For the first time, the Los Angeles County coroner’s office defied a “security hold” in releasing the autopsy report for Andres Guardado Friday, confirming the teenager was shot five times in the back by a sheriff’s deputy last month.
Despite the hold placed by the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas said “the public’s right to know” was important.
“I have given careful consideration to the major variables in this case – supporting the administration of justice, as well as the public’s right to know,” Lucas said. “I do not believe that these are mutually exclusive ideals. Both are important, particularly amid the ongoing national discussion about race, policing and civil rights.”
Sheriff Alex Villanueva issued a statement Friday afternoon criticizing the “unprecedented” decision to release the autopsy, painting it as a political move and saying it “has the potential to jeopardize the investigation.”
Any of the five bullets that entered the 18-year-old’s back could have been the fatal shot that killed him, according to the report.
Guardado was shot dead in an alley between two buildings in the 400 block of West Redondo Beach Boulevard near Gardena June 18. His death has prompted protest locally and calls for justice amid an ongoing nationwide movement against police violence.
The coroner certified the manner of Guardado’s death as homicide.
The report confirms the results found in an independent autopsy requested by the teenager’s family after the Sheriff’s Department restricted access to the document, fueling another protest in the Gardena area.
Guardado’s family members and their attorneys have been calling out the Sheriff’s Department for a lack of transparency in the weeks that followed the killing.
“We would like to recognize the Los Angeles County Medical Examiner for doing the right thing by releasing the report and standing on the side of truth – we are in agreement with Dr. Lucas that the administration of justice, as well as the public’s right to know, should not be mutually exclusive ideals,” read a statement released by the family’s attorney Friday afternoon.
Villanueva said it will now seek a court order to enforce security holds and that it would not provide any comments on Guardado’s case until the investigation is over.
L.A. County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis also commended the coroner for releasing the autopsy despite the security hold.
“It underscores the critical need for the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to be able to conduct its fair and legally mandated independent investigation into this matter without interference,” Ridley-Thomas said in a written statement.
Ridley-Thomas said it’s “deeply troubling” the inspector general’s office still has not received documents requested two weeks ago from the Sheriff’s Department for the investigation into the shooting.
“The community deserves to know the facts. This is a matter of public interest and public trust,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Solis called for an independent investigation, also saying it’s troubling the sheriff is “not fully cooperating w/ the Inspector General.”
The sheriff in his statement suggested Ridley-Thomas had used “the authority of his office to bully the coroner and sow mistrust of law enforcement in the community.”
Guardado’s family has expressed skepticism about the department’s account of the killing, and they maintain the shooting was an unnecessary use of force against a scared young man.
“What bureaucratic and procedural blockades will the Sheriff’s Department cite now to further delay justice for Andres and avoid coming forward with the truth?” the statement from the family’s attorney read. “How long must the Guardado family wait for the Department do the right thing?”
The Sheriff’s Department said two deputies from the Compton sheriff’s station were out on patrol when they saw Guardado talking to someone in a car that was blocking a driveway about 6 p.m., so they approached him.
The coroner’s report says the deputies saw a gun in Guardado’s waistband area and directed him to stop, but he took off running.
“The Deputies approached the decedent and instructed the decedent not to touch his weapon. The decedent then reached for his waistband, which then led the Deputies to shoot at the decedent,” the coroner states he was told by detectives.
A handgun with a loaded, illegal large-capacity magazine was recovered at the scene, according to officials.
The Sheriff’s Department said only one of the two deputies opened fire. He was identified by the Los Angeles Times as Miguel Vega. He was accused of making false statements in a 2017 investigation and has had three complaints lodged against him during his time at the Compton station, the Times reported.
Villanueva has faced growing scrutiny in recent weeks as the department left questions unanswered in Guardado’s case.
On Wednesday, Villanueva said in a news conference that the deputy who fired still hadn’t been interviewed in connection with the case and investigators had no surveillance video depicting what happened in the alley.
Correction: A previous version of this story provided an incorrect spelling for Guardado’s first name. This story has been updated.