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LA Sheriff's Deputy Who Shot Fred Williams Refuses To Testify In Coroner's Inquest

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Candles laid out in memory of Fred Williams near where he was shot. (Brian Feinzimer for LAist)
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The L.A. sheriff's deputy who fatally shot a man in Willowbrook in October, along with his partner and the two detectives investigating the shooting, refused to testify Thursday at a coroner's inquest into the man's death.

In declining to testify, the two deputies cited their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the shooting of Fred Williams III, 25. The Sheriff's Department is conducting a criminal investigation into the shooting, as it does in all cases in which a deputy shoots someone.

The department has not identified the deputy who pulled the trigger or his partner, citing a "credible threat of violence" against them -- even though both are seen on body camera video of the incident.

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Sheriff's officials have named the two detectives assigned to the case -- John O'Brien and Christopher Dimmitt. They both said publicly testifying could compromise the outcome of the investigation. The Sheriff's Department provided the inquest's hearing officer with statements from the detectives in a sealed packet with other relevant materials, according to the hearing officer.

Sheriff's officials also refused to testify at the November inquest into a deputy's fatal shooting of Andres Guardado.

DON'T EXPECT ANY SURPRISES

The Williams shooting was the first caught on a body-worn camera, which the department started using in October. Video shows the deputy shooting Williams as he's jumping over a fence with an apparent gun in his hand. A coroner's official testified he was shot once in the upper back, and that the bullet struck both lungs and perforated his aorta.

Immediately after the shooting, the deputy radioed that Williams pointed a gun at him, although that is not clear in the video. A department spokesman said deputies recovered a 9mm handgun at the scene. A coroner's investigator testified there were eight bullet casings on the ground when she arrived -- suggesting the deputy fired eight times.

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After less than three hours, the hearing officer, retired state appeals court justice Candace Cooper, ended the inquest for the day and said she would review sealed documents provided by the Sheriff's Department before issuing a ruling.

It's unlikely there will be any surprises.

In her opening statement, Cooper reiterated that inquests are limited in their scope. Under state law, inquests only determine the name of the person who died, the time and place of death, the medical cause of death, and whether the death was the result of natural causes, an accident, suicide, or was "at the hands of another."

A 'CHARADE' AND 'A WASTED OPPORTUNITY FOR JUSTICE'

In both inquests, Cooper has so far not indicated an interest in seeking answers to any other questions, frustrating community activists who hoped the proceedings would provide greater transparency into the incidents and how the Sheriff's Department investigates them.

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Williams family attorney Carl Douglas denounced the inquest as a "charade" and "a wasted opportunity for justice." He called the detectives' refusal to testify "particularly disappointing."

This is just the second coroner's inquest in nearly 40 years. The Board of Supervisors encouraged Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas to conduct them to increase transparency and accountability at the troubled Sheriff's Department.

After two deputies and two detectives declined to testify in the Guardado inquest, Cooper determined what we already knew -- that a deputy shot him five times in the back.

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