LOS ANGELES – Sheriff Alex Villanueva Thursday announced the creation of a multi-agency task force that he said will investigate cases in which a law enforcement agency’s use of force results in death.
“Recent events have led community-based groups to highlight the issue of law enforcement agencies investigating their own shootings. I hear you,” the sheriff said in a prepared statement. “The main goal … will be for Los Angeles County agencies to form a joint task force of investigators from multiple agencies to conduct investigations for use of force incidents which result in death.
“I have complete confidence in our homicide detectives and the other detectives throughout our county, but we want to continue building trust, increasing transparency and making the process more reassuring for our communities,” he said.
The task force will include “stakeholders from across the county, which also includes the Office of the District Attorney and State Office of the Attorney General,” according to Villanueva’s statement.
The sheriff, District Attorney Jackie Lacey and Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore had been scheduled Wednesday to publicly announce the creation of the task force, but the news conference was abruptly canceled hours beforehand due to “unforeseen circumstances,” according to the sheriff’s department.
In a released statement Thursday afternoon that was devoid of details, Villanueva said he met with fellow law enforcement leaders this week to discuss the creation of the task force. Members would apparently be prohibited from investigating officers or deputies from their own agencies.
“In the coming weeks, we will access the resources needed to develop a definitive plan and make this concept a reality,” Villanueva said. “The community wants change and we will usher in that change, together.”
The announcement comes as two civilian county institutions charged with monitoring the sheriff’s department say they’re being stonewalled by Villanueva as they try to investigate two back-to-back fatal shootings involving deputies, and the sheriff’s handling of the death of Robert Fuller, who was found hanging from a tree near Palmdale City Hall.
Inspector General Max Huntsman, who heads the investigative arm of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, said his office on Monday asked for reports, documents and video relating to the June 18 shooting death of 18-year-old Andres Guardado, who was killed by a deputy near a Gardena-area auto body shop, but hasn’t received a response.
Huntsman told the Los Angeles Times that the office also requested the report that detailed events surrounding the death of Fuller’s half-brother, Terron Jammal Boone, who was killed June 17 in a shootout with undercover detectives in Kern County, to “analyze the underlying reason for the manner in which the arrest was conducted. But they refused to give it to us.”
The watchdogs’ functions were centerpieces of reforms enacted at the Sheriff’s Department following a corruption and brutality scandal in the jails that led to indictments of several deputies and high-ranking commanders, including former Sheriff Lee Baca. But the agencies have increasingly complained that Villanueva’s administration is refusing to share information and stonewalling efforts to provide true oversight.
“We can’t make recommendations if we don’t get information from them. So our work can be stymied when there’s not cooperation and collaboration,” Patti Giggans, chair of the oversight commission, told The Times. “We need a willing partner in the sheriff.”
The dispute over access to sheriff records prompted the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in January to grant the Civilian Oversight Commission subpoena power at a time of heightened tensions between the law enforcement agency and those who oversee it. The oversight agencies said they were not given access to information about the agency’s internal discipline system and hiring process, as well as documents related to secret deputy cliques with matching tattoos that have been accused of misconduct.
The Sheriff’s Department said at the time that increasing the inspector general’s power could harm investigations and would pit county departments against one another.
The Sheriff’s Department has said little about what led up to the shooting of Guardado, which has sparked large protests and widespread demands for answers. Villanueva has asked Attorney General Xavier Becerra to monitor the investigations of Guardado and Fuller’s deaths, citing the public outcry.
On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to pursue an independent review of the investigation into the Guardado shooting after Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas raised concerns about the integrity of the probe.
Ridley-Thomas’s urgent motion directs the board’s lawyers, the inspector general, coroner and civilian oversight commission to come up with a plan to make sure that the “truth is uncovered and justice is served.”
“Unfortunately, the Sheriff’s Department has a track record of not fully complying with requests and even subpoenas from the inspector general and the (civilian oversight commission),” Ridley-Thomas said.
For his part, Villanueva said Monday that he sought to involve the attorney general — something he initially resisted — out of an abundance of caution and said was “committed to transparency and strengthening community faith in the investigative process.”
Guardado’s family issued a statement Monday through their attorneys upon hearing that the Sheriff’s Department put a security hold on the autopsy results, saying they “will not rest until these facts are fully disclosed.”
The sheriff’s department has publicly stated that Guardado was carrying an unregistered handgun with an illegal ammunition magazine, and was not wearing clothing identifying himself as a security guard. His family and the auto body shop owner say the young man was working a security detail at the business.
According to sheriff’s homicide Capt. Kent Wegener, Guardado was talking with someone in a car when two deputies on patrol arrived at 5:52 p.m. last Thursday at the Freeway Body Shop in the 400 block of West Redondo Beach Boulevard, near Figueroa Street.
“Guardado reportedly looked toward the deputies, produced a handgun and ran southbound down the driveway of the business,” Wegener said. He said deputies chased and caught up with Guardado behind the business, where one deputy fired six shots at him, striking him in the upper body. Family and friends told reporters that Guardado was shot in the back.
The weapon that Guardado was carrying was an unregistered .40-caliber semi-automatic pistol with a polymer frame and no serial number, a Smith & Wesson slide and prohibited 15-round Glock magazine fully loaded, Wegener said.
He was not wearing a uniform or any clothing identifying him as a security guard and would have had to be 21 years old to be a state-licensed armed security guard, Wegener said. In addition, there was no record that he had any security guard license through the California Department of Consumer Affairs, nor did he have a gun belt, holster or spare magazine.
The Guardado shooting came 10 days after a man was found in the driveway of the same business, suffering from multiple gunshot wounds, and a blood trail led into the building, which led investigators to get a search warrant that revealed narcotics and a shotgun, Wegener said. The victim survived and the shooting remains under investigation.