By Jose Ivan Cazares
LYNWOOD — City Manager Jose Ometeotl remains on paid leave Sept. 23 after being placed on leave Sept. 15 following comments he made on his personal Instagram account in response to the news of an unknown assailant shooting and critically wounding two Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies.
On Sept. 12, the day of the shooting, Ometeol posted a picture of Malcolm X and the phrase, “Chickens come home to roost,” an expression meaning that a person’s bad deeds come back to haunt them.
In the caption, the city manager wrote that “the shooting of anyone is wholly unacceptable,” then went on to accuse the Sheriff’s Department of complacency in allowing cliques to flourish among the department’s ranks.
“The fact that someone opened fire on deputies is to be expected in the society we live in today,” Ometeotl wrote, according to a screenshot included with a Change.org petition calling for his resignation. The petition received more than 1,000 signatures.
In addition to the petition, people commented on the city of Lynwood’s Instagram account, condemning Ometeotl’s comments. Some residents defended Ometeotl, echoing his comments about deputies abusing their power and killing people of color.
The City Council met in a closed session Sept. 15 to discuss the social media post and decided to put Ometeotl on paid leave. Michelle Ramirez, Lynwood’s community development director, was named interim city manager while the city conducts an internal investigation into Ometeotl’s comments.
Kayla Woods, executive communications specialist for the League of California Cities, a statewide advocacy group for city governments, said the organization does not provide guidelines for whether city managers should speak on social issues.
“Cities are best positioned to decide for themselves the right person to be speaking on behalf of their city,” she said.
Two sheriff’s deputies, a 24-year-old man and a 31-year-old woman, were critically injured when an unknown assailant snuck up on them in their patrol car in Compton and opened fire. They were treated at St. Francis Medical Center in Lynwood for gunshot wounds. Both have since been released from the hospital.
The ambush happened a few weeks after deputies fatally shot Dijon Kizzee Aug. 31 in the unincorporated neighborhood of Westmont, setting off protests against the Sheriff’s Department. Kizzee’s family is calling for the prosecution of the deputies involved in his death.
Resentment toward the Sheriff’s Department has also been spurred by reports of Sheriff’s deputies forming gangs and spurring violence in communities of color. In August, Compton Mayor Aja Brown shared her own negative experiences with sheriff’s deputies and told the media that the department “terrorize[s] the community and then they cover their tracks.”
Elected officials have condemned the shooting of the deputies, with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti saying even with an important conversation on policing happening, such an incident was inexcusable.
The evening of Sept. 12, a small number of protesters demonstrated outside St Francis Medical Center, where the deputies were being treated. Some of them taunted the sheriff’s deputies stationed there. The deputies dispersed the protest and arrested a demonstrator.
Deputies also arrested KPCC/LAist reporter Josie Huang, who was filming the protest and covering a press conference beforehand. Video from Huang and other news crews at the scene show Huang being slammed to the ground and handcuffed, while yelling for help.
The department said that Huang interfered with the arrest and didn’t have the proper press credentials, yet video footage showed her wearing her press badge and identifying as a reporter. An LAist post on her arrest said she attempted to reposition herself when officers told her to back up and that she was using the zoom on her camera, which made it look like she was closer to the arrest than she actually was.
A preliminary investigation from the county’s inspector general suggests that the Sheriff’s Department made false statements about Huang’s arrest. On Sept. 17, two members of the county Board of Supervisors and two members of the sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission called for Villanueva’s resignation, citing his resistance to oversight by the Board of Supervisors and the Civilian Oversight Commission.
Jose Ivan Cazares is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers the East Los Angeles area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.