Sheriff rejects finding that top aide used racial slur

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, left, and Undersheriff Tim Murakami at a Board of Supervisors meeting  in 2019.
Undersheriff Tim Murakami allegedly used a Japanese racial slur to refer to employees of color.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva rejected a recommendation by a county oversight panel that his top aide be disciplined for using a Japanese racial slur toward employees of color, according to law enforcement sources.

The County Equity Oversight Panel last fall found Undersheriff Tim Murakami had violated the department’s policy against discrimination and recommended the Sheriff’s Department take “appropriate administrative action” against him, according to an internal record of the case reviewed by The Times. The panel based its findings on a review of interviews sheriff’s investigators conducted with two law enforcement officers who said they heard Murakami use the slur, which is considered to be the Japanese version of the N-word.

Villanueva, however, determined there was insufficient evidence to support the panel’s findings and opted instead to close the investigation into Murakami by concluding that the allegations against him were unresolved, the sources said. Villanueva did not respond to questions about why he diverged from the panel’s recommendation. A spokesman for the department declined to comment, citing a lawsuit filed by a subordinate to Murakami who alleges he was the target of his discrimination.


In an interview with The Times last month, Murakami, who is Japanese American, denied using the slur toward subordinates. He said he was not notified of the panel’s findings nor disciplined by Villanueva. He said he had heard the term and used it as a child, but now, “it’s just not part of my vocabulary.” He said he did not know if he considers the word derogatory.

The accusations against Murakami have drawn concern from department watchdogs. The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and the Office of Inspector General requested information from the agency about its investigation.

“Obviously, these allegations, if true, are troubling and cause for concern,” the commission’s Executive Director Brian Williams wrote in a letter to Villanueva. “Maintaining a work environment which is free of harassment and discrimination is critical to any organization. This is especially the case when the organization is charged with providing law enforcement to the 10 million residents of Los Angeles County — all of whom deserve and expect that the LASD provides this security in a fair, transparent and equitable manner. Thus, this investigation and its outcome requires the utmost transparency as legally possible.”

Villanueva refused to turn over documents. He wrote in a response to Williams and Deputy Inspector General Bita Shasty that the case was “investigated and followed the appropriate department protocols,” but said he is unable to provide records because of the pending litigation over the Murakami allegations and other unspecified legal concerns.

Inspector General Max Huntsman said pending litigation is “not a legal justification for avoiding supervision.”

“Refusal to comply with oversight laws will only result in more legal payouts of public money,” Huntsman said. “Deputies and the public do not benefit when LASD management places itself above the law. ... If subpoenas are all that work, then we’ll use them.”


Carlos Parga, a lieutenant of Mexican descent who worked under Murakami, and Tracy Stewart, a lieutenant who is Black and applied to work for Murakami, have filed discrimination lawsuits against the county accusing the undersheriff of using the slur.

Parga worked as a lieutenant for Murakami from August 2016 until March 2018, said his attorney Alan Romero. Murakami knew that Parga spoke some Japanese, the attorney said.

During that time, Parga alleges in his lawsuit, Murakami directed multiple comments at him, telling him, “You’re as dumb as a —, ” adding the slur, and again saying, “I’m not going to give those — a job,” in reference to Black employees.

The lawsuit also alleges that Murakami once commented aloud about his wife’s Mexican heritage, saying, “If it wasn’t for me, my kids would be dumb.”

In his lawsuit, Parga alleges Murakami has blocked several of his attempts to transfer to new positions within the department and claims supervisors refuse to promote him out of fear Murakami will retaliate against them if they do. The lawsuit also alleges Murakami told various sheriff’s employees that as long as he remained at the department, Parga would not advance.