LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — As promised, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva defied a subpoena to appear at Thursday’s meeting of the county Civilian Oversight Commission, prompting the panel’s vote to challenge the move in court.
Commissioner Robert Bonner, a former U.S. attorney, made the motion to take all legal action necessary to compel the sheriff to comply with the subpoena and made clear that a failure to do so could be punishable by contempt.
“We need to move forward promptly,” Bonner said. “We can’t just allow the status quo to stand.”
The commission’s vote on the motion was unanimous.
And though the sheriff was not in attendance, the department was represented by Assistant Sheriff Bruce Chase, who gave the commission an update on the department’s efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus in jails.
The commission also voted to issue a second subpoena for information on how the sheriff and his command staff handled photographs taken by deputies at the site of the helicopter crash that killed Kobe Bryant and eight other people.
Inspector General Max Huntsman said that while his staff has been allowed to review redacted documents about the crash photos in meetings, investigators were not particularly forthcoming and shed little light on the sheriff’s own role in managing the incident.
“The sheriff is reported to have directed the destruction of evidence,” Huntsman said. “If we were to ask the sheriff to investigate himself, there would be an obvious conflict of interest.”
The draft subpoena includes a full page of requested information, including the identity of all county employees and civilians at the crash scene and command post, as well as those present when orders were given to delete the photos. It also calls on the department to disclose cell phone records, radio traffic recordings and the major incident log and related reports.
Huntsman said the information was requested as part of an inquiry, not an investigation, and would be entirely separate from any department discipline or internal affairs investigation, though he said the inquiry could potentially uncover evidence of a more systemic effort to avoid oversight and evade accountability.
The initial subpoena ordering Villanueva to be at the meeting was issued after representatives from the department failed to show up at three consecutive meetings of the commission.
“This is the third meeting in a row where the sheriff’s department has not been represented, this is unfair to the commission, the community and the men and women of the sheriff’s department whose voice we also need to hear,” Brian K. Williams, executive director of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, said after that meeting.
Subpoena power was first granted to the commission by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors earlier this year and was approved by voters in March.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)