Protesters and sheriff's deputies engaged in a tense standoff Sunday evening over the officer-involved shooting of a Gardena man, with authorities using what appeared to be tear gas to disperse a small group who had broken off from the otherwise peaceful demonstration.
“We don’t want to see your children hurt,” someone announced from a sheriff’s helicopter that circled overhead, urging families to leave so that they were not exposed to pepper spray or tear gas and to protect themselves from troublemakers.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Gardena earlier to demand justice for Andres Guardado, an 18-year-old Latino man fatally shot Thursday by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy. Authorities said Guardado was armed and had fled from deputies, but have not said what prompted the shooting.
"He ran because he was scared," one of the protesters' signs read. "Why’d you kill that kid?” the crowd chanted.
People in cars raised their fists in solidarity and honked their horns. Aztec dancers beat drums at the front of the procession.
Protesters marched down West Redondo Beach Boulevard, where Guardado was shot, filling the street as they headed toward the sheriff’s station in Compton more than three miles away.
Guardado’s aunt, Edis Abarca, was there with an El Salvador flag wrapped around her body, reflecting the country her family fled because of civil war. She said the family felt "broken."
Protesters said they were concerned the shooting was unjustified and demanded more answers from authorities, who have so far provided few details on the events that led to Guardado's death.
“What happened to Andres was not only a tragedy, it was an outright crime,” said Ron Gochez, a member of Union del Barrio, which organized the demonstration. “This is just one more of so many people who have been killed by the L.A. County sheriffs and the police ... this is the unity between the Black and brown community saying we are tired of this.”
Guardado was shot about 6 p.m. Thursday after a confrontation with deputies near a Gardena auto body shop, said Capt. Kent Wegener of the homicide bureau. Guardado was speaking with someone in a car that was blocking the location when deputies from the Compton sheriff’s station pulled up, Wegener said.
Guardado fled, holding a gun, with two deputies chasing him on foot, Wegener said. One of the deputies confronted him and opened fire, striking him in the upper torso six times. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Authorities said they do not know whether Guardado had pointed his weapon at the deputy, and they did not say whether Guardado fired any shots.
Guardado's family said he had worked as a security guard for Street Dynamic Auto Body, close to where he was shot. Authorities said Guardado was under the 21-year age requirement to be a security guard in California.
Guardado was not wearing a uniform at the time of his death, and the .40-caliber semiautomatic pistol he was carrying was not licensed, authorities said.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva told reporters on Saturday that investigators were still gathering evidence but did not provide an explanation for why Guardado was shot.
Meanwhile, family members and public officials have pressured the Sheriff’s Department for answers.
U.S. Reps. Nanette Barragán and Maxine Waters and Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas on Saturday called for independent investigations, including one led by state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra.
“Another day, and another Black or brown kid has been shot in the back by police,” Barragán and Waters said in a joint statement. “These killings must stop. ... We demand answers and call for an independent investigation into this tragic death. There must be full transparency so the public can trust the investigation and we know we are getting the truth.”
Homicide detectives do not have any video of the shooting, Wegener said, and they are still working to get footage from the scene from a third-party vendor.
Barragán and Waters criticized deputies for not wearing body cameras — equipment that, according to Villanueva, he has been asking for since December of 2018, his first month on the job. He blamed the delay on a lack of support from the county Board of Supervisors.
At a news conference, Sheriff’s Cmdr. Chris Marks said officials are close to awarding a contract for body cameras that will be supplied to 5,200 uniformed deputies working patrol jobs.
When the crowd of protesters arrived at the Compton station on Sunday, they were met by metal barricades and at least a dozen deputies in riot gear.
“Show us the tape!” they chanted.
As protesters banged on a metal fence, a deputy pointed a yellow nonlethal projectile gun at them.
“Put the gun down!” the crowd yelled in response.
As most of the protesters began to head out, a smaller group of people faced off against a line of sheriff’s deputies in riot gear. Soon after, there were pops and smoke and calls for a medic. Protesters rinsed their eyes with milk.
At 6:30 p.m., deputies told protesters to disperse or they would be arrested on suspicion of unlawful assembly.
Before the confrontation, the crowd parted so that Christopher, Guardado’s father, could make his way to the front. Christopher kept apologizing as he struggled to find the words.
“As a parent, you feel so much pain," he said. "You don’t want your kids, so young and with their whole lives ahead of them, to have their life unfairly destroyed.”
Guardado’s cousin, Steve Abarca, was also in the crowd.
“I don’t know what to think. I don’t know what to say,” he said. “I have to be here.”
Guardado was attending Los Angeles Trade-Technical College to become a mechanic or electrician, his family said. He was also considering joining the Army and had only recently started working at Street Dynamic Auto Body.
"My cousin was not supposed to die like that," Abarca said.
Times video journalist Jackeline Luna contributed to this report.