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After weeks of speculation, Art Acevedo says he will not enter L.A. County sheriff’s race

Art Acevedo in police uniform
Art Acevedo once led the Houston Police Department.
(Associated Press)

Art Acevedo, a prominent law enforcement figure who has run some of the country’s largest police agencies, said that he will not enter the race for Los Angeles County sheriff.

The decision, which spares Sheriff Alex Villanueva from what would have been a significant challenge, was a last-minute change of heart for Acevedo, who had been planning to run.

“The current sheriff’s failure of leadership and continuous degradation of relationships are at the expense of the public and the diverse people of this county deserve better,” Acevedo told The Times on Sunday. “Serious work must be done, and now is the time to coalesce around one candidate, not dilute the field.”

With seven months until voters will go to the polls in a primary election, Acevedo’s candidacy would have shaken up an already crowded field of challengers to Villanueva. In an interview with The Times he declined to endorse a candidate.

Among those running is Cecil Rhambo, a former high-ranking sheriff’s official and current head of the Los Angeles Airport Police department, who has won several early endorsements, including from L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.

And recently, Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna announced he’s running, saying the Sheriff’s Department is in a state of dysfunction with Villanueva at the helm.

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Both of those candidates have staked out positions opposing Villanueva on a number of issues. Each has indicated he would enforce the county’s COVID-19 vaccine mandate for employees and agree to testify under oath in compliance with subpoenas issued by oversight officials — neither of which Villanueva has done. They’ve also said they would aggressively root out gang-like groups of deputies in the department, criticizing Villanueva for what they say is his tepid handling of the issue.

Sheriff’s Cmdr. Eli Vera, a former chief who was demoted by Villanueva after entering the race, is also vying to unseat his boss, along with Capt. Britta Steinbrenner and Lt. Eric Strong.

Acevedo would have entered the race fresh off a bruising and brief term as police chief in Miami that Villanueva and others probably would have used to attack him on the campaign trail.

After a stint as chief in Houston, he arrived in Miami to much fanfare, but was fired after a tumultuous six months marked by clashes with the powerful elected city commissioners and a vote of no confidence from the police union.

Acevedo told The Times he had been hired to bring about sweeping reforms in the department but was obstructed from the outset by city officials who opposed him for his support of Black Lives Matter and other progressive issues.

He was ousted in October, with officials in a letter citing his “unauthorized” threats to discipline unvaccinated officers and his remark that Miami was run by the “Cuban mafia,” among other things.

Acevedo, who was born in Cuba and raised in Los Angeles, began his career in 1986 as a patrol officer in East L.A. with the California Highway Patrol before rising through the ranks to chief in 2005.

He said he went on to be the first Latino to lead the Houston and Austin police departments and earned national recognition for taking a knee with and delivering impassioned speeches to activists after George Floyd’s death.

In recent months, he said, he has met with advocates, elected officials and others in L.A. County with an eye toward running but ultimately decided against it.

“It is clear — the public safety challenges this county is facing are real and reform is needed,” Acevedo said. “Timing is everything, and I will not be running for sheriff of Los Angeles County. I have a lot left to give and will pursue avenues that allow me to continue to be part of the national conversation on criminal justice reform and other matters of public concern.”

He said the Sheriff’s Department has been largely absent from the national debate over policing and police reform.

“The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department is the largest sheriff’s department in the nation serving the most populous state in the nation — and they’ve been absent on the national level,” Acevedo said. “We’ve had a national debate for the last — especially since George Floyd‘s murder two years ago — and the Sheriff’s Department has been absent from that debate.”

Acevedo’s announcement comes amid Villanueva’s ongoing sparring with other candidates. On Friday, Villanueva’s campaign manager texted some L.A. County Democratic Party members attacking Rhambo for switching his party registration from Republican to Democrat.

Meanwhile, Villanueva, whose victory in 2018 was largely attributed to the party’s endorsement and support among progressives, is speaking at an L.A. GOP event Saturday. In recent months, after losing much of his support among liberals, Villanueva has shifted to the right, making regular appearances on Fox News and railing against the county’s ultra-progressive district attorney.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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