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LA Coroner Defies Sheriff, Releases Andres Guardado Autopsy Results

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The Los Angeles County coroner Friday released the autopsy report for an 18-year-old man who was shot and killed by L.A. County Sheriff's deputies last month in Gardena.

Andres Guardado
An undated photo of 18-year-old Andres Guardado, who was shot and killed on June 18, 2020, in Gardena, Calif. (Credit: Family photo)

The report echoed the results of an independent autopsy released by the family of Andres Guardado earlier this week and determined that he was shot in the back five times.

L.A. County Medical Examiner Dr. Jonathan Lucas announced that he chose to defy a security hold placed on the autopsy report by the sheriff's department and release it in the interests of the public.

"After careful thought and deliberation, I am releasing the autopsy report of Andres Guardado Pineda," Lucas wrote in a statement. "In doing so, 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. 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. I believe that government can do its part by being more timely and more transparent in sharing information that the public demands and has a right to see."

Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Hunstman, who was present at the autopsy, said Sheriff Alex Villanueva has repeatedly ignored requests for documents and video from the ongoing investigation.

"The sheriff's department has failed to follow transparency and oversight laws," Huntsman said. "We have state law and county code that require cooperation with the Office of the Inspector General, which I run, to monitor a lot of things that happen in the sheriff's department, including shooting investigations, and they refuse to follow that."

A statement from Adam Shea, the attorney for the family, said his office had received a copy of the report and praised Lucas "for doing the right thing by releasing the report and standing on the side of truth."

"Even now, the Sheriff's Department continues to fail in fulfilling its promises of transparency and accountability, both to the Guardado family, and to the public for which it serves," the statement continued. "From the start, this investigation has been conducted in secrecy, with guarded intent to delay disclosure to the public and bury the truth about what happened in the moments before Andres' life was taken. 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? How long must the Guardado family wait for the Department do the right thing?"

The controversial shooting death of Guardado occurred on the evening of June 18, in the 400 block of Redondo Beach Boulevard.

According to the autopsy, which was completed June 22, Guardado was shot five times in the back and suffered two additional graze wounds to both his forearms. All five gunshot wounds were determined to be fatal. The cause of death, certified by the coroner Tuesday, was "multiple gunshot wounds."

"The manner of death is homicide," the autopsy determined.

No drugs or alcohol were found in Guardado's system.

On the night of June 18, deputies patrolling in the area said they saw Guardado flash a gun and then run south between two businesses. Deputies gave chase, and after a short foot pursuit, Guardado was shot. He died at the scene.

Guardado was working as an informal security guard for the Freeway auto body shop at the time. According to the sheriff's department, deputies recovered an unregistered handgun loaded with a large-capacity magazine. They also said he was not licensed and was not wearing a uniform.

According to the case report provided along with the autopsy results Friday, deputies claimed that just prior to being shot, Guardado "reached into his waistband," prompting deputies to open fire.

However, Guardado's family has repeatedly disputed the claim that he was armed.

"According to the family and best friends, he did not own a gun, did not have a gun, did not have access to a gun," Shea said at a June 30 news conference.

The family also claimed that witnesses told them Guardado was running from deputies when he was shot.

The family has demanded that security video from nearby businesses be released in an effort to see what happened. Further complicating the issue is that sheriff's deputies do not wear body cameras. The department is purportedly going to begin equipping its deputies with body cameras later this year.

In a virtual Compton City Council meeting on June 29, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva said that his investigators were still following leads from potential witnesses and he could not release any reports until those were complete.

"It can't be made public until all the witnesses have been identified and been interviewed," Villanueva said. "Otherwise, we're gonna taint their testimony and we're gonna have a compromised result."

On Friday evening, the department released a statement in response to the autopsy report release that said, in part:

"The unprecedented release of the Andres Guardado autopsy report today by the Medical Examiner-Coroner, Dr. Jonathan Lucas, has the potential to jeopardize the investigation, the filing of the case, and any possible future criminal or administrative proceedings. This move will now force the Sheriff's Department to use court orders to enforce security holds that exist for only one purpose – to prevent tainting witness testimony prior to interviews.

Dr. Lucas has acknowledged succumbing to pressure from the Board of Supervisors and the Office of Inspector General, and has now made the astonishing admission that he sacrificed the integrity of the investigation in a bid to satisfy public curiosity."

The Medical Examiner's Office issued a secondary statement Friday evening disputing the assertion that releasing the report was politically motivated.

"The Department of Medical Examiner-Coroner's sole mission and purpose is to provide independent, evidence-based death investigations to the public," it said. "We value our political neutrality and reject any characterization to the contrary."

The attorney of Deputy Miguel Vega, who fired the shots that killed Guardado, says his client will provide a voluntary statement to investigators on Monday.

"The official autopsy's findings do not alter in any way the ultimate fact that Deputy Vega acted properly and lawfully," the statement from attorney Adam L. Marangell said. "Deputy Vega did everything possible that night to avoid firing his weapon and regrets his actions resulted in a loss of life."

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