The ostensible purpose of my sit-down with Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva was to talk about his department’s Latino makeup and outlook. It took a bizarre detour when he began to offer random, tone-deaf pronouncements about the Black community for reasons known only to him.
But throughout our one-hour chat, for which he arrived late but nevertheless gave me a tad more than his promised 60 minutes, el sheriff offered all sorts of insights, each more out there — and telling of his Nixonian nature — than the other.
Here’s a grab bag of them:
- He thinks the Los Angeles Fire Department has it easy. “They work out, they cook, they go grocery shopping,” Villanueva said, while he claimed his deputies are out on duty “24-7” but get little respect from the public for their hard work. Firefighters? “They host a parade for them when they take a cat out of a tree.”
- He accuses The Times of taking unflattering photos of him while portraying other politicians like gods. “When there’s a picture of [California Gov. Gavin] Newsom or [former Los Angeles Unified School District Supervisor Austin] Beutner there’s always this upward thing,” Villanueva said. “There’s this majestic look. And I’m looking down and looking sideways.”
When I pointed out that we have many “nice pictures” of him smiling or looking like, well, a sheriff, he said I didn’t make him look bad; my colleague Alene Tchekmedyian made “a specialty of that,” along with our former colleague Maya Lau: “It says a thousand words. If you want to try to make the person look sinister, in some way or untrustworthy, you guys find a way to take a photo to do that. But you’ll never do that of Newsom.”
- Villanueva described himself as “the first person in the nation” at his level of law enforcement prominence to push back “against that Black Lives Matter narrative,” which he didn’t really explain what that was. And “that whole [antifa] crowd didn’t bother going into sheriff’s territory” during the Black Lives Matter rallies held in the summer of 2020 “because they knew what was waiting for them.”
Hundreds of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies have said they have been recruited to join secretive, sometimes gang-like cliques.
- Villanueva said he was never invited to join the Cavemen deputy gang when he was stationed in East Los Angeles because he was “kind of like the nerd” of his group. His nickname back then: “Fletcha” — “arrow” in Spanish. “So when you say ‘Mexican nerd’ thing,” he said, referring to my public description of myself, “I can relate to you.”
OK, I laughed at that.
- The June 2020 killing of 18-year-old Andres Guardado by sheriff’s deputies in Gardena has brought continued scrutiny on Villanueva and his department. He labeled a coroner’s inquest into Guardado’s death a “circus stunt” when it happened. But to me, he described what happened to Guardado as a “tragedy” and disclosed that the federal government is “doing their own investigation.”
- In explaining how different Latino groups vary in their politics, he mentioned the conservatism of Cuban Americans.
“Except [George] Gascón,” I blurted, referring to L.A. County’s progressive, embattled district attorney, who was born in Cuba and whose recall Villanueva publicly supports.
Upon hearing Gascón’s name, Villanueva got a bemused look on his face. “Yeah, he’s just an oddball from that [Cuban] crowd,” the sheriff said.
- He criticized the Los Angeles Police Department for allowing thousands of employees to use religious exemptions to get around the county’s vaccine mandate for all public employees. “Really? They just created a workaround of the mandate,” he said, emphasizing that his department doesn’t allow that because “we’re not going to play games.”
Well, he played a game, I’d say.
Thousands of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies, their supervisors and others did not complete training courses required by the state.
Villanueva waged a public battle against the Board of Supervisors and Department of Public Health to defy the mandate. In the past, he reasoned it was a government “intrusion” that infringed on the personal choice of his deputies, and the push was causing a “mass exodus” that endangered the public.
In our interview, he clarified his stance.
“When you want to impose a mandate on your workforce, you better damn well know who your workforce is,” Villanueva said.
And who is his workforce?
He said that his deputies as a department were so anti-vaccine that he placed an “extremely good” 2021 L.A. Times guest op-ed that detailed the seven stages of severe COVID-19 on the internal web page that all L.A. County sheriff’s employees must log on to, to access their work. Villanueva also publicly urged them to get vaccinated, and even offered internal Zoom sessions alongside his command staff with the same message.
But Villanueva never forced his pandejo deputies to get the vaccine, he says, or tried to shame them into getting a jab. “Because as soon as you mandate something, especially people that are suspicious of government,” he explained, “they believe in all these conspiracy theories. You know they’re out there, especially on the right — the conservative crowd in the far right.
“And what is 80% of my workforce?” Villanueva continued. “Conservative and far right.”
- Random quote: “The media pays attention to the people screaming the loudest at the street corner. And those are convicted criminals, their families, the people in and out of prison, on parole, on probation, all the advocacy groups that focus on them. And [the media] somehow think that they represent the Latino community.”
- Despite his recent overtures to conservatives, Villanueva still calls himself a Democrat. “I’m a Democrat of the party of JFK and FDR,” he said. “I believe the Democratic Party tent should be very big.” But he maintains that his party now practices “intolerance” of divergent views and that the L.A. County Democratic Party is “married” to former L.A. Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas and current Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, a fierce Villanueva critic.
Sheriff’s Cmdr. Eli Vera, who is running for sheriff, filed complaints with state and federal agencies alleging that Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s weekly radio show on KFI-AM (640) at the height of his reelection campaign violates election and broadcasting rules.
- Villanueva wants to get reelected, but…
“If I don’t get elected, no hard feelings,” he said. “This job is almost like being president. You get more gray hairs than when you started.”
- Breaking News!: Villanueva doesn’t like the term “Latinx” to refer to Latinos.
Shocking, isn’t it?
“No, no, no, no, no,” he said when I threw out the term to see how he’d react. “The Spanish language does not accept ‘Latinx.’” He went on to ridicule people who use it and “their preferred pronouns and all that s—” in an attempt at inclusivity.
While the term Latinx is imperfect, the idea that it was invented by performative ‘woke’ whites erases the voices who forged it as a path to visibility.
“Latinx” to Villanueva is “kind of a modern creation ... where the average Latino says, ‘Screw you.’ The entire language is based on gender. Everything has a gender. Inanimate objects have a gender. El árbol — it’s not la árbol, it’s el árbol.”
If Villanueva doesn’t get reelected, maybe there’s a career in etymology for him?
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