The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously voted Tuesday to ask the coroner to conduct an investigation into the June 18-year-old Andres Guardado's death, who was shot dead by an MP in the Gardena area, and gave his plan known to file lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
The board voted in favor of a motion from Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas that the sheriff's department had violated state law by not allowing the supervision of law enforcement investigations. It directed the district attorney in charge to report the feasibility of a lawsuit within 10 days.
Ridley-Thomas also recommended the investigation and use of the coroner's subpoena powers to keep a record of the sheriff's investigations into the cause and circumstances of death.
"We've accepted the status quo for far too long – we haven't adequately challenged the incessant demands of law enforcement that the investigation be kept secret," said Ridley-Thomas. "This body must not watch and allow the county law enforcement agency to anchor itself in traditional behavior patterns that profoundly harm not only vulnerable communities but the entire judicial system."
Ridley-Thomas said the move would also aid the investigation into the Monday afternoon shooting of Dijon Kizzee, who was killed by sheriff MPs who stopped the 29-year-old black man on his bike for "code violations". MPs say Kizzee was armed with a pistol and punched a MP in the face, while relatives and activists said he dropped his gun and was shot in the back more than 20 times.
During the shootings in June, Guardado's family said he was armed because he worked as a security officer for a body shop. MPs said he was not wearing a guard uniform when responding to a report of a non-fatal shooting in the area and was not licensed as a security guard or old enough to do the job under state law.
Guardado's family filed a lawsuit against the county on Monday.
Inspector General Max Huntsman informed the board that his office would have been better able to assess the allegations against MPs in the Guardado case if his staff had still had access to LASD computers but the department had locked them out some time ago.
"We made requests for information that were denied," Huntsman said.
The Inspector General mentioned an allegation that the MP who witnessed the shooting was involved in a proxy gang. Huntsman also revealed that the MP who shot Guardado "did not make a statement for weeks," saying delays in the community could raise concerns about an agreement between the department and the MP's attorney.
"The county sheriff's department's refusal to comply with state law and allow their investigations to be monitored deeply undermines the credibility of law enforcement," Huntsman said.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger said she was sorry to have been forced to take action against the department.
"I am sad that this motion had to be brought before us today. The Guardado family deserves answers and the entire community deserves transparency," said Barger. "The apparent opposition to oversight undermines the years of work of this body and our law enforcement partners, and it is a disservice to the men and women of the sheriff's department that undermines the fine work that many of them do in an odd position around this one Reminding the sheriff that as the senior law enforcement officer in LA County he is not above the law. "
Sheriff Alex Villanueva has consistently opposed allegations by the board of directors that he is not advocating transparency and has pointed out his direct communication with the public through the posting of departmental guidelines and other information on his website and in community hall meetings. In addition to legal battles with the board of directors, the division has sued Huntsman, accusing his office of conspiracy, unauthorized computer access, and theft of confidential files.
Before the board vote, the sheriff aimed at Ridley-Thomas's motion.
"The motion proposed by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas is poorly written, full of inaccuracies, and contravenes the law and best practices in death investigations," said Villanueva.
The sheriff said the motion had presented the MPs involved in a negative light that could be viewed as defamatory and opened the county to civil liability. He asked the authorities to request an investigation. He said earlier disclosure of information could jeopardize an investigation.
"Transparency cannot be at the expense of integrity in criminal investigations," said the sheriff.
Villanueva said his department's investigative bureau has handled 69 cases since taking office as sheriff, resulting in 14 filings with prosecutors.
"We hold our people accountable, so any suggestion or conclusion that we cannot hold ourselves accountable for the rule of law is factually incorrect," said Villanueva.
Isaac Bryant, Executive Director of the UCLA Black Policy Project, welcomed the board's move.
"The Sheriff's Office under this administration has illegally avoided all attempts to be transparent in the investigation of Andres Guardado. Now at a time when the entire nation is calling on us to reconsider public safety and accountability, and with the shooting of Dijon Kizzee Just last night, I applaud the leadership of Supervisor Ridley-Thomas to hold this department accountable and make further demands for justice, "Bryant said in a statement.