The two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies involved in the fatal shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado have been suspended this week for their role in an unrelated car crash that took place two months before the June incident.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva relieved Deputies Miguel Vega and Chris Hernandez of duty this week pending the outcome of an investigation into the April 13 crash, according to the Los Angeles Times.
The decision to suspend the deputies eight months after the incident in question raises questions as to the timing and whether the sheriff had enough information to remove them before the Guardado shooting.
On April 13 just before 5pm, Vega was driving with a man in custody in the back seat of a patrol car when he started to chase someone on a bicycle that was suspected of carrying a gun, the deputy told California Highway Patrol.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva (pictured) has suspended the two deputies involved in the fatal June shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado
The death of Andres Guardado (left and right), 18, who was shot dead by a California sheriff’s deputy in June will be investigated in the first inquest to be held in Los Angeles in more than 30 years
The image above from June 19 shows the Freeway Auto Body Shop where Guardado was working as a security guard when he was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies
The bicyclist was some 30 yards in front of Vega when he accelerated. As he tried to pass a parked vehicle, he crashed the car into a concrete wall.
The suspect who was in the back seat of the vehicle sustained minor injuries in the crash.
CHP officers investigating the crash said they heard conflicting accounts from Vega and the man in custody.
Vega told investigators that he accelerated from 30 to 35mph while the man told officers that Vega was driving in excess of 55mph at the time of the crash.
The man in the back seat of Vega’s car was not arrested or booked into custody, according to public records, prompting speculation that Vega let the man go after the crash.
Investigators also started searching for the suspected armed bicyclist, but this individual was never found.
The CHP report of the incident does not mention Hernandez, whose role is unclear. There is also no indication of what specific allegations were made against Vega.
Guardado was shot in the back five times while running away from the two deputies on June 18.
Guardado was standing outside the auto shop where he worked in Gardena, in the South Bay region of Los Angeles, guarding against graffiti taggers on the day of the shooting.
The Hispanic teenager allegedly spotted officers patrolling the area just before 6pm, and investigators say they saw him flash a handgun before taking off, police said.
However his boss told reporters Guardado had a clean record, and that the approaching sheriffs pulled their own guns on the teenager, which scared him into fleeing the scene.
Officers began chasing him on foot southbound before a deputy fired a gun, striking Guardado’s upper torso and killing him.
Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner, Dr Jonathan Lucas (pictured), called for the inquest into the shooting death of the 18-year-old
Guardado (right) was shot in the back five times (depicted left) by a sheriff’s deputy from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department on June 18. Police claimed he ‘produced a gun and ran away’ from the deputies outside an auto body shop where he worked as a security guard
Head of the LA County Sheriff Department’s homicide division, Capt Kent Wegener, says that deputies reported seeing Guardado – who allegedly wasn’t wearing a uniform – talking to someone in a car outside of the auto shop.
Authorities say Guardado ‘looked to the deputies’ and ‘produced a gun’ before running away, Wegener said just weeks after the teen’s death.
He said at the time that Guardado was too young to work as a state-licensed security guard at the business.
The shooting took place in an alleyway in the back of the building.
Investigators said they recovered a modified .40 caliber semiautomatic pistol at the scene. It had no markings or serial number and appeared to have been pieced together from different parts.
The county Board of Supervisors identified the deputy who shot Guardado as Manuel Vega.
In a rare move, Los Angeles County Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr Jonathan Lucas last month called for an inquest into the shooting death of Guardado – the first in more than 30 years.
Dr Lucas, who ruled Guardado’s death a homicide in July, released a statement about his decision to call for an inquest in the ‘interest of public transparency’.
The Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner appointed a former Court of Appeals Justice, Candace Cooper, to conduct an inquest, which started on November 30, into the circumstances, manner, and cause of death of Andres Guardado Pineda, according to the statement.
According to California law, the Medical Examiner-Coroner is permitted to order a formal inquest any time there is a death of an individual in the county.
‘The Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner is committed to transparency and providing the residents of Los Angeles County an independent assessment of its findings in this case,’ Lucas said.
‘An inquest ensures that our residents will have an independent review of all the evidence and findings of our office and of the cause and manner of death of Mr. Guardado.’
In July, Guardado’s sister, Jennifer (pictured during a protest on June 19), urged officials to further examine the circumstances leading up to her sibling’s death in Gardena
Relatives of Guardado, embrace as they tour the site of the shooting outside an auto shop in Gardena, California
According to the statement, the inquest supports the department’s mission and purpose to provide independent, evidence-based death investigations, addresses the public’s interest in the death, and is in accord with a motion approved by the Board of Supervisors on September 1.
Villanueva promised to leave ‘no stone unturned’ in the ongoing investigation. Investigators have taken footage from six or seven exterior cameras from the scene for examination.
‘Shootings are thoroughly investigated,’ said at the time. ‘It’s a deliberative process that can sometimes be maddeningly slow.’
Villanueva said the shooting underscores why the department needs to get body cameras for all of its uniformed deputies as soon as possible. The department is currently soliciting bids for a company to provide the cameras.
The shooting ignited public outrage and weeks of protest. It also led to renewed scrutiny of the Compton LASD station where the two deputies were based.
After the fatal shooting of Guardado, a whistleblower came forward to allege that Vega and Hernandez were among deputies at the station who formed a secret gang who sport tattoos with Nazi imagery and encourage each other to commit civil rights abuses against the public.
In a claim filed in June against Los Angeles County, Deputy Sheriff Austreberto Gonzalez details that roughly a fifth of the 100 deputies at the Compton Station (CPT) are a part of the gang – called the Executioners.
Another 20 deputies are considered to be ‘prospects’ or close associates of the gang, the filing states.
The filing has prompted a response from Villanueva, who took to Facebook to announce that the department was putting its foot down when dealing with disingenuous deputies.
‘Swift administrative action’ is taking place as they look into the allegations.