Escalating its war of words with Sheriff Alex Villanueva, the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission Thursday unanimously approved a resolution condemning the sheriff’s leadership of the department and calling for his immediate resignation.
The commission had originally planned to adopt a resolution that blasted Villanueva’s administration, accused him of failing to cooperate with the oversight panel and vowing to hold him accountable if he continued to “facilitate dysfunction” in the agency.
But during its discussion, commission members first considered amending the document to make it a “no-confidence” vote, then went even further by demanding his resignation. The panel amended the document to conclude that it has “lost confidence in Sheriff Villanueva’s ability to effectively govern the sheriff’s department. He should resign immediately.”
Commission Chair Lael Rubin made the initial call to add a resignation demand, telling her colleagues, “I don’t think he (Villanueva) has any intention of making anything better.” She noted that some members of the panel individually called on the sheriff to step down last month.
“One would have hoped that during the last month, with all of that discussion and public comment and comments in news articles that he would take some of that to heart,” she said. “He obviously has not.”
Other commission members joined her in the call for Villanueva to resign. Commissioner Priscilla Ocen said to simply pass a resolution saying the panel had “grave concerns” would be an “understatement.” She accused Villanueva of engaging in “lies” and “coverups,” and of exacerbating problems in the agency through “his willingness to defend indefensible actions by deputies.”
“He fails to take responsibility for problems in his department, blaming everyone else,” Ocen said. “… He blames everyone else, including the former sheriff, for the problems he’s responsible for.”
The West Hollywood City Council Has Yet to Take an Official Stand on Villanueva
Villanueva’s conduct has led L.A. County Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, as well as Los Angeles City Councilman David Ryu, to call for his resignation. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors also voted to put on the Nov. 3 ballot a measure that, if approved by voters, would allocate 10% of the county’s unrestricted general funds for housing, jail diversion, mental health and other social services, with some of that money being diverted from the Sheriff’s Department. Villanueva has criticized the board for that move.
The City of West Hollywood contracts with the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department for law enforcement services, spending approximately $20 million a year. Several West Hollywood City Council members have been critical of Villanueva in discussions at Council meetings of public safety issues. Mayor Lindsey Horvath is asking the Council on Monday to support a request by two members of Congress that the Justice Department investigate allegations of abusive and illegal conduct by some members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department who are said to belong to gangs. The Council also has voted to hire an outside consultant to examine law enforcement practices in West Hollywood.
However, while the Council has voted on resolutions condemning the governments of Iran and Lithuania and taken stands on other national and international issues, it has not voted to ask for Villanueva’s resignation. Nor has any Council member issued an official statement condemning Villanueva’s behavior as have Ridley-Thomas, Kuehl, and Ryu.
The sheriff’s department posted a statement online Thursday afternoon insisting that Villanueva has “lawfully responded to all subpoenas” from the commission and recently met with Rubin to “discuss building a better working relationship.”
“This meritless politically motivated attack is unsupported by real facts and remains a shameless repeat of the same spectacle played out on Sept. 17, 2020,” according to the statement. “Despite this political theater, Sheriff Villanueva will continue being the most accessible and transparent sheriff in the history of Los Angeles County.”
The sheriff on Wednesday said the county should have an “elected oversight commission,” saying the current makeup of the panel is “political appointees” of the board, “and they act like it.”
“Their political philosophies are they really, really hate cops or they slightly hate cops or they’re not too sure,” Villanueva said.
When some members of the commission last month called for him to resign, Villanueva accused the panel of being nothing more than an “attack dog” for the Board of Supervisors.
“They’re just part of the echo chamber of the board,” the sheriff said. “And unfortunately, the route they take is not one that’s going to engender goodwill … between myself or the organization, because there’s a fine line being a watchdog and an attack dog, a political attack dog. And that’s pretty much the line they’ve crossed, along with (Inspector General) Max Huntsman. In fact, they crossed that line a long time ago, this is just the latest example of that.
“… I’m just going to ignore it and move on,” he said. “I’m going to continue serving the community, and I just have to set that aside.”
The resolution adopted by the commission Thursday outlines a series of disputes between the panel and Villanueva, concluding that he “enables a culture within the sheriff’s department of deputy impunity, disregards the constitutional rights of Los Angeles County residents, disdains other elected officials and disrespects the will of voters who support robust civilian oversight.”
Despite toughening the document to call for Villanueva’s resignation, the commission still included language stating that the panel still remains “committed to implementing constructive reforms in collaboration with Sheriff Villanueva and wishes to see Sheriff Villanueva succeed in rebuilding the sheriff’s department.”
Some commissioners questioned the inclusion of that language following a call for him to resign, calling it contradictory.
The commission has no legal authority to force Villanueva — an elected sheriff — out of office or force him to resign. Commission James Harris warned his colleagues during the discussion that such a strongly worded resolution “basically slams the door” on relations with the sheriff.
“And we’ve got two-plus more years of this sheriff before there’s another election,” he noted.