LOS ANGELES — Sheriff Alex Villanueva responded to calls for his resignation Sept. 23 vowing to stay on the job and calling the criticism directed at him by members of the county’s Board of Supervisors and others divisive, politically motivated and “downright un-American.”
In his weekly question-and-answer session on Facebook, the sheriff insisted that his direct supervisor is the state’s Attorney General’s Office, not the Civilian Oversight Commission, which has challenged the sheriff over several issues including deputy shootings, the arrest of a local reporter covering a protest and alleged gangs within the department.
“You’ve heard Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and Supervisor [Mark] Ridley-Thomas jumping up and down, then you heard members of the Oversight Commission jumping up and down about somehow I’m breaking the law and I’m rogue or I’m not willing to accept oversight. I think they really miss the point,” Villanueva said.
“Somehow they’re deluded themselves into believing they could create a political entity know as the Civilian Oversight Commission, and somehow I all of a sudden became subordinate to the Oversight Commission, and they could subpoena me at will and I’m supposed to sit there and be lectured by the Oversight Commission and somehow that public shaming venture somehow honors the state Constitution and honors the role of the sheriff as an independent elected official, and honors the separation of powers between the legislative and executive branch. Of course it doesn’t — this is a political entity created by the board for the sole purpose of waging a proxy war against me.”
Villanueva further argued that he would honor any legal subpoena, but he insisted that county officials have overstepped their bounds.
“There’s only three categories that they’re not entitled to get: They’re not entitled to get active, administrative and criminal investigations, period,” he said.
“The commission knows that, the Board of Supervisors knows that, yet somehow they play ignorant and claim that we’re not complying when they don’t get one of those things. Well, they’re not entitled to get something that’s required by law to be withheld.”
Villanueva was responding to calls for his resignation last week by members of the Citizens Oversight Commission and Supervisors Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas.
Kuehl cited the costs related to lawsuits attached to claims of excessive force by deputies in her call for Villanueva to step down.
“He is really a rogue sheriff,” Kuehl said. “It is really important for this sheriff to understand that his behavior, his violation of any of the common rules that govern a law enforcement agency, is the greatest threat to public safety.”
Political analyst Joseph Mailander, the author of “L.A. at Intermission: A City Mingling Towards Identity,” was critical of those calling for Villanueva to resign.
“Elected officials calling on other elected officials to resign is a kind of third rail in politics,” Mailander said. “One of the reasons we elect rather than appoint a county sheriff is to make sure that law enforcement can keep a check on county government.
“Kuehl can’t expect to criticize the sheriff as though he’s just another appointed department head and get away with it. While the sheriff’s office could use some reform, I applaud the sheriff for taking the time to play politics in this case, firing right back at the supervisor.”
Villanueva also has been criticized by Compton Mayor Aja Brown, who said deputies are “terrorizing” her city and pointed to alleged gangs of deputies operating out of the Compton Sheriff’s Station.
Instead of calling out the station’s Capt. LaTonya Clark, Brown publicly berated the sheriff recently.
She was joined by City Councilman Isaac Galvan.
“This is Capt. Clark’s first job as captain and in these trying times we should have had a more experienced captain, but she needs to be accessible and keep her station in check,” Galvan said. “The sheriff has removed eight deputies from the station, which is a step in the right direction.”
“I don’t think any elected official should resign their position,” said Skyy Fisher, a former member of the Compton school board. “Elected officials have an obligation to the voters who voted for them to remain in a position for their complete term. If voters want a change, there is a recall process or they have the opportunity to change leadership at the end of the elected leader’s present term.”
Other community members feel the sheriff’s hands are tied, especially with the Board of Supervisor’s reducing the sheriff’s budget and a measure on the November ballot that would redirect millions of dollars from the Sheriff’s Department’s budget for mental health and jail diversion services.
That measure was backed by the United Way. Former county CEO Sachi Hamai served on the United Way of Greater Los Angeles’ board of directors, but resigned from the board before that measure was voted on by the board.
Villanueva called her service on the United Way board a conflict of interest and suggested Hamai committed a felony.
Hamai, who originally planned to retire from her county post at the end of March, but stayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, retired at the end of August, taking with her a $1.5 million settlement and a security detail after saying she had been threatened by Villanueva.
Social media postings show the community’s overall support for the sheriff and the job he is doing.
“I don’t think he should resign, but be prepared to not be in office the next go around,” said Compton resident Kia Renee. “Everyone deserves a chance. Let him try, and vote him out if he doesn’t meet the community’s standards.”
Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas issued their calls for Villanueva to resign after two members of the Civilian Oversight Commission, which oversees the Sheriff’s Department, said Villanueva should resign during a commission meeting Sept. 17.
“It’s with great reluctance that I’m calling for Sheriff Villanueva to resign,” Commissioner Richard Bonner said. “The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department itself deserves better. The men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deserve better.”
Bonner is a former federal prosecutor who at one time led the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.
The commission, whose members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors, expressed doubt over the sheriff’s version of events leading to the arrest of a local reporter Sept. 12 and asked county attorneys to prepare a report on legal responsibilities involved in law enforcement activities at protests.
City News Service contributed to this story.
2 Urban Girls is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the Compton area. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.