LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Expressing concern over Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s version of events leading to the arrest of a local reporter over the weekend, some members of the civilian commission that oversees the agency Thursday called on the sheriff to resign.
“It’s with great reluctance that I’m calling for Sheriff [Alex] Villanueva to resign,” said Civilian Oversight Commission member Robert Bonner, a former federal prosecutor and head of the Drug Enforcement Administration. “The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department itself deserves better. The men and women of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department deserve better.”
Bonner criticized Villanueva for failing to build a working relationship with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, saying the sheriff has “gone out of his way to alienate and insult supervisors.”
Patti Giggans, chair of the commission, echoed Bonner’s sentiment, stating that the department “does not have the leader it deserves.”
The comments came at the end of a meeting that highlighted concerns about the arrest of Josie Huang, a reporter with KPCC and LAist, covering protests outside of a Lynwood hospital this weekend following the shooting of two sheriff’s deputies in Compton.
Inspector General Max Huntsman, who is investigating the arrest, said he was still waiting to receive materials from the sheriff’s department to conduct a more thorough probe, though he questioned the veracity of earlier statements by Villanueva and the department about the arrest.
“Unfortunately, all evidence we have currently gathered suggests that significant parts of the claims made by the [sheriff’s] department may have been false,” Huntsman told the commission. “The information we have gathered is preliminary and not intended to substitute for a complete investigation.”
Video from the scene showed deputies pinning Huang to the ground and arresting her.
The sheriff’s department claimed she didn’t have proper media credentials, failed to properly identify herself as a reporter and was “interfering with a lawful arrest” of a protester — claims Villanueva later repeated stating that her actions were more “activism” than journalism.
But video from Huang’s cell phone showed her repeatedly identifying herself as a reporter, shouting “KPCC,” and saying, “You’re hurting me,” while crying out in apparent pain.
Huang was cited and could face charges under California Penal Code Section 148 for obstructing a law enforcement officer from performing his or her lawful duties.
On Wednesday, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press — a coalition of 64 media organizations — called on the sheriff’s department to drop the citation it issued to Huang, who spent about five hours in custody.
During Thursday’s meeting, Oversight Commission member Lael Rubin said she was concerned that under the leadership of Villanueva, deputies may have violated people’s right to protest and journalists’ right to report a story.
“It seems to me that the sheriff has dug in his heels on this issue, and I don’t want us to get into a situation where the sheriff is asking us to defend what he has done here,” Rubin said.
The commission asked county attorneys for a report on the legal responsibilities of law enforcement operations at protests and have it ready for the panel’s next meeting in October.
In a prepared statement, the sheriff’s department called the action of the commission “morally repugnant and emblematic of the political animosity of the politically-appointed commission.”
“It is becoming painfully obvious this commission is acting in retaliation against the sheriff for his efforts in investigating potential criminal conduct from county officials and for challenging the legality of subpoenaing the sheriff himself versus the LASD,” the statement said. “The sheriff will remain focused on serving the residents of Los Angeles County as he leads the department in investigating the ambush, overseeing the response to the Bobcat Fire evacuations, and the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic’s impact to the jail system.”
And on Thursday night, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas tweeted in support of the commission, saying “It. Is. Time.”
I remain deeply troubled by the Sheriff’s conduct and the way he has interfered with advancing reform and enhancing accountability. He has consistently failed to cooperate with the @LACountyCOC and the Office of the Inspector General. It. Is. Time. https://t.co/a90rBuUiLL
— Mark Ridley-Thomas (@mridleythomas) September 18, 2020
The Los Angeles Times also reported that Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said she also supported the call for Villanueva to resign.
“He is really a rogue sheriff,” she told the Times. “It is really important for this sheriff to understand that his behavior, his violation of any of the common rules that govern a law enforcement agency, is the greatest threat to public safety.”
The commission could take an official vote of no-confidence at its next meeting. A spokesperson for the department said Villanueva, whose term does not expire until 2022, plans to remain in office.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)