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The Fred Williams Death Inquest Is Over And It Didn't Reveal Much

A still from LA County Sheriff's deputy body camera shows a man wearing a white shirt and dark pants holding a gun in his right hand.  He is kneeling on a metal shed surrounded by tires and other debris in a Willowbrook backyard.
A screenshot from a deputy's body camera video released Friday, Oct. 30 by Los Angeles County Sheriff's Dept.
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An inquest conducted by the L.A. County Medical Examiner-Coroner has found Fred Williams III died of "a single gunshot wound to the back." Williams, 25, was shot by a Los Angeles sheriff's deputy in October in the first deputy-involved shooting caught on a body-worn camera. The department had started deploying them only weeks earlier.

The finding echoed the conclusion of the coroner's initial autopsy. It doesn't answer the crucial question of whether the deputy's decision to use deadly force was lawful. He is heard on his body cam saying Williams pointed the gun at him. The video shows Williams holding a gun but does not show him pointing it at the deputy.

State law limits the scope of an inquest. It may only determine place, manner and cause of death. In this case, Wiiliams was killed in Willowbrook by a gunshot fired by a sheriff’s deputy. The half-day inquest — conducted on Jan. 28 by retired justice Candace Cooper — was further limited by the refusal of any Sheriff's official to testify.

The deputy who shot Williams cited his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination, as did the deputy's partner. The department has not identified either deputy, saying there are credible threats against them.

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The detectives investigating the shooting said testifying would threaten their ongoing investigation. Cooper indicated she relied heavily on sealed documents provided by the Sheriff's Department.

Once the department's investigation is complete, District Attorney George Gascón will use it to help determine whether to bring any criminal charges against the deputy. Gascón has promised to scrutinize police shootings more closely than previous DAs.

The Board of Supervisors has urged the coroner to conduct inquests to increase accountability and transparency at the sheriff's department. But both this case and an inquest into the deputy-involved shooting of Andres Guardado, 18, have yet to reveal new details about the incidents or how the department has investigated them.

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