The family of a man fatally shot by sheriff’s deputies in East L.A. last year said Thursday that an autopsy report shows he was shot in the back of the head and another 12 times — most of the gunshot wounds to his back.
The report’s release to the family of Anthony Vargas came after months of legal wrangling and the filing of a wrongful death lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in March. Sheriff’s officials have alleged Vargas pulled a gun on deputies just before he was shot.
Vargas’ family is still working to obtain surveillance video showing when deputies fired at the 21-year-old as they searched for robbery suspects in an apartment complex near North Mednik Avenue and Floral Drive last August. The family claims the department has filed a motion to withhold the footage from being released.
Humberto Guizar, the family’s attorney, stood alongside diagrams showing Vargas’ back riddled in bullet holes as he told reporters that sheriff’s deputies engaged in a “gangland shooting” when they fired at him “military commando-style.”
“This is an execution … It’s a murder and these deputies should be charged with murder,” Guizar said.
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner would not release the full report Thursday, saying it is on a security hold, according to spokeswoman Sarah Ardalani.
In a statement, the Sheriff’s Department expressed condolences to the Vargas family and said the case has been presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for an independent review.
“Due to the ongoing investigation, and the pending litigation, we should not comment further at this time,” the statement reads.
Sheriff’s officials have alleged Vargas was armed and got into a fight with deputies trying to detain him as they investigated a robbery on Aug. 12, 2018.
Authorities said a handgun was later recovered from the scene.
But Vargas’ family claims the gun was planted and he was never known to carry a gun or have a history of violent crimes. Detectives do not believe he was involved in the robbery being investigated when he was shot.
Vargas’ mother, Lisa, said her son was mischaracterized by sheriff’s officials as a gang member and his body was left in the street for 13 hours before coroner’s officials arrived. His body was covered entirely at his funeral as the autopsy had still not been released, she said.
“My son couldn’t even be buried, couldn’t even be viewed the way that the family would remember him,” Lisa Vargas said. “He was covered from top to bottom, including his hands. All that was visible was his face.”
“We were not allowed to look underneath his clothing to find out where these bullet holes were,” she said.
In the eight months since his death, Vargas’ mother said she has struggled to figure out what exactly happened when he was shot.
“All we keep hearing is: ‘There is an investigation. We cannot disclose any more information to you,'” Lisa Vargas said.
“The first shot was to the head. Shouldn’t that have taken him down?” she said.
The autopsy report is the first step in getting some answers as the family continues struggling to obtain surveillance video and other possible evidence in the shooting.
Meanwhile, Guizar said the department’s explanation of how Vargas was shot does not seem to corroborate with the physical evidence.
“The narrative was he fought them and had a gun. How can you have a gun and get shot in the back of the head?” Guizar said, gesturing the difficult motions he claims Vargas would have to make if he was trying to fire at deputies.
Lisa Vargas asked that anyone from the public with information about the shooting to come forward.
She and others have described her 21-year-old son as a loving older brother who led bible study groups and enjoyed fishing.