Members of an oversight board expressed some astonishment that the former LA County Sheriff’s Department deputy who killed Andres Guardado was never asked whether or not he was a member of a deputy clique or gang, or aspired to become a member before the ex-deputy was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the shooting.
“I know that it was not asked in this investigation,” Assistant Sheriff Holly Francisco told the Civilian Oversight Commission Thursday of the inquiry into the killing of Guardado, 18, who was shot in the back on June 18, 2020 by ex deputy Miguel A. Vega.
The sheriff’s department said Guardado was armed with a handgun as he ran from Vega and another deputy near an auto repair shop in Gardena.
“I feel like I don’t have any confidence that this investigation was done in a professional manner, a trustworthy manner, an objective manner, or with integrity,” said Sean Kennedy, the chair of the oversight commission, after observing that the LA County District Attorney’s Office decided not to prosecute Vega and LA County lawyers agreed to pay Guardado’s family $8-million to settle a lawsuit over the death without an answer to the gang question.
Vega, and his partner at the time of the Guardado killing, former deputy Christopher B. Hernandez, were described as prospective members of the “executioners” deputy gang in testimony from another Compton Station deputy in an unrelated lawsuit. Vega and Hernandez, through attorneys, have denied involvement with the executioners.
“How can the public have any confidence in this investigation in light of those revelations?” Kennedy asked.
“Of course there should have been questions about gang participation or membership because it would add to motive,” said Commissioner Robert Bonner, who characterized the sheriff’s investigation of the Guardado killing as “inadequate.”
Bonner said despite a new state law prohibiting law enforcement officers from belonging to gangs, LA County Sheriff Robert Luna has yet to create a department policy with the same prohibition, making it impossible to discipline deputies for membership.
“I think we’ve been patient with Sheriff Luna, but our patience is wearing thin,” said Bonner. “The sheriff has said he wants to hold people accountable, and the only way is to have a policy, a rule that prohibits that conduct. Let’s get on with it.”
On May 12 the LA County Office of Inspector General sent letters to a number of deputies, ordering them to appear for in-person questioning about their possible involvement with law enforcement gangs, and demanding the deputies bring photographs of any of their tattoos associated with gang membership.
“You are directed to appear in person to participate in an interview to be conducted by the Office of Inspector General concerning the presence of law enforcement gangs in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department,” the letter begins. It was addressed to deputies suspected of ties to the executioners or banditos gangs.
In March 2023, former deputies Vega and Hernandez were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges they violated the civil rights of a 23-year-old skateboarder three months before the Guardado shooting.
The skateboarder was forced into the backseat of a patrol car and was injured when the car crashed during a chase in April 2020. The indictment accuses Vega and Hernandez of threatening the skateboarder and trying to cover up the incident.
Assistant Sheriff Francisco told the Commissioners that now that the district attorney has declined to prosecute, the sheriff’s department’s Internal Affairs Bureau will review the Guardado killing for policy violations.
That internal inquiry is when the gang membership issue could be explored, though the findings will have no effect on Vega or Hernandez, who left the department more than a year ago.
Source: NBC Los Angeles
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