LOS ANGELES (CNS) - An coroner's inquest will be conducted today into the death of Fred Williams III, who was shot and killed by a sheriff's deputy in October while running from deputies with a handgun.
The inquest will be conducted by retired California Court of Appeals Justice Candace D. Cooper, who also conducted the inquest in November into the death of 18-year-old Andres Guardado, who was fatally shot by a deputy near Gardena. That inquest was the first in Los Angeles County in more than 30 years.
Williams, 25, was fatally shot while running from deputies in the Willowbrook area of the county on Oct. 16 while armed with a handgun.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department released body camera footage on Oct. 30 of the shooting, which shows Williams on top of a garden shed with a firearm in his hand, as he jumps into the yard of another property, at which point a deputy shoots him. Williams died at the scene.
The coroner's office listed the cause as “gunshot wound of back.''
The sheriff's department claims Williams pointed a gun at the deputy, but that allegation is not clear in the footage.
The victim's father, Fred Williams Jr., told the Los Angeles Times after the footage's release, “the video clearly shows there was never a gun pointed in (the deputy's) direction.''
Deputies had seen Williams holding a handgun and standing with a group of about 15 people when he allegedly put a handgun into his waistband and ran away. One deputy pursued him on foot and another deputy followed in a patrol car, according to the sheriff's department.
Photos released by the sheriff's department shows Williams with a handgun at his waist as he runs through the yard of a residence in the 2200 block of East 122nd Street.
The sheriff's department alleges that Williams “engaged the deputy by pointing his firearm at him at which point a deputy involved shooting occurred.'' In the footage, a gun is visible in his hand, but not clearly pointed at the deputy.
The deputy, who at the time did not know if Williams was struck by gunfire, then broadcasts on his emergency radio that the suspect jumped into another yard, and the deputy says he “pointed (firearm) at me.''
Deputies recovered a loaded pistol, which the department said was not registered to Williams, who was on parole and prohibited from owning a firearm.
Medical Examiner-Coroner Jonathan Lucas recently told the Civilian Oversight Commission no other inquests were planned, and he hoped that his office would have an opportunity to step back and thoughtfully consider a policy governing inquests once the Williams inquest was completed.
Lucas indicated that an inquest offers little additional insight into the manner or cause of death, but acknowledged that it addresses public calls for transparency.
“The inquest is an old, old tool, and it really predates the modern era of scientific advancement,'' Lucas said, noting that as its utility came into question, the inquest was largely eliminated as a practice by most large jurisdictions.
Commissioner Priscilla Ocen and others said that the open forum was critical to public trust.
“The inquests, I think, are doing a tremendous public service so that there's more transparency, people can see that these investigations are being taken seriously at least by somebody in the county,'' Ocen said.
Ocen and other commissioners expressed concern that multiple members of the sheriff's department declined to answer questions during the Guardado inquest, citing advice from attorneys.
Both Lucas and a county lawyer told the commission that they were hopeful that members of the department would be more forthcoming at the Williams inquest.
Photo: Getty Images