By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider today a motion to require specified county officials to report back in 30 days on how an ouster of Sheriff Alex Villanueva could be affected.
The motion notes that while the board “continues to use its budgetary authority” to attempt to keep the sheriff in check, “it has become increasingly clear that the Sheriff’s blatant disregard for transparency and accountability requires a more forceful response.”
Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl put forth the motion, contained in a supplemental agenda. It calls upon the “County Counsel, in conjunction with the Inspector General and the Acting Chief Executive Officer, and in consultation with the Executive Director of the Civilian Oversight Commission and justice advocates, to report back to the Board in writing in 30 days” as to:
“Options for removing or impeaching the County Sheriff, including any necessary changes to the County Charter or County Code;
“Legislative changes required to authorize an appointed Sheriff, including the path and timeline required to amend the California Constitution and County Charter as needed;
“Legislative changes required to potentially remove certain existing responsibilities of the Sheriff, such as municipal law enforcement services and court services, as well as the authority of the Board to appoint a County Police Chief to perform municipal law enforcement services; and
“Any other mitigation measures that could be taken to curtail the Sheriffs resistance to transparency, accountability and the faithful performance of duties for the benefit of the residents of the County.”
Charges Set Forth
The motion alleges:
“[T]his Sheriff has repeatedly demonstrated his inability to balance the LASD budget to the detriment of County residents, especially during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Whereas every other County department director has taken extraordinary measures to curtail costs and maintain an appropriate level of service, the Sheriff has opted to take dramatic unilateral measures to cut critical programs such as the Youth Activity League at multiple locations and eliminate the Parks Services Bureau. The elimination of the Parks Services Bureau is especially egregious as it compromises safety at County parks at a time when these spaces are critical to providing options for community members to interact in outdoor and socially-distanced settings.”
“The Sheriffs misguided resource-allocation decisions have left vulnerable communities less safe as demonstrated by the recent increasing incidents of violence. Moreover, the County has paid more than $149 million over the last 5 years to settle lawsuits and satisfy judgments stemming from Deputy-involved law enforcement incidents such as civil-rights violations, excessive use of force, sexual assaults, and killings. With a Sheriff that is unwilling to demand accountability for Deputy misbehavior, lawsuits will continue to be filed against the Sheriff, and it is the County’s taxpayers who will continue to pay for the consequences.”
$1.5 Million Settlement
The motion does not mention the $1.5 million the board agreed would be paid to outgoing CEO Sachi Hamai to settle her claims based on conduct on the part of Villanueva. The settlement agreement recited:
“…Hamai has been subjected to severe and pervasive harassment, defamation, malicious prosecution and hostility by Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, including but not limited to: (1) falsely telling the press Hamai had denied first responders their salaries, inciting individuals to threaten to post her home address and harm her there; (2) attacking Hamai personally for her efforts to bring fiscal discipline to the Los Angeles County Sheriffs Department, leading to more vitriolic comments being posted publicly; (3) stating publicly on Facebook Live that Hamai had committed a felony for having a “financial interest” in a County matter, which he knew was false; (4) telling the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors that he had referred Hamai to the Attorney General for a ‘criminal inquiry’ relating to the ‘financial interest’ he knew she did not have; (5) refusing to retract his statements and posting publicly ‘they can take that statement and they can frame it’; and (6) knowingly filing a false report of a crime with the Attorney General.”
“Settling CEO Hamai’s allegations without a legitimate inquiry, bypassing standard procedure, gives the appearance of an illegal gift of public funds.”
Sheriff, Board Battle
The board and Villanueva have frequently been at loggerheads. Members have assailed him for efforts to rehire fired members of the department, including former Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan.
Then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell (whom Villanueva defeated at the polls in 2016) terminated the employment of Mandoyan based on his pattern of domestic abuse and lying to the department about it. The firing was upheld by the county’s Civil Service Commission.
Mandoyan sued the county for a wrongful discharge and Villanueva purported to enter into a settlement agreement under which the deputy would get his job back.
The county petitioned for a writ of mandate to set aside that agreement. On Sept. 28, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff granted the writ, saying:
“Petitioner contends the Settlement Agreement is void as a matter of law. Petitioner asserts the Sheriff exceeded his authority by purporting to enter into the Settlement Agreement The court agrees.”
“[I]n the context of civil litigation, only the County’s board of supervisors or County Counsel has the authority to enter into settlement agreements on behalf of the Sheriff and/or the Department.”
Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl on Sept. 18 called upon Villanueva to resign. That followed an exhortation to the sheriff to leave office voiced earlier in the day by a member of the Civilian Oversight Commission, former U.S. District Court Judge Robert Bonner, a former head of the Drug Enforcement Administration, who declared:
“It’s with great reluctance that I’m calling for Sheriff Villanueva to resign. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department itself deserves better. The men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deserve better.”
Ridley-Thomas said in a statement:
“Like the members of the Civilian Oversight Commission, I remain troubled by the Sheriff’s conduct and the way he has interfered with advancing reform and enhancing accountability.”
Kuehl termed Villanueva a “rogue sheriff.”
Insult to Solis
In July, Villanueva responded in a Facebook video to comments by Supervisor Hilda Solis as to racism and brutality by law enforcement officers, posing the query to her:
“Are you trying to earn the title of a La Malinche? Is that what it is?”
La Malinche is an historical figure whose name, like “quisling”—derived from the name of Norwegian Vidkun Quisling—is a synonym for traitor.
The board on March 31 voted unanimously to remove Villanueva as head of the Office of Emergency Management, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and dissatisfaction with his response to it.
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