By Najee Ali
Najee Ali is the founder and president of the Muslim Democratic Club of Southern California and Project Islamic Hope. Ali is a community activist who has been engaged in the fight for social justice in Southern California for more than 30 years.
Andres Guardado was an 18 -year old Los Angeles man shot several times in the back and killed by Los Angeles County Deputy Sheriff Miguel Vega in Gardena on June 18, 2020. Guardado was working outside as an unlicensed plain clothes security guard at an auto-body shop.
Deputies were reportedly out on patrol when they saw Guardado talking to someone in a car blocking a driveway, so they stopped their vehicle. Deputies allegedly saw him with a gun outside the body shop. Guardado ran from two deputies into an alley, where he died after being shot seven times in the back by deputy Vega. Vega’s partner never fired his weapon. Both deputies at the scene stated that Guardado reached for a handgun on the ground near him as he was being detained.
The only problem with that explanation is that according to one of the witnesses and the Store-owner Andrew Heney who stated to local media outlets that Guardado “got down on his knees and surrendered with his hands behind his head but was still shot seven times in the back.” The gun deputies said Guardado allegedly had not fired according to investigators.
Heney also reported that several cameras at the scene of his store, including a digital recorder that stored surveillance footage, were taken and destroyed by police. I never believe in jumping to conclusions. If a suspect has a gun law, enforcement should get the benefit of the doubt in a foot pursuit. But in the shooting of Guardado, I believe he was unjustly murdered by Vega, a deputy with a history of brutality allegations against, which has yet to be resolved, including tampering with evidence, making false statements to investigators (an action for which he was given a four day suspension) and prior complaints for use of unreasonable force. Based on the eyewitness accounts, along with Vega’s track record of being a rogue deputy, he does not belong in law enforcement. He belongs in jail for murder.
I am a long-time civil rights activist with over three decades of community work with a focus on police reform. I visited the scene of the Guardado shooting the very next day to pay my respects to the family. I also called a press conference calling for an independent investigation into the shooting. I know all too well what happens when you let law enforcement investigate their own. They always clear each other. The cover up into the killing of Guardado by the leadership in the Sheriff’s Department was already in motion and would not stop unless the community rose to end it.
The press conference was well attended by the media but more importantly the Guardado family was there as well. I had a chance to meet and speak with his parents. They told me exactly who their son was. He was a hard working young man with two jobs who just completed High School and was currently enrolled at Los Angeles Trade Technical College studying to be an engineer or mechanic, he was fun loving and always had a smile on his face His sister, Jennifer Guardado, spoke at the news conference and stated: “Even if this is the last day I breathe, I’m not holding this back because I feel it in my soul that my brother was murdered, and this was covered up.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva immediately spoke out against conducting an independent investigation at a news conference he held two days after the shooting and then placed an “emergency hold on the autopsy report preventing the release of details pending the conclusion of the investigation conducted by the Homicide division of the LASD. The cover up of Guardado, killing had now reached all the way to the top of the department.
To his credit Chief Medical Examiner-Coroner Dr. Jonathan Lucas released the autopsy report despite a “security hold” put in place by Villanueva, and in statement said “I have given careful consideration to the major variables in this case — supporting the administration of justice, as well as the public’s right to know… I do not believe that these are mutually exclusive ideals. Both are important, particularly amid the ongoing national discussion about race, policing and civil rights. I believe that the government can do its part by being timelier and more transparent in sharing information that the public demands and has a right to see.”
I agree with everything Dr. Lucas stated. Villanueva pledged transparency but he is the ringleader of the Guardado cover up. He should resign immediately. If he does not, hopefully Los Angeles City Councilman Joe Buscaino, a former LAPD officer and dedicated public servant our community trusts will consider running for Sheriff against Villanueva,who has shown himself unfit to lead. Our protests for justice for Guardado will not stop until Vega is arrested for his murder.