When it comes to L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, the West Hollywood City Council’s silence continues to be deafening.
On Aug. 3, the West Hollywood City Council unanimously passed a resolution brought forward by Mayor Lindsey Horvath to condemn Lithuania’s efforts to deny that its then leaders were involved in the Holocaust. No surprise there. As Bob Bishop noted in “West Hollywood: The City with Its Own Foreign Policy,” since its formation 36 years ago the West Hollywood City Council has taken stands on more than 40 foreign policy issues (condemnation of the dog meat market in Yuhan, China, is one example) and passed countless resolutions on national issues. Those include a condemnation of Indiana’s Religious Freedom Restoration Act, support of boycotts against Exxon over its environmental record, and then there was that denunciation of Southwest Airlines for its “people of size” policy.
But our City Council members have been stunningly silent when it comes to Sheriff Villanueva. Why speak out about him? For one thing, he is the man ultimately in charge of law enforcement in West Hollywood, thanks to the $20 million a year contract (recently renewed for five years with next to no public review) with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. And he’s a Sheriff whose misbehavior has cost us money. Los Angeles County recently agreed to provide its outgoing CEO Sachi Hamai with full-time private security and $1.5 million to settle claims she brought regarding “severe and pervasive harassment, defamation, malicious prosecution and hostility” by Villanueva. The county also has, oddly enough, had to spend more than $3 million on lawyers to pay for Villanueva’s defense in the county’s lawsuit against him for reinstating Caren Carl Mandoyan, the former West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station deputy fired by then-Sheriff Bill McDonnell after allegations of domestic abuse. (Mandoyan worked on Villanueva’s election campaign.)
Villanueva has refused to comply with subpoenas from the L.A. County Civilian Oversight Commission, which has questions about the handling of the Coronavirus outbreak in county jails, nor has he shown up to answer questions about his claim that he might have to close two Sheriff’s stations because of the 4% reduction by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors of the Sheriff’s Departments’ $3.5 billion budget. In a statement clearly meant to be provocative, Villanueva has said that the budget cut (at 4%, it’s really just a small snip) might mean he will have to cut staffing for the Mental Evaluation Team that deals with the homeless and for the Special Victims Bureau, which is responsible for investigating the physical or sexual abuse of children and women. Mayor Lindsey Horvath did question that at a recent City Council meeting.
Villanueva also has announced that he intends to increase the number of “concealed carry permits” by 400%, meaning more people in Los Angeles County will be able to carry guns hidden under their jackets. That wouldn’t seem to be in alignment with West Hollywood’s stand on guns, given that at least 45 of the City Council’s resolutions since cityhood have supported gun control initiatives.
Villanueva has launched an investigation into Max Huntsman, the L.A. County inspector general, in an apparent act of retribution against Huntsman’s investigation into his behavior. Huntsman has raised questions about Villanueva numerous times, most recently for refusing to share evidence from the recent death of Andres Guardado, who was shot and killed by deputies. Also questioned it Villanueva’s reinstatement last year of Michael Courtial, a deputy who was fired in June 2018 for using unreasonable force and failing to use de-escalation techniques. Courtial and other deputies were responding to a call that a man might be breaking into a truck when, the L.A. Times reported, 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.”
And then there’s Villanueva’s blatant refusal to comply with Senate Bill 1421, which requires that law enforcement agencies make public on request previously confidential records about law enforcement officers involved in shootings or other serious uses of force, and about those who have committed sexual assaults or acts of dishonesty. The Los Angeles Times has filed a lawsuit against Villanueva for his refusal to comply with its requests for such information.
WEHOville still hasn’t gotten access to records involving the deputies involving in the shooting death of one innocent young man and the serious injury to another at 939 Palm Ave. in April 2014 or to records related to the death of a young man who was hit by a deputy’s car while he was walking on the sidewalk on Santa Monica Boulevard in October 2015. WEHOville requested that information from Villanueva on Jan. 28, 2019, and today, 580 days later, continues to get emails saying the Sheriff’s Department is working on it. Under state law, the Sheriff’s Department has 14 days to provide the information requested. WEHOville called out the department’s violation of the law in a letter to Villanueva on which L.A. County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, West Hollywood City Manager Paul Arevalo, and then-mayor and current Councilmember John D’Amico were copied. Only Kuehl’s office reached out with an offer to help. Public Safety Commissioner Tory Berger did raise the issue at the Commission’s Aug. 10 meeting, only to have his question snuffed by his fellow commissioners.
Calling out Villanueva for his misconduct is risky for those Council members who have grander political aspirations. Lindsey Horvath and John Duran can criticize Donald Trump because they don’t need the endorsements of the Republican Party of Los Angeles to run for L.A. County Supervisor or the state Assembly. But they have happily accepted endorsements from the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (which already has endorsed Duran’s Nov. 3 re-election bid). ALADS is an organization that is a major backer of Villanueva because of his reinstatement of deputies fired by his predecessor because of improper or illegal behavior.
For decades our state legislators also have yielded to the demands of law enforcement unions. In a story about the failure of the state legislature to adopt many police reform proposals in the session that ended Monday, CalMatters noted that “police unions have long been big political donors to both Democrats and Republicans in California. The Peace Officers Research Association of California has spent nearly $1 million on state political campaigns since last year, records show, including donations of $280,000 to the California Democratic Party and $152,500 to the California Republican Party. It wrote checks to the campaigns of 11 sitting legislators in mid-August as lawmakers prepared to vote on numerous bills.”
That explains why the State of California has had the most restrictive laws in the nation when it comes to prosecuting officers for misconduct or making public the information the citizens of this state need to know.
Our City Council members need to put the safety and the lives of the residents of West Hollywood and the residents of all of Los Angeles County (like Andres Guardado and Dijon Kizzee) ahead of their political ambitions. They should put on their Sept. 21 agenda a statement condemning Alex Villanueva for his unethical and illegal behavior. That statement should ask for his resignation. And it should state that the City of West Hollywood will work with the Los Angeles County members of the Contract Cities Association to find another provider of law enforcement services if Villanueva doesn’t step down.
If our City Council isn’t willing to do that, it needs to drop the “progressive city” moniker and stop claiming that we’re the “safest place to live, work, and play” (which already has been disproven).