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The latest report from Inspector General Max HuntsmanÂ accuses the Los Angeles County Sheriffâ€™s Department of unlawful conduct, including getting in the way of investigations, suppressing the First Amendment and threatening county officials. Huntsman and Sheriff Alex Villanueva have been trading verbal spars for a while now, but this report is basically a list of everything he thinks the LASD has done wrong since Villanueva took over in 2018. Itâ€™s worth noting that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted last month to see how they might replace Villanueva â€” an elected official â€” before the end of his term.
In the report issued Dec. 14, Huntsman says heâ€™s â€śwriting to document examples of unlawful conduct by the Los Angeles Sheriffâ€™s Departmentâ€ť in what he claims is an effort to remove law enforcement reforms and oversight developed following the scandal surrounding former Sheriff Lee Baca, who obstructed an FBI investigation into the treatment of inmates in county facilities. The report accuses the Sheriffâ€™s Department of â€śconsistentlyâ€ť trying to obstruct investigations into the conduct of its deputies.
As an example, Huntsman points to efforts by the Sheriffâ€™s Department to prevent the County Medical Examiner-Coroner from releasing the autopsy report on Dana Young, a man shot and killed by deputies on Oct. 15. This came after the coronerâ€™s office defied a hold on the autopsy report of another man shot and killed by sheriffâ€™s deputies over the summer â€” Andres Guardado. The gag order obtained by the Sheriffâ€™s Department on the Young autopsy was later vacated by a judge.
The report also cites a court ruling from Nov. 20 affirming that Villanueva must appear at a contempt hearing next month after he ignored a subpoena from the Civilian Oversight Commission to answer questions regarding the departmentâ€™s handling of the pandemic inside county jails. Villanueva does not regularly attend oversight meetings. The report also notes that in a letter dated Jan. 17, Villanueva said that neither he nor his designee would appear at civilian oversight meetings, even though required to do so by county rules. While LASD representatives have attended civilian oversight meetings, Huntsmanâ€™s report says they often donâ€™t have the authority to respond to requests made by the commission.
The report also states that representatives from the inspector generalâ€™s office, as well as county counsel, have been excluded from the LASDâ€™s Executive Planning Council meetings, which they once attended regularly. The inspector general also hasnâ€™t had access to LASD terminals at its office since June 2019.
Another section of Huntsmanâ€™s report pertains to threats allegedly made against various county officials. For instance, in April 2020, Villanueva insinuated, without elaborating, that he knew about several felonies committed by county officials.
Villanueva is also accused of spreading false information about former L.A. County CEO Sachi Hamai, who replaced him in April as head of the countyâ€™s emergency operations. Hamai filed a suit over Villanuevaâ€™s alleged harassment. The county settled for $1.5 million and agreed to provide her with private security following her retirement. In a letter sent to the Board of Supervisors, Skip Miller, litigation counsel for L.A. County, wrote that Villanueva, “lied to the press saying [Hamai] denied first responders their salaries while quarantined. Incited by the Sheriff, individuals threatened to post her home address and suggested she be harmed.â€ť
The report, which is several pages long, also accuses Villanueva of leniency when deciding on disciplinary measures, as well as not properly investigating and disallowing gangs in the LASD, and possibly destroying evidence by ordering deputies to delete any photos they may have taken of the Kobe Bryant crash site.
Huntsman also accuses the department of failing to disclose the names of deputies involved in shootings and withholding documents pertaining to dishonesty and other misconduct. According to the inspector general, the LASD received 2,909 records requests in 2019, but as of Jan. 23, 2020, over 70% remained outstanding, with 1,942 of them overdue beyond time limits outlined by the California Public Records Act.
The report lists several outstanding requests that the Sheriffâ€™s Department has denied or not responded to, including information regarding a whistleblowerâ€™s report on LASD gangs and details regarding a private party hosted earlier this year at Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood that some attendees identified, on video, as an LASD party. The department has denied any involvement with the party.
But, wait, thereâ€™s more! The report also accuses the Sheriffâ€™s Department of not complying with COVID-19 protocols, including the use of face masks, and refers to comments Villanueva has made about how he will not enforce county health orders. He recently mentioned this again at a press conference about a large party the LASD busted, saying heâ€™d rather focus on superspreader events over non-compliant businesses. The LASD has faced criticism for allowing the party, which they knew about in advance, to happen at all. According to Villanueva, had the department intervened, they wouldnâ€™t have rescued a 17-year-old trafficking victim found at the scene.
Thereâ€™s also a section dedicated to the suppression of the First Amendment, which highlights the arrest of KPCC journalist Josie Huang, who was detained while covering a press conference in Lynwood despite identifying herself as a journalist.
So, yeah, thereâ€™s a lot in there that paints a very tense picture between the Sheriffâ€™s Department and county officials as trust in law enforcement seems to be at an all-time low. In closing, Huntsman alleges that the LASD â€śhas gone to great lengths to keep its conduct secret.” You can read the entire report here.