Sheriff Villanueva: Oversight commission a 'circus act'

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks at a news conference.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks at a news conference. Photo credit Josh Lefkowitz/Getty Images

Sheriff Alex Villanueva continues to resist the Civilian Oversight Commission’s inquiries into allegations of wrongdoing within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Villanueva told KNX that the charges the commission has levied against his department are merely part of a “circus act.”

He added that the commission is acting on the behest of the Board of Supervisors in a “proxy war” with the department.

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Villanueva skipped out on Thursday’s meeting despite receiving a subpoena to attend. He declined to say why he would not attend, only that he was too busy. He was meant to answer allegations that the department targets critics with investigations and allows secretive subgroups engaged in illegal activity to operate in the department.

Villanueva challenged the commission’s legal ability to subpoena, telling KNX that “lawful orders come from the courts. [They don’t] come from the commission.”

However, a 2020 ballot measure did just that. Measure R, which passed with overwhelming support, grants the commission subpoena power to investigate complaints.

In Villanueva’s absence on Thursday, the commissioners did not hold back their criticism.

“The sheriff has repeatedly defied our subpoenas, perhaps in an attempt to obstruct our oversight functions,” said Priscilla Ocen, the commission’s chair and a Loyola Law School Professor. “He will not, however, deter us from doing our duty. Abstaining from today’s meeting is not going to stop us from doing our job and rooting out gangs in the department.”

Villanueva strongly disagrees with the allegation that there are gangs within the department.

“I can guarantee that the gangs do not exist, for sure. Subgroups do exist occasionally. Occasionally they can do some dumb things, and we hold them accountable,” he said.

Villanueva added that he has terminated and disciplined deputies for misconduct associated with cliques but the commission does not want to acknowledge that.

He believes the Board of Supervisors takes issue with him because he is an “independent actor.”

“Previous sheriffs have always had the protection of the political establishment, and they were paid to look the other way,” the sheriff said.