One More Guardado and the Call Must be Villanueva Resign or be Recalled

Earl Ofari Hutchinson

I’ll skip the diplomacy. One more Andres Guardado and the call must be for L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva to resign or face recall. The reason for this call didn’t start with the mass protests over the slaying of Guardado. Villanueva was elected with the overwhelming support of the sheriff’s union. It backed him with gusto for a good reason.  He promised to be a tough cop’s cop and go to bat whenever and wherever there was any inference of wrongdoing by deputies.

He has been as good as his word. He has waged relentless battle with L.A.  County Supervisors over any cuts to the department’s funding. He has brought back a disgraced and discredited former deputy. He has said he’d bring back other deputies allegedly unfairly terminated.

He has repeatedly been under fire from civil rights activists and the supervisors for lack of transparency and accountability on deputy involved shootings. This issue exploded with the gunning down of Guardado in Gardena in June. Villanueva added much fuel to the fire in the slaying when he refused to release the autopsy report on Guardado’s killing.  There was good reason for the secrecy. An independent autopsy found that Guardado was shot multiple times in the back. Villanueva added more insult to injury when it was revealed that the department hadn’t interviewed the shooter about the circumstances of the killing. Time, time, time, was passing, with no movement to determine just what and why the deputy resorted to gunplay with Guardado. 

Instead, Villanueva offered a weak rejoinder about Guardado having what looked like an illegal weapon, casting aspersions on his claim to be a security guard and hunkering down behind the standard claim that the investigation is ongoing.

Villanueva’s handling of the Guardado killing appeared to be squarely in keeping with his see no evil hear no evil when it comes to actions of deputies, no matter how questionable and dubious.  This shouldn’t surprise. 

Villanueva is just the latest, and the worst, sheriff to slap a cloak of invisibility and invincibility over the actions of the sheriff’s department when it comes to transparency and accountability.

This is a department where deputies at some stations sport tattoos that looked suspiciously like, take your pick: gang, white supremacist, or violence promos. Next there was the charge that deputies with dubious records of lying, planting evidence, and other assorted acts of misconduct are routinely protected from disclosure under an archaic, and thoroughly reprehensible, California shield law that erects a near impregnable barrier to finding out anything about their misconduct. Then there was the never-ending charge of racial profiling, harassment, and excessive force against sheriff’s deputies. The victims almost always are young African American and Hispanic males.

There’s no debate, though, about officers who lie and shade testimony in criminal cases. There have been a lot of them. They have been plopped in a data base of officers who have testified in criminal cases and their testimony is suspect to say the least. The problem is the state shield law that make it near impossible for defense attorneys to get information about their misconduct. Former L.A County Sheriff Jim McDonnell tried to turn over the names of the officers who give tainted testimony but was blocked. He also promised to rein in the high number of excessive force actions by sheriff’s deputies, almost all unpunished. He didn’t get the chance. We got Villanueva instead who defeated him in his reelection bid on the strong hint that cracking down on officers who overuse deadly force would not be the priority on his watch.

Tackling this problem means immediate and vigorous implementation of the reform recommendations such as a fully empowered independent civilian oversight commission, getting rid of deputies who brutalize prisoners at the jails and administrators who look the other way, total transparency and accountability on the reform process. And most importantly, eliminating the deeply troubling problem of dubious officer-involved shootings and allegations of racial profiling by deputies.

This is where things fall apart.  Bad officers are protected under the law from disclosure of their misconduct. L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey is, of course, under relentless attack for refusing to prosecute deputies who overuse deadly force. But even Lacey admitted that it’s tough for her office to get any information about a bad shooting from the sheriff’s department. Unlike the LAPD, there is no internal department requirement that a deputy be interviewed about a shooting on a timely basis. Lacey claims that this makes it near impossible for her office to get all the facts.  And in the absence of those facts, a prosecution is even less likely. Villanueva has given no indication that he will move to change this and require immediate disclosure of all the facts in a shooting. This first and foremost means putting the deputy on the legal hot seat.

Villanueva has not done this. There’s absolutely no indication that he will. He is an elected official and barring any illegal action can only be removed by the voters. But if abuse, unwarranted deadly force, defiance, and obstructionism continue to be the watchwords of the L.A. County Sheriff’s department and its sheriff, then the call for Villanueva to resign or be recalled, must be made.

 

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is, Why Black Lives Do Matter (Middle Passage Press) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.

 

3 thoughts on “One More Guardado and the Call Must be Villanueva Resign or be Recalled”

  1. All of your points are most factual. The question remains whether the voters of this County have the fortitude and integrity to collectively act against not only this Sheriff but the Department’s design to insulate these “Officers”(?) from Reasonable consequences of their behavior?

    1. same question, right back at you.

      The remedy is an outside investigation, perhaps the LA County Inspector General or a special prosecutor appointed by the governor, and an investigation conducted by the CBI, but really, the system is designed this way, to shield the LEOs who shoot people while in duty and sometimes off. We don’t even know if Miguel Vega, Christopher Hernandez and the possible third man witnesses are reported to have seen were even on duty. It’s vital to monitor what LASD Sheriff Villanueva doesn’t say, hasn’t said and won’t say.

      Andres Guardado was murdered, the officers lied and altered the scene and evidence. All of this is public knowledge but the media-savvy way we have been given access to this has fooled the general public completely.

      Who watches the watchmen?

  2. Villanueva was very surprised and angry that the Coroner released the full autopsy report in defiance of his “security hold.” It’s important to note that historically, coroners were developed as a check on the power of sheriffs in England around the times of the Magna Carta. But more than just an age old power struggle, the autopsy release reveals that the narrative put forth by the killer/s of Andres Guardado is not only false, it is false in a way that shows that even if the teen had a gun – a very questionable issue – it still resembles a murder and rules out self-defense.

    Remember, the pressure for the LASD investigation to interview Miguel Vega and his partner Christopher Hernandez was there, but not at a crisis point so long as the public could be kept from knowing the youth had been shot in the back five times. The family autopsy forced the timing and shortly after it’s brief report was made public, within hours in fact, lawyers for the two LASDs made public a narrative about Andres Guardado having run, stopped, placed a gun on the ground and gotten to his knees as ordered by Vega. Hernandez supposedly didn’t see what happend next, but Vega’s lawyer claims his client holstered his gun and was approaching when the teen, having been ordered to lay down, and told specifically not to, reached for the gun and it was then that Vega shot him. This roughly could be said to conform to family autopsy “preliminary report.” It gave an excuse for shooting him in the back and possibly even explains some of the non-fatal wounds, as Vega was forced into a heroic “quick draw” to defend himself and his partner.

    Had the security hold stayed effective, the public had what it needed to move on. A kid with a gun came to a bad end. But this is not what happened. The coroner’s full report traces the path of bullets into and through the teen’s torso and shows that one shot went into the back and down into Andres’ heart, and four other shots went into his back and UP into his chest and internal organs. This strongly suggests the teen was actually first shot when kneeling, contradicting Vega and Hernandez and eliminating their claim to self-defense, since by their own account the gun was put on the ground first, then the kneeling, then the move to a prone position and then finally the shots fired. Left out from any verision is how the six recovered shell casings could form 11 wounds to the body, including wounds to the back of the head, both forearms and the stomach. If you count the bullets, five of which went into the torso, that leaves only one to somehow wound the body front and back and both arms, a seeming physical impossibility. Did Hernandez or Vega fire from a distance at first at the fleeing teen, and then remove the shell/s ? Was one or more of these grazing wounds why a fleet of foot teen stopped for two tired ex-jailers at the very corner into a hidden area?

    We may never know because all the security cameras were disabled, supposedly in a futile “search for memory cards” but this is another specious tale. What sort of security camera would allow itself to be so vulnerable to vandals as to store the footage where it could be easily taken? Cameras and recorders are kept separate for obvious reasons. And even if such a mistaken search was made, after the first 2 or 3 cameras were examined, why continue the disabling of cameras that clearly have cables running into the walls? Vulnerable buisinesses are not in the habit of running a free GoPro giveaway program. The only credible reason would be to control the evidence of what happened after the shooting. This illegal move would buy time for confederates to find and place a “throw-down” gun on the body of Andres Guardado.

    But remember, gun or no gun, the story Vega tells does not match the forensics Villanueva tried to keep secret.

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