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Inquest Into Deputy's Fatal Shooting Of Andres Guardado: Both Deputies, 2 Detectives Plead The 5th

A memorial to Andres Guardado. (Josie Huang/LAist)
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The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputy who fatally shot Andres Guardado in June, his partner on the scene and two Sheriff’s homicide detectives all invoked — or signaled their intention to invoke — their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination today during the first day of a coroner’s inquest into the killing.

Retired appellate justice Candace Cooper, who is presiding over the proceeding, said she is not certain that the four men’s Fifth Amendment assertions are acceptable in all instances, adding that she will consult with county counsel on the matter.

Deputy Miguel Vega shot the 18-year-old Guardado five times in the back June 18 as he allegedly reached for a gun outside an autobody shop in Gardena. Vega was subpoenaed to testify, but his attorney informed the inquest that he is out of the country, and in any case he will assert his Fifth Amendment right if called to answer questions.

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While saying she would “probably” accept Vega’s invocation of the Fifth, Cooper said she’s not sure that he can assert it “across the board.”

Vega’s partner, Deputy Chris Hernandez, submitted a written declaration on Nov. 17 laying out what happened the day of the shooting, followed up by a second declaration on Nov. 28 saying he would invoke the Fifth if he appeared at the inquest.

Cooper said Hernandez may have waived his right not to testify with the first declaration.

Sheriff’s detectives Mike Davis and Joseph Valencia both appeared at the inquest and refused to answer even the most elementary questions, including what their responsibilities are and who their supervisors are.

Two questions posed by Deputy County Counsel Michael Miller to Valencia raised the specter of trouble within the investigation. Miller asked Valencia whether department supervisors had told him he was under investigation in connection with the death of Guardado, and whether anyone he’d worked with on the inquiry had been removed from the investigation.

Valencia refused to answer.

Cooper said there is a question as to whether each detective's assertion of Fifth Amendment protection is appropriate.

In a potentially significant development, a coroner’s investigator said Detective Davis told her at the scene of the shooting that Guardado “reached for his waistband, which then led the deputies to shoot at the decedent.”

Vega’s attorney Adam Marangell has said Guardado set the gun down, lay stomach down on the pavement, then reached for the gun, prompting his client to open fire.

There is no video of the shooting — deputies began getting body cams in October.

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Cooper adjourned the inquest this afternoon, saying she needs to review sealed documents provided to her by the Sheriff's Department and consult with counsel regarding the various invocations of the 5th Amendment.

Depending on the outcomes of those deliberations, Cooper said she may need to call another session.

The coroner’s inquest is the first in L.A. County in nearly four decades.

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