GARDENA, Calif. - The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Wednesday that they have not interviewed the deputy who fatally shot 18-year-old Andres Guardado because the deputy has to provide a statement voluntarily.
“This is just a matter of that person’s rights, as any other person has a right to the 5th Amendment," said Cmdr. Chris Marks, who oversees the sheriff's Detective Division Headquarters.
The 5th Amendment states that no one can be forced to provide a statement without an indictment from a Grand Jury. It also protects an individual from self-incrimination.
"We just deal with the facts, if they provide a statement that’s what we want — if they don’t we still move forward with that investigation," continued Marks.
Attorney's representing Guardado's family released the findings of an independent autopsy Wednesday morning after the sheriff's department placed a hold on the results of the official autopsy prepared by the Los Angeles County coroner’s office.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva stated that they are still interviewing witnesses and didn't want to taint their testimonies by releasing the autopsy results too soon.
“Holding onto facts is meant to keep the investigation from being tainted in any way, shape or form," said Villanueva during a press conference Wednesday afternoon.
The independent autopsy found that Guardado was shot in the back five times and his official cause of death was gunshot wounds to his trunk.
Andres Guardado verified diagram from independent autopsy performed on June 26, 2020. (Provided by PANISH SHEA & BOYLE LLP)
He also suffered a graze abrasion to his left forearm with a forward trajectory. Preliminary forensic toxicology results showed he did not have any drugs or alcohol in his system at the time of his death.
The Guardado family believes that the preliminary findings from the autopsy prove that Guardado's death "was, without a doubt, the result of unjustified police violence against an innocent young man," the family's attorney wrote in a statement.
Guardado was killed by a sheriff's deputy on June 18. Homicide investigators said that Guardado was talking with someone in a car that was blocking the entrance to a body shop when two deputies in a marked patrol car arrived.
“Deputies observed Guardado with a firearm and the firearm was recovered at the scene,” Marks told reporters Wednesday, stating that he was unable to provide any details of what led up to the shooting because they are still gathering facts.
One deputy fired six shots at Guardado, striking him in the upper body, he said. The other responding deputy did not fire his weapon.
His family said that he worked as a security guard in the area and the owner of the body shop told FOX 11 that he let Guardado keep an eye on the place to stop graffiti vandals. Law enforcement officials said Guardado was not wearing any clothing or badge identifying him as security. They also said he was not licensed and was carrying a weapon.
Investigators said that an unregistered gun was recovered from the scene. However, according to Marks, the sheriff's department does not have "any information or evidence that leads us to believe that Guardado fired a shot."
The sheriff's department interviewed the deputy who did not fire his weapon but the deputy who shot Guardado has not yet been interviewed.
Marks told reporters Wednesday that deputy-involved shootings are handled as any other homicide investigation, so deputies can make voluntary witness statements but they are not required to. He said the department is on the deputy's "time table" adding that they "cannot order him when and where."
Law enforcement seized surveillance cameras from the area directly after the shooting, but Marks claims that they did not contain any video recordings of the shooting or events that led up to it.
On Wednesday evening, Los Angeles County Inspector General Matt Huntsman released a letter he penned to Sheriff Villanueva that said that on June 22, his office requested documents and video recovered in the investigation into Guardado's death.
"We have received no response. I ask that you provide us the items requested
immediately," Huntsman wrote. "Failure to comply with transparency laws makes it impossible to conclude that an unregulated investigation's interest in secrecy outweighs the public's interest in full disclosure as provided for in Penal Code section 832.7."
The sheriff's department will present the District Attorney's Office with all the facts of the case when they complete their investigation. From there, the DA will decide whether or not the shooting was justifiable under California law.
Speaking to Guardado's family during Wednesday's press conference, Sheriff Villanueva said, "you have my word that this will be a very thorough investigation."
The Federal Bureau of Investigation is monitoring the investigation, according to Marks.
While the sheriff's department has not released the names of the deputies involved, they were identified by The Los Angeles Times as Miguel Vega, who opened fire, and Chris Hernandez, who did not shoot. Their attorneys told The Times that the shooting was justified.
At this time, no arrests or charges have been made in the case. Both deputies are still employed by the department and their current work status is unknown, said Marks.