Opinion: The First Step in Police Reform Is Pressing Sheriff Villanueva to Resign

L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva

Tens of thousands of people marched on Santa Monica Boulevard on June 14 to protest police brutality against Black people. Several City Council members joined that march. And those that didn’t spoke out in support of it.

Yes, everyone seems to agree, we need to reform law enforcement. But what do we need to do? And how will we do it?

Mayor Lindsey Horvath has said she would like to see the city embrace theLos Angeles County Alternatives to Incarceration Work Group. It was created in February 2019 after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors passed a motion that called for leaders from the justice system and health departments as well as community experts to develop a plan to scale alternatives to incarceration and diversion so care and services are provided first and jail is a last resort. Councilmember Lauren Meister recommends the city work with the Center for Policing Equity, a data-driven organization that works with law enforcement agencies and local communities to develop more equitable law enforcement practices. Councilmember John D’Amico has expressed concern about the Sheriff’s Station’s responsiveness to calls from local residents and the use of armed officers in non-violent situations. Councilmember John Heilman has questioned whether money allocated to law enforcement should instead be provide to other services, such as mental health evaluation. And Councilmember John Duran, as always, is happy with things the way they are.

The City of West Hollywood should look into some, if not all, of these suggestions and questions. But rather than make its residents endure the typical six- to 12-month execution of a study and preparation of recommendations to bring back for review, there are things the City Council can do now. This is the first of two editorials that will explain what they are and why they are needed.

Demand the Resignation of Alex Villanueva, a Sheriff With a Disdain for the Law

Villanueva was elected to office with the strong support of the deputies union — no surprise given that he reinstated a deputy who had been fired for engaging in the sort of brutal behavior that the June 14 demonstrators (and our Council members) have protested. Given his history, he is not someone we can count on to institute any reform.

Villanueva last year reinstated deputy Michael Courtial, who was fired in June 2018, when the Sheriff’s Department was headed by his predecessor, Jim McDonnell. According to a story in the L.A. Times, Courtial and other deputies were responding to a call that a man might be breaking into a truck when Courtial “kicked the door of a truck, threatening to shoot the man inside. After yanking the man onto the ground, the lawman punched him several times in his back and shoulders as other officers wrangled the suspect onto his stomach and into handcuffs, according to law enforcement reports.”

Courtial was fired for using unreasonable force and failing to use de-escalation techniques. Villanueva rehired him with a new badge and gun shortly after he assumed office.

Then there’s Villanueva’s reinstatement of Caren Carl Mandoyan, one of his election campaign workers, who was a former deputy at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station. Mandoyan had been fired in 2016 after being accused of abuse by another deputy there with whom he was having an affair. Villanueva put him back on the job after winning the election.

Villanueva violates the law. He has refused to appear before the Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, which subpoenaed him to discuss coronavirus in county jails. Max Huntsman, the county’s inspector general, is looking into allegations that Villanueva is trying to cover up an investigation into allegations that deputies shared photos of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant. At one Oversight Commission meeting attended by this writer, Huntsman said that the Sheriff actually had launched an investigation of him, the inspector general, in an apparent act of retribution.

Villanueva also is a flagrant violator of the State of California’s freedom of information laws. The Sheriff’s Department has long benefitted from the fact that the State of California has the most restrictive laws in the nation when it comes to requests for information about police misconduct and discipline. But with the passage of Senate Bill 1421, which took effect on Jan. 1, 2019, law enforcement agencies now are required to respond to requests for disciplinary records related to police misconduct such as sexual assault and use of force. Under state law, they have 10 days to make an initial response and can request an additional 14 days if they need the extra time.

On Jan. 28, 2019, WEHOville sent a letter to Sheriff Villanueva via UPS (to ensure we got a signature confirming receipt) to request any and all information related to a possible investigation of the actions of deputies who shot and killed one innocent young man and seriously wounded another at 939 Palm Ave. on April 7, 2014. The deputies weren’t prosecuted (they almost never are in California), although Los Angeles County did pay $7.5 million to settle a civil suit brought by the wounded man and the mother of the dead 30-year-old John Winkler. An investigator of the shooting noted an odd contradiction: Two women on the scene said they had shown the deputies a photo of one of the two innocent men and a photo of the man committing the attack that the deputies were responding to — men who looked quite different. The deputies denied seeing the photos.

According to a document signed by Villanueva’s office, the Sheriff received WEHOville’s request for information on Jan. 29, 2019. Today, 513 days later, WEHOville has not received the information it requested. After many, many emails and telephone calls (which rarely are answered), WEHOville has received emails saying they are working on it.

West Hollywood is one of 44 cities in Los Angeles County that contracts with the Sheriff’s Department for public safety services. According to the LASD website, it also has contracts with “141 unincorporated communities, 216 facilities, hospitals, and clinics located throughout the County, nine community colleges, the Metropolitan Transit Authority and 37 Superior Courts.”

Neither the City of West Hollywood nor the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has the power to force Villanueva to resign. But what the West Hollywood City Council can and should do is ask Mayor Lindsey Horvath, who is president of the California Contract Cities Association, to press the CCCA’s Los Angeles County members to join West Hollywood in demanding Villanueva’s resignation. The City Council also should push the hospitals, clinics, community colleges, and the MTA to make the same demand. If Villanueva won’t step down, all of the organizations and governments that contract with the Sheriff’s Department must let it know that those lucrative contracts are in jeopardy.

Our City Council is never reluctant to take stands on national and international issues that have no impact on local life and on which it has no influence (e.g. the Mueller Report and the dog meat market in Yulin, China). But maybe, at its July 6 meeting, the West Hollywood City Council will actually speak up and out about a man whose evident disregard for public safety and flagrant violation of the rules makes him unfit to run the Sheriff’s Department. I’m looking forward to seeing that on the Council’s agenda.

Tomorrow: How do we fix the Public Safety Commission?

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Moving my business
Moving my business
3 months ago

People really want to pick and choose what laws should be enforced. We should be following the immigration laws and turn all illegals over to ice. The Sheriff doesn’t to that and people seemed to like it. He was the best sheriff then huh? But yet when he enforces things like unlawful protest and looting and his officers start taking rock and bottles people cry poloce brutality when his officers were only protecting themselves. AS THEY SHOULD. Bottom line: Defund the police Garcetti and the Board of supervisors all u want is to line your own pockets. You just put… Read more »

Tom
Tom
3 months ago

Back in the early 90’s there was a movement to get rid of the Sheriff and create a West Hollywood Police Department. Since I did not live in WeHo I could not vote on it, but as I remember it came close enough to passing that LASD had to up their game. Could be time to dust that idea off again..

Manny
Manny
3 months ago
Reply to  Tom

Why? Do you really think an expensive weho police department can do better than the county sheriff? Think it through.

Vigilant
Vigilant
3 months ago
Reply to  Manny

Time to compare the WeHo budget for WHSD with the Beverly Hills PD for a starter.

Danielle Harris
Danielle Harris
3 months ago

A lot of progressive Democrats and the LA County Democratic Party supported him. Buyer’s remorse?

Art
Art
3 months ago

YES! I voted for him and followed all of the incidents that the editorial writer referred to and have regretted that choice ever since. He needs to be removed ASAP for violating so many laws and ethical codes of conduct.

Manny
Manny
3 months ago

I’m glad we have the County Sheriff as our public safety officers instead of some small town Weho Police Department. The vast resources of the County Sheriff have proven to be a valuable resource to our community.
 
As far as Villanueva goes, just like the writer of this Opinion piece, he’s got cojones. I like that.

Vigilant
Vigilant
3 months ago
Reply to  Manny

Beverly Hills has a 127 member Police Department in their small town that appears to be tailored to the community and very effective. Unable to locate a list of personnel on WHSD website, only inconsistent listing of key personnel. The did illuminate that there are 20 members dedicated to Universal City Walk, an auxiliary arrangement in one square mile.

Vigilant
Vigilant
3 months ago
Reply to  Manny

Beverly Hills has a population of 34,183 (2018) in an area of 5.7 sq. miles. West Hollywood, a population of 34,399 (2018 in an are of 1.9 sq miles.

Beverly Hills Public Safety Budget $57,502,729. (36% of budget)
West Hollywood Public Safety Budget $27,429,000 (22% of budget)

That would be a basis for evaluation and could begin the task of rethinking West Hollywood’s demeanor in Public Safety, which could potentially become an example for what many in the country appear to be seeking.

Once again an opportunity.

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
3 months ago

What nonsense. He’s doing a fine job…..in a twisted city.

Clean Up WEHO
Clean Up WEHO
3 months ago

West Hollywood inherited the Los Angeles County Sheriff Dept. Having grown up in Los Angeles, the sheriff was always thought of as a big joke. My father and uncle had deputy badges because they were in the movie industry. They would flash them to avoid a ticket or a DUI. When the sheriff’s deputies killed a gay innocent young man by mistake, I thought why don’t they just get rid of the Sheriff’s department… no way with that city council. They wouldn’t get rid of the Gestapo. The only way to fix this, besides voting all of the city council… Read more »

Art
Art
3 months ago
Reply to  Clean Up WEHO

Absolutely correct— either contract with Beverly Hills or have our own department for all of the reasons you have stated.

Woody McBreairty
Woody McBreairty
3 months ago

Villanueva seems to have the same mindset as Donald Trump. Answer to no one, dishonor his oath of office, bully, & thinks he’s above the law.

Vigilant
Vigilant
3 months ago

The very personification of a “stiff necked” individual. His presence gives no reasonable future.

John Ryan
John Ryan
3 months ago

Agreed! Get this guy out NOW!