A Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department deputy watches a crowd at an anti-war protest in 2012.
A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deputy watches a crowd at an anti-war protest in 2012. Credit: Greg Lilly/Flickr.

New Report Documents ‘Unlawful Conduct’ by L.A. County Sheriff’s Department

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The latest report from Inspector General Max Huntsman accuses the Los Angeles County Sheriff’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. It’s worth noting that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted last month to see how they might replace Villanueva — an elected official — before the end of his term.

In the report issued Dec. 14, Huntsman says he’s “writing to document examples of unlawful conduct by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department” 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 Sheriff’s Department of “consistently” trying to obstruct investigations into the conduct of its deputies.

As an example, Huntsman points to efforts by the Sheriff’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 coroner’s office defied a hold on the autopsy report of another man shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies over the summer — Andres Guardado. The gag order obtained by the Sheriff’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 department’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, Huntsman’s report says they often don’t have the authority to respond to requests made by the commission.

The report also states that representatives from the inspector general’s office, as well as county counsel, have been excluded from the LASD’s Executive Planning Council meetings, which they once attended regularly. The inspector general also hasn’t had access to LASD terminals at its office since June 2019.

Another section of Huntsman’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 county’s emergency operations. Hamai filed a suit over Villanueva’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.”

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 Sheriff’s Department has denied or not responded to, including information regarding a whistleblower’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, there’s more! The report also accuses the Sheriff’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 he’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 wouldn’t have rescued a 17-year-old trafficking victim found at the scene.

There’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.

The report also references the coroner’s inquiry into the shooting death of Andres Guardado. During the investigation, four LASD employees — including two homicide investigators assigned to the case — refused to testify and instead invoked their Fifth Amendment rights. Villanueva had referred to the inquiry as a “circus stunt.”

So, yeah, there’s a lot in there that paints a very tense picture between the Sheriff’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 “has gone to great lengths to keep its conduct secret.” You can read the entire report here.

Los Angeleno