The two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies involved in the controversial, fatal shooting of Andres Guardado were relieved of duty this week in connection with a traffic crash that occurred two months before the 18-year-old’s death.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva ordered Deputies Miguel Vega and Chris Hernandez to be suspended pending the outcome of an investigation into the crash, Lt. John Satterfield said. He would not elaborate, citing the ongoing investigation.
It was unclear why Villanueva opted to sideline the deputies now, eight months after the incident. The lengthy gap in time raises questions about whether sheriff’s officials had enough information about the crash to act sooner and if the deputies should have been removed from the field before their deadly encounter with Guardado in June.
Attorneys representing both deputies declined to comment Friday.
The crash occurred shortly before 5 p.m. on April 13, while Vega was driving with a man in custody in the back seat, said Officer Simeon Yarbrough from the California Highway Patrol.
CHP officers were called to an alley near Mona Boulevard and 130th Street in Willowbrook, Yarbrough said. Vega told the officers that he had gone in pursuit of a bicyclist he suspected of carrying a gun, according to Yarbrough. With the bicyclist about 30 yards ahead, Vega accelerated as he attempted to pass a parked car, but crashed into the vehicle and a concrete wall.
The man in the back seat, who was in custody for reasons that are unclear, sustained minor injuries.
Vega and the detained man gave different accounts of how fast he was driving. Vega told CHP officers that he accelerated from 30 to 35 mph, while the man told officers Vega was going between 55 and 60 mph when he crashed, Yarbrough said.
A check of arrest and jail inmate records show no indication that the man, who the CHP identified for The Times, was ever formally arrested or booked into custody in the L.A. County jail system, raising questions of whether Vega let the man go after the crash.
After the crash, there was a search for the bicyclist whom Vega had been chasing, Yarbrough said. It’s unclear whether investigators found him.
Yarbrough said the CHP report of the crash does not mention Hernandez.
His role in the incident is unclear. It is also unknown what allegations of misconduct have been made against Vega.
Guardado’s shooting prompted weeks of large protests and an increased scrutiny of the Compton sheriff’s station, which has been roiled by allegations that a gang-like clique of tattooed deputies who call themselves the Executioners run roughshod over the station and celebrate deputies who use force on suspects. Following the Guardado shooting, a whistleblower claimed Vega and Hernandez were prospective members of the group. Their attorneys denied the allegation.
Calls by community leaders for transparency and an independent investigation into the shooting led the coroner’s office to conduct an inquest earlier this month to determine the cause and manner of Guardado’s death, even though the office had already concluded that the 18-year-old sustained five fatal gunshot wounds in his back.
Neither Vega nor Hernandez showed up to the hearing — Vega was out of the country — but indicated through their attorneys that they would invoke their 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination and not answer questions. Two homicide investigators did the same.
Vega’s attorney has previously said that Guardado was shot while reaching for a gun.
Vega, who joined the Sheriff’s Department in 2009, has faced prior allegations of misconduct.
In 2017, he was accused of making false statements in an investigation, according to a law enforcement official with knowledge of the events, and was eventually suspended for four days.
Capt. John Burcher, Villanueva’s former chief of staff, previously told The Times that investigators determined the allegation of false statements to be untrue and that the discipline was for a lesser infraction regarding Vega’s failure to properly screen a jail inmate.
Burcher said three complaints have been lodged against Vega while he was assigned to Compton station. Department officials determined that one complaint,for using unreasonable force, had no merit, he said. The two other complaints alleged that he was discourteous. In one, officials determined his conduct “could’ve been better.” The outcome of the second case is unclear.