriff’s officials were refusing to testify, including the deputy who opened fire and his partner, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Loyola Law School professor Laurie Levenson told the newspaper it appeared to be a “clearly coordinated” attempt to undermine the process.