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L.A. County supervisors to consider motion seeking options to remove Sheriff Villanueva

Sheriff Alex Villanueva, in front of a microphone, speaks to the media in March.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva has faced growing calls in recent weeks to step down.
(Nick Agro / For The Times)

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will consider a motion Tuesday seeking options for removing Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who in recent weeks has faced growing calls to step down because of what many describe as his resistance to oversight and transparency.

“Week after week, there’s a new problem with the sheriff,” Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who authored the proposal, told the Los Angeles Times on Monday. “Increasingly, he’s being viewed as a liability.”

If approved at Tuesday’s board meeting, the motion would direct county lawyers to look into how to impeach Villanueva or take away some of his responsibilities, and explore legislative changes that could make the position of sheriff an appointed one. It seeks a report back in 30 days.

Villanueva, who is independently elected and has only limited oversight from the board, said in a statement through a spokesman Monday that some members of the board have opposed him since he took office.

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“Rather than allow the voice of the voters to stand, those same members are now exploring ways to [undo] the results of a lawful election, outside of the established constitutional methods of: voter recall, grand jury indictment, or defeating me in the next election,” he said.

“I have been more transparent, more accountable, and have offered greater access to the community than any previous sheriff,” he added. “Before the board votes on this motion and triggers a legal battle which will waste millions of taxpayer dollars, I urge each supervisor to meet with me privately. Let’s set aside the past and work out our differences.”

He has previously pushed back against criticism, touting his ban on transferring jail inmates to federal immigration authorities, his rollout this month of body cameras for deputies at five stations, and his policy blocking deputies from forming illicit cliques. He has said he has no intention of stepping down.

The proposal escalates the already contentious relationship between the county’s most powerful elected leaders, some of whom have echoed calls by overseers of the Sheriff’s Department, as well as labor unions and activist groups, for him to resign.

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“All of it significantly contributes to dysfunction in county government,” Ridley-Thomas said. “And it’s completely avoidable.”

Ridley-Thomas, who is running for a City Council seat after serving the maximum 12 years on the board, cited Villanueva’s inability to balance the Sheriff’s Department budget, as well as his threats to close patrol stations and remove deputies from county parks.

He added that Villanueva had blocked independent investigations into a string of deputy shootings that led to months of protests, including the killings of Andres Guardado in Gardena, Dijon Kizzee in Westmont and, most recently, Fred Williams in Willowbrook.

“Three examples, no cooperation in terms of independent investigation,” Ridley-Thomas said. “We can’t get to the facts because the sheriff refuses to cooperate with the Office of Inspector General.”

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Villanueva has said the Sheriff’s Department will release body camera footage of Williams’ Oct. 16 shooting, but did not say when. It was the first fatal shooting at a station where deputies wore body cameras.

Ridley-Thomas’ motion, coauthored by Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, said the county had paid out more than $149 million in the last five years to settle lawsuits and satisfy judgments in cases in which deputies were involved in incidents that include civil rights violations, excessive force, sexual assault 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,” the motion says.

The Civilian Oversight Commission similarly blasted Villanueva’s leadership earlier this month when it approved a resolution calling for his resignation, criticizing his failure to root out deputy gangs from the department, and the treatment by deputies of protesters and journalists at demonstrations against police brutality.

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“He fails to take responsibility for the problems in the department, blaming everyone else,” Commissioner Priscilla Ocen said at the meeting. “He blames everyone else, including the former sheriff, for the problems that he is responsible for, that his department is responsible for, under his administration.”

The Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the labor union that represents rank-and-file deputies and spent at least $1.3 million supporting Villanueva’s election, piggybacked on those calls earlier this month after deputies were being moved around involuntarily because of budget cuts.

“If the sheriff doesn’t resign, his staff should,” union leaders wrote in an email to their membership, saying the changes had not been entirely negotiated.

ALADS President Ron Hernandez said in an email Monday that the union was not asking for anyone’s resignation, but rather was reminding the Sheriff’s Department of its duty to meet and confer.

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“It was a play on the ridiculous request by the Civilian Oversight Commission’s call for a [duly] elected Sheriff to quit, simply because they are unhappy with him,” he said.


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