LOS ANGELES — Sheriff Alex Villanueva is facing growing criticism and calls for him to resign despite many in the community supporting the work he is doing.
Villanueva released a statement after members of the Citizens Oversight Commission and county Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas called for his resignation Sept. 17.
“The Board of Supervisors’ proxy war against me continues unabated,” Villanueva said. “This coordinated effort is direct retaliation for my efforts in exposing corruption at all levels of county government. I will not be deterred.
“I am very disappointed in recent comments, but I have no time to engage in an exchange of personal attacks. We are facing unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts and I will continue to remain focused on public safety as my number one priority. I ask ethical leaders to also focus upon serving our community.”
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.”
Villanueva also disciplined 26 deputies from the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station for misconduct and their involvement in an off-duty fight with other deputies. Three of the 26 are facing termination.
Compton residents also share the perspective that voters should exercise the democratic process that Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas encourages through his African-American Voter Registration Project, if they truly want new leadership over the department’s roughly 18,000 deputies.
“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.