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California

Supervisors urge Sheriff Villanueva to correct record on coronavirus sick pay

Alex Villanueva
Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the board of supervisors have clashed over the coronavirus outbreak response.
(Jae C. Hong / Associated Press)

Los Angeles County Supervisors have sent a scathing letter to Sheriff Alex Villanueva, imploring him to correct the record after they said he spread false information about deputies’ sick leave pay during the coronavirus outbreak.

His information led to threats against the county’s chief executive officer, they said.

“Your unfortunate and erroneous comments have been sowing confusion and controversy by raising doubts about pay for deputies you chose to put on leave last month,” the supervisors said in the letter, dated Friday. “Of course, these deputies will be paid, as you are well aware. In fact, as a department head, you have the duty and responsibility to make sure this happens.”

The letter, signed by the five members of the Board of Supervisors, said that Villanueva had yet to “correct the misimpressions you have created within the Sheriff’s Department and with the public at large — exacerbating anxiety in an already stressful time by sowing false information.”

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The supervisors said Villanueva’s comments prompted social media threats against the county’s chief executive, Sachi Hamai, from people angered by the false information. As of Friday, 14 Sheriff’s Department personnel had tested positive for Covid-19 and 285 had been quarantined.

Villanueva could not immediately be reached for comment. Someone who answered his cellphone said he needed to read the letter.

The unusually blunt document is the latest in a series of clashes between the board and Villanueva over the county’s response to the coronavirus outbreak, but their conflicts began much earlier.

On Tuesday, the board voted unanimously to put Hamai in charge of disaster preparedness and response. In doing so, the board removed Villanueva as head of the emergency operations center.

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That action led Villanueva to cancel the regular news briefings he had been hosting at the center multiple times a week.

The next day, Villanueva sent a letter to board chairwoman Kathryn Barger, requesting that the body secure retroactive pay for quarantined employees who he said had to dip into their personal sick leave prior to Wednesday, when federal benefits for workers affected by the virus took effect.

Villanueva said there was at least one employee exposed to the virus on patrol who had not accrued enough sick time to stay compensated through the quarantine period.

“The first responders from the Sheriff’s Department sacrifice their lives for the residents of Los Angeles County every day,” he wrote in the letter. “The least we can do is fully compensate these men and women for their daily sacrifices by covering their COVID-19 related absence from work.”

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Barger and Hamai each said Villanueva himself had authority to grant paid administrative leave.

On Thursday night, he said as much in a memo to staff members.

“After in-depth research on the topic, I have confirmed that as Sheriff and Department Head, I have the authority to grant paid administrative leave time under a current Los Angeles County policy,” he said in the memo. “I have directed my senior staff to ensure this occurs.”

But Friday’s board rejoinder demanded that he correct the record with the public.

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“Your unwarranted verbal and highly personal attacks on the CEO are inciting misinformed members of the public to share dangerous sentiments online,” the supervisors said.


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