Column: Transcripts don’t lie. Sheriff Alex Villanueva does

A man in a law enforcement uniform and men in suits stand in front of several flags.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at a news conference in Santa Ana.
(Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Transcripts don’t lie. But Alex Villanueva thinks they do.

The embattled Los Angeles County sheriff has wasted a big chunk of his first term denying things that audio, video and print reporters have quoted him as saying.

He has claimed those comments were misconstrued, taken out of context, misheard or — as he insists most of the time — big, fat lies. Even after reporters post his unredacted, unedited words, Villanueva doesn’t budge from his woe-is-me pity party.

He makes Donald Trump seem as truthful as George Washington next to a cherry tree.


Consider a pretrial deposition for the lawsuit that Vanessa Bryant filed against L.A. County after sheriff’s deputies showed off grisly photos of the helicopter crash that killed her husband, Kobe Bryant; their daughter Gianna; and seven others.

Vanessa Bryant sued Los Angeles County and the Sheriff’s Department after photos of the helicopter crash that killed Lakers legend Kobe Bryant and their daughter Gianna were shared.

Aug. 11, 2022

Villanueva was asked under oath by Bryant’s attorneys what he thought of my colleague Alene Tchekmedyian, who covers the Sheriff’s Department and who helped break the story about the crash photos.

“Profoundly dishonest,” the sheriff testified, adding that he wouldn’t “describe anything that she’s quoting me as being accurate at all.”

But instead of offering examples, Villanueva harrumphed that Tchekmedyian “attempted to engage me in conversation [on] multiple occasions, and I deliberately have ... nothing to share with her.”

Um, OK.

It’s obvious why Villanueva keeps denying his own words. He’s perpetually trying to save his political ass. He does it with stunts like a morning raid of the home of his frequent critic L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl over supposed political corruption. He’ll do it by wearing cowboy hats.


But above all, his perpetual Hail Mary is accusing others of lying about him.

It would be amusing if it weren’t so insulting to our democracy.

Reader reaction to the L.A. Times three-part series on L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva

March 30, 2022

Consider a debate hosted by KBLA-AM 1580 on Monday between Villanueva and his opponent in the November election, retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna.

After Villanueva boasted about all the Black division chiefs and sergeants on his team and implied Luna was a racist for not having the same track record, debate co-moderator Dominque DiPrima asked about a March column of mine. She zeroed in on two Villanueva assertions. One was his theory that adversity for Black people, “generation after generation, keeps diminishing,” so that the community is now its own worst enemy.

He maintained that Black people killed by police are far outnumbered by those killed by fellow Black people.

“For every one ‘Say her name,’” Villanueva told me then, “you’d have to say a thousand names of people who were killed. Black people killing Black people. And is anybody ... out there in the street chanting, ‘Say their name’? No one is going to.”

DiPrima also took issue with Villanueva characterizing the rise in hate crimes against Asians as a Black issue.

“Look at the one who’s assaulting victims. Overwhelming majority are Black. It’s a rule in media that it cannot be mentioned,” he said in his interview with me.

All these anti-Black dog whistles, provoked by my simple question of why the Black community seemed to organize more effectively than Latinos against killings by law enforcement officers. He’s been trying to run away from his statements ever since — by attacking me.

A man in a cowboy hat outdoors.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in Venice in 2021.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

He went on Fox 11 shortly after the publication of my column to whine that I couldn’t find “anything positive to say” about him while doubling down on some of his remarks.

Notes from an April meeting between Villanueva and the the Black Peace Officers Assn. Los Angeles County obtained by The Times revealed that board members pressed him on his thoughts about Black people.

He responded that “his statements were taken out of context because the article’s author came with an ‘agenda,’” according to the notes.

In front of a packed crowd at the KBLA debate, which was livestreamed on Facebook, Villanueva knew he needed to win over more Black voters. A poll released last month and co-sponsored by UC Berkeley and the Los Angeles Times showed registered Black voters supported him the least of any ethnic group — just 17%, compared with 21% of Asian voters and a whopping 34% of Latinos.

“When I’m reading this [Villanueva’s comments in the Times] and just from other off-the-cuff comments that I’ve heard you make,” DiPrima said to approving murmurs from the audience, “it sounds like there is an issue in your perception of African Americans as a community. And I want you to address that. If that’s wrong, please help me understand why.”

Here was a chance for Villanueva to apologize for his past stupidity. Nope.

“Well, one is you’re quoting the L.A. Times,” Villanueva replied as he flashed his usual smirk. “They’re not exactly a paragon of virtue and accuracy.”

DiPrima pointed out that The Times is “a fact-based newspaper” before KBLA owner and host Tavis Smiley interjected.

“Did you make [those statements] to the L.A. Times — yes or no?” he asked.

“The part about the Asians and the African ... no, I did not make that quote,” the sheriff replied.

“The L.A. Times misquoted you,” Smiley stated.

“Yes, definitely,” Villanueva shot back.

Alex: As we say in Mexico, no te hagas. Give me a break.

A man raises his left arm in front of a big monitor with words on screen.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at the Hall of Justice in February.
(Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

When we chatted this spring, we recorded each other on our own devices. I still have the audio file — you must’ve deleted yours.

I didn’t misquote you. I didn’t misinterpret you. I didn’t miss a single thing you said. But just to verify my own reporting, I listened to our conversation again.

And when I did, I recalled some other remarks you made about the Black community and crime that didn’t make it into my column.

When I pushed back on your assertion that there’s as much intra-racial violence among Black people as among Latinos, you pivoted to imply that Black people are more murderous, period.

“Latinos as homicide suspects in the county jail? They’re about 56, I think, close to 60%,” Villanueva said. “And they’re 50% of the community.”

You then said that Blacks are 31% of homicide suspects in the jail and also 31% of jail inmates overall.

“But in the county population, they’re only 4%,” you continued. “So you see the difference here in percentages?” (According to the U.S. census, L.A. County is actually 9% Black.)

You also said that “the greatest adversity young Black kids today face is by other young Black kids.” You claimed that the “disruption in the classroom” they allegedly cause is “the biggest problem.”

“It demoralizes the workforce ... you got substandard classes,” you said.

“So destroying the quality of education,” you concluded, “is self-inflicted to a certain degree.”

You weren’t done.

“Black on Black violence, brown on brown violence — it’s just not at the same level between the two. So I think that’s where the difference lies” between the two communities and their protests against police violence, you said.

“And for a lot of Latinos, they’re going to say, ‘Well, they [Black people] brought it upon themselves. They’re more inclined,’” you continued. “I think — if you do the surveys, they’d be more inclined to say whoever met a bad fate at the hands of law enforcement, they brought it upon themselves by what they did.... In comparison, if you did a survey of Blacks, they’d be more inclined to” blame the government because of “all the legacies of past horrific conditions.”

“And it’s troublesome,” you concluded, “because in reality, poverty is the one main thing that drives the whole thing. Because that is true of white, Black, Latino, Asian people [in] the bottom rung economically ... are the ones that have the greatest confrontations with law enforcement. And just by sheer poverty and concentration of individuals in some ZIP Codes in the county, in comparison to other ZIP Codes ... this is sociology, really.”

In March, you ended your six-minute, error-ridden non sequitur with a chuckle.

At the KBLA forum this week, you laughed at L.A.’s Black community yet again.

Transcripts don’t lie.

Alex Villanueva: You do. A lot.