Attorneys representing the family of Andres Guardado said that an independent autopsy has found that the 18-year-old was shot five times in the back by a Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy in a killing that they say was unjustified.
Meanwhile, the deputy who pulled the trigger has, through his attorney, given his first public account of what happened the evening of June 18 that he said prompted him to open fire.
The Sheriff's Department has said that Guardado was shot and killed about 6 p.m., after two deputies saw him speaking to someone in a car blocking the entrance to a body shop on West Redondo Beach Boulevard. Investigators said Guardado “produced a handgun” and ran away and that deputies chased him. When deputies reached him, one fired.
The Guardado family's attorneys on Wednesday released a photo of Guardado's back, pierced by five bullet wounds. They said preliminary autopsy findings showed that Guardado died as a result of gunshot wounds to his trunk and that he also sustained a graze to his left forearm with a forward trajectory.
They said preliminary forensic toxicology results showed Guardado, who relatives said worked as a security guard at a nearby auto body shop, did not have any drugs or alcohol in his system. Guardado did not have a security guard license and sheriff's officials said he was not in uniform.
The full report, written by Dr. Bennet I. Omalu, was not released.
The family requested the independent autopsy after the department placed a "security hold" on the results of the official report prepared by the L.A. County coroner's office. The attorneys said the independent findings showed that Guardado's death was "the result of unjustified police violence against an innocent young man" and called on the Sheriff's Department to release the coroner's report.
Sheriff's Lt. Charles Calderaro declined to comment Wednesday on the family's findings but said the security hold on the coroner's autopsy would be lifted soon, possibly in the next couple weeks.
"I know there's people that want answers, but when you conduct a thorough investigation sometimes you need to protect the integrity of future statements you might be getting," he said.
As of Wednesday, he said, investigators had not located any video of the incident. The deputies were not wearing body cameras.
The two deputies involved have been identified as Miguel Vega, who opened fire, and Chris Hernandez, who did not shoot. Both deputies work out of Compton station. Their duty assignments following the shooting are unclear.
Their attorneys have told The Times that the shooting was justified.
Cmdr. Chris Marks would not say whether any footage had been recovered that captured any part of the encounter, citing the ongoing investigation.
A source with knowledge of the investigation, however, told The Times that detectives had recovered footage that showed the beginning of the event.
The source, who reviewed the footage, said it shows the deputies pull up as Guardado is bent over talking to someone on the passenger’s side of a car. It shows Guardado run and Vega give chase, the source said. Hernandez follows.
At a news briefing Wednesday, Marks said that the deputy who did not shoot has been interviewed and that the deputy who fired is scheduled to be interviewed within a week. He did not name Vega or Hernandez.
Deputies are not compelled to speak with investigators until the criminal investigation is completed but usually voluntarily give a statement after an on-duty shooting.
"We're on his timetable," Marks said, adding that the deputy is entitled to his Fifth Amendment rights. "We want his cooperation."
Marks said the Sheriff's Department is aware of the family's independent autopsy. He said that homicide investigators have not yet been notified that the official coroner's report has been completed and therefore said he could not comment on the findings.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva spoke briefly at the news conference, saying that the department is conducting a thorough investigation.
Tom Yu, an attorney representing Hernandez, said that his client saw a gun in Guardado's waistband and, at some point during the chase, he pulled it out. He said his client saw Guardado turn a corner and begin to lie prone on the ground when the deputy heard Vega order Guardado to drop the gun. Then Hernandez heard the gunfire, Yu said.
At that point, Hernandez had only a partial view of Guardado, Yu said.
In a statement Wednesday, Vega's attorney Adam Marangell gave his client's account of the incident. He said Vega gave multiple commands for Guardado to stop during the chase, during which Guardado pulled out the gun. He said Guardado then obeyed commands to stop, turned around and then raised both hands while still armed.
Guardado was ordered to place the firearm on the ground, which he did, Marangell said. Guardado then positioned himself face down on the ground, but the gun was near his right hand, Marangell said.
Vega then holstered his weapon and began approaching Guardado to cuff him while saying, "Don't reach for the gun," Marangell said. He said that's when Guardado reached for the gun and Vega opened fire.
"The reported independent autopsy's findings do not alter in any way the ultimate fact that Deputy Vega acted properly and lawfully," Marangell said in the statement.
The shooting has generated national attention and widespread calls for an independent investigation at a time of increased scrutiny of law enforcement spurred by the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. There have been growing demands for answers on the part of Guardado’s family and community leaders, who have held large protests, including one that ended with deputies firing less-than-lethal weapons at the crowd.
Sheriff's officials said the FBI is monitoring their investigation into the shooting. But the Office of Inspector General, which provides oversight of the department, said in a letter to Villanueva on Wednesday that they had not received a response to requests for video and documents related to the shooting.
Guardado's parents said in a statement that the independent autopsy findings "confirm what we have known all along, which is that Andres was unjustifiably killed by a Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy."
"Andres was a good boy, he was our son and he had so much life ahead of him. Our son did not deserve to die this way," Cristobal and Elisa Guardado said in the statement.