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Column: Is sheriff search of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s home just a vindictive political stunt?

Sheriff's deputies escort Supervisor Shelia Kuehl from her Santa Monica home
Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies escort Supervisor Shelia Kuehl from her Santa Monica home on Wednesday after serving her an early-morning search warrant.
(Genaro Molina/Los Angeles Times)

Up for reelection in a close race, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva appears to be getting desperate.

How else to explain what looks more like a clownish and vindictive political stunt than a corruption probe?

On Wednesday morning, deputies knocked on the door of one of Villanueva’s chief critics, County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl. They served a search warrant, as reported by The Times’ Alene Tchekmedyian.

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Kuehl, in a photo by The Times’ Genaro Molina, is shown in bare feet, being escorted out of her home by a deputy with a hand on Kuehl’s arm. The deputy is trailed by another deputy, and both are wearing bulletproof vests.

You’d think Kuehl, 81, was some kind of desperado.

L.A. County sheriff’s investigators arrived at County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s home early Wednesday with a search warrant.

The search was related to a sheriff’s probe of a nonprofit called Peace Over Violence, which is run by Patti Giggans, a friend of Kuehl’s. Giggans is a member of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and both she and Kuehl have called for the resignation of Villanueva, who has a well-established record of retaliation against his critics.

The probe is related, in part, to a former Metro employee’s claim that Kuehl improperly helped Giggans get a contract to operate a hotline for reporting sexual harassment on public transit.

“Totally bogus,” Kuehl said Wednesday of the invasion of her home, adding that she didn’t know anything about the contract and that supervisors did not vote on its approval.

Villanueva has claimed he has recused himself from the work of his corruption unit to avoid conflicts of interest.

Anyone who so chooses is free to believe that.

If there’s reason to suspect something fishy or illegal about the contract in question, we haven’t seen the evidence yet, and the county D.A.'s office took a look last September and refused to file criminal charges.

But we’ve seen plenty of evidence that the petty Villanueva — whose department has been the subject of misconduct and civil rights violations — has worked hard to destroy his own credibility.

Now stay with me here because there’s a thread, explained by Tchekmedyian, you need to follow:

The warrants served Wednesday on Kuehl and Giggans were approved by L.A. County Superior Court Judge Craig Richman, who has a relationship with Mark Lillienfeld, an investigator in Villanueva’s public corruption unit.

Robert Luna holds a small lead over Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the race for sheriff takes on a strongly partisan cast.

“Their relationship came under scrutiny several years ago when there was an independent Sheriff’s Department inquiry into whether Lillienfeld tried to help Richman out of legal trouble,” wrote Tchekmedyian.

It’s like something out of “Chinatown.”

Regarding the search warrant served on Giggans, “These are Third World tactics,” said her attorney, Austin Dove. “Vladimir Putin would be impressed.”

In June, when I wrote that any of the candidates running to replace Villanueva would be an improvement, the sheriff emailed me to complain.

He listed, among his achievements, “getting ICE out of the jails, body worn cameras, creating a national best practices model for handling the pandemic in our jail system, leading the county’s efforts at stopping looting during civil unrest, eradicating illegal marijuana grows in the Antelope Valley.”

Whatever he claims as accomplishments, he’s put together a longer list of negatives.

I touched on just a few of them in May, when I wrote that Villanueva “pushed back against requirements for reporting minor uses of force, he wanted to bring back metal flashlights that had served in the past as clubs, and he had opposed former Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s attempts to give prosecutors a secret list of deputies disciplined for dishonesty and misconduct.”

L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva must go, and the culture must change, his rivals say.

By the way, I responded to Villanueva’s complaint by emailing him back, twice, offering to meet with him during his runoff against former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.

He did not take me up on the offer.

It’s worth noting that in his email to me, Villanueva claimed that he works for the people of Los Angeles County, not the Board of Supervisors. He said the “civilian oversight commission is waging a proxy war on my office on behalf of the board” of supervisors.

It sure looks like his department is waging a counteroffensive.

But unless Villanueva can produce evidence that justifies the Wednesday morning searches, it’s just one more misfire, with the sheriff shooting himself in the foot yet again.

Steve.lopez@latimes.com


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