LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva facing calls for impeachment from community organizations

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva facing calls for impeachment from community organizations

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is facing scrutiny as community organizations call for the Sheriff’s accountability.

A rally and news conference was held in downtown Los Angeles Monday to release a letter urging the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to put a charter amendment before voters that would establish an impeachment process for the Sheriff’s position.

The rally included family members of loved ones who were shot and killed by deputies from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and representatives from more than 70 organizations and labor unions in support of the amendment. 

In the letter, the group is asking for voters to have the opportunity to vote on an amendment that would establish an impeachment process for the Sheriff’s position, reinforce the Board’s policy-making authority over the Sheriff’s Department and establish permanent and independent civilian oversight.

“The main thing is we don’t have a mechanism right now to remove a corrupt Sheriff other than staging a very costly recall which no regular person has resources to do. The primary thing we’re seeking with this charter amendment is a mechanism so the County Board of Supervisors will have an opportunity to recall the Sheriff when they behave in such ways Alex Villanueva is behaving right now. There are gangs within the LASD and we want everyone to google LASD gangs. There’s more than 70 organizations that are supporting this charter amendment, that are supporting this call for accountability, everyone from the ACLU to Black Lives Matter to labor unions like Unite Here,” said Melina Abdullah, the co-founder of Black Lives Matter Los Angeles.  

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The rally Monday prompted a response from Sheriff Alex Villanueva. He posted on social media with the following message:

“Beware of coalitions masquerading as ‘reform’ groups. In reality, many are simply part of coordinated attacks on a Latino Sheriff who leads a predominantly Latino department. Their legislative efforts are largely unconstitutional, just like Measure J was found to be in the courts. These efforts are in fact designed to further defund the LASD and protect the homeless industrial complex. This $6.5B dollar money making scam was designed to reward political allies and activist groups who offer support.”

In an interview with FOX 11, Abdullah responded to the Sheriff’s social media post. 

“When we talk about the plurality of the people killed and abused by LA County Sheriff’s, we’re talking about Latinx folks. That’s who lives in Los Angeles County. If you are not working on behalf of Latinx folks, it doesn’t matter if you also identify as Latinx,” she said.  

The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has faced scrutiny for decades and recently, the department has garnered national attention, with outlets like New York Magazine reporting on Los Angeles attorney, John Sweeney, for his many legal settlements related to deputy-gang allegations.

Cerise Castle, a freelance journalist, has extensively covered the issue, including a 15-part investigative series she wrote on the Department. She researched and reported on 18 alleged gangs within LASD, including “Banditos” and “The Compton Executioners.” 

“My records and my research indicate that it [gangs] started approximately 50 years ago and that’s way before I think I was even thought about by my parents. It’s definitely something that I have been fascinated with my entire life and that comes from early contact with law enforcement when I was a child. I think that’s a product of being a Black child growing up and being forced to have this really fraught relationship with law enforcement structures because of the behavior of individual people that take up these spaces,” said Castle.

Castle wrote her deep-dive article during the protests in 2020.

“I was working when that happened [2020 protests]. I went down and covered the protest that was happening in Pan Pacific Park. I, unfortunately, was shot by law enforcement with less-lethal ammunition and that put me on bed rest for the next several months and a few days after I was shot, a young man by the name of Andres Guardado was killed and pretty quickly after that it came out that the deputies who shot and killed him were alleged gang members and of course, this question that I had lived with my whole life comes bubbling back up again and I think oh wow I’ve got to do something,” said Castle. 

Castle filed several public records requests to uncover information. Following her report, more reports from other outlets regarding alleged LASD gangs have surfaced as well. 

“I am definitely happy to see more people taking an interest in it. The issue of deputy gangs is a symptom of a much larger toxic culture that many people inside the Sheriff’s Department can relate to and agree with. My work and the work of other people before me shows that, and the work of people after me shows that,” said Castle.

When asked about gangs within the department, Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said the Department would investigate claims. In a September 2021 interview, he described the issue as similar to fraternity culture. 

“When you use the term gang, it has a very specific legal connotation, but what we have had over the years, we’ve had deputies. We’ve had social groups. They get themselves tattoos, sometimes they get drunk and stupid just like in a fraternity or sorority,” said Villanueva.

Los Angeles County Sheriff candidate, Lt. Eric Strong, announced support of a charter amendment to impeach a Sheriff. He posted on social media with the following:

“Today, I announced my support for a charter amendment that would create an impeachment and removal process for the office of the LA County Sheriff. Unlike the incumbent [Sheriff Villanueva], I believe that no sheriff should oppose or resist accountability and oversight. This is especially true if we’re doing our job. As I always say, if we are doing what we are supposed to, when we’re supposed to, how we’re supposed to, then it doesn’t matter who is watching. As Sheriff, I would have no concerns about these amendments being in place but I do understand why our current sheriff would.”

Per the ACLU, the letter submitted to the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is as follows: 

February 7, 2021

To: Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors

Re: L.A. County Charter Amendment for Accountability, Oversight, and Checks and

Balances of the Sheriff and the Sheriff’s Department

Yet again, Los Angeles County has reached a crisis point with its sheriff and Sheriff’s Department (LASD). The most recent spate of deputy gang violence has thrown a spotlight on this crisis that has gone unchecked for decades and demands an immediate and proportionate response by the Board of Supervisors (Board). Deputy gangs and other forms of deputy violence have persisted because one sheriff’s administration after the next has failed to enact and enforce policies that provide meaningful and consistent discipline when deputies harass, abuse, and kill.

Among them, Sheriff Baca oversaw rampant and extreme violence in the jails—much of it perpetuated by deputy gangs—and now sits in federal prison for obstructing civil rights intervention; current Sheriff Villanueva has gone from denying the existence of deputy gangs to claiming that they are harmless fraternities, all the while defying subpoenas and violating laws on transparency and oversight. Villanueva’s disinterest in stemming deputy violence, including deputy gangs, is the most recent illustration of how existing County structures are insufficient to guard against sheriffs who are hostile to civilian oversight, transparency, and accountability.

The Board must seize this moment and take decisive actions to protect the public from the scourge of deputy gangs, sheriffs’ violations of the law and obstruction of oversight, and the underlying conditions leading to unchecked deputy misconduct and violence particularly towards Black and brown communities policed by LASD. The undersigned stakeholders urge the Board to propose to the voters an amendment to the L.A. County Charter that will create an impeachment and removal process to provide common sense checks and balances over the sheriff, reinforce its policy-making authority over LASD, and strengthen civilian oversight.

1. Create a procedure to allow impeachment and removal of the sheriff by a four-fifths vote of the Board for serious violations of the public trust, including serious crimes, unconstitutional conduct, and abuse of power. 1 While the Board has a duty to supervise the conduct of the sheriff under state and local laws, and it bears the ultimate responsibility for 1 Consistent with California Government Code section 25303, cause for removal should include: (1) the knowing violation of any law related to the performance of the sheriff’s duties; (2) falsification of an official statement or document; (3) obstruction of any investigation into the conduct of the sheriff or Sheriff’s Department (LASD) employees by the Civilian Oversight Commission, the Office of Inspector General, or other government agencies with jurisdiction to conduct such an investigation; (4) criminal conduct that would be grounds for termination of LASD employees; and (5) failure in supervision, discipline, or hiring of LASD employees that results in a pattern of violations of standards of conduct for LASD employees or the rights of members of the public, or the obstruction bysuch employees of any investigation into the conduct of the sheriff or LASD employees.

2 the safety of the public, the Board currently has no meaningful mechanism to enforce this authority, or even to take action against a sheriff who directly violates the law.2 A “don’t elect me” system of sheriff accountability every four years has proven wholly inadequate.

3 The threat of removal would finally provide the Board with a more direct means to protect the public from serious sheriff misconduct. The U.S. Congress has the duty and authority to impeach and remove an elected president when necessary; even more so should the civilian Board have the power to impeach and remove an elected sheriff, a paramilitary official akin to an elected general.

4 Besides the limited circumstances for removal grounds, to further guard against concerns that this removal authority places too much power in the Board, the procedure should direct the Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) to create a list from which the Board may select an interim replacement in the event of a sheriff’s removal. 2. Reinforce the Board’s authority to create policies for LASD and delegate initial policy development to the COC. The Board has the duty under state law to supervise its sheriffs “in order to ensure that they faithfully perform their duties,”

5 and local law recognizes that this responsibility includes the authority to direct and approve the development of policy for LASD.

6 Yet, the Board has rarely exercised this authority and, as a result, sheriffs have adopted and maintained policies that directly contravene the letter and spirit of various local, state, and federal laws.

7 The proposed L.A. County Charter amendment should further codify the authority of the Board to oversee and set policies for LASD that do not interfere with the statutory authority of the sheriff or otherwise conflict with state law. Moreover, the proposal should include a process for the COC—the civilian body established to “improve transparency and accountability with respect to [LASD]”

8 — to develop and propose policies for the Board’s consideration and action. 3. Establish permanent, independent, and more robust civilian oversight of LASD. To make sure that future Boards less committed to civilian oversight cannot undermine the existing oversight bodies, the proposed measure should explicitly incorporate the COC and the Office of Inspector General into the L.A. County Charter, including their ability to subpoena records and testimony as needed to fulfill their functions.

9 The proposal should provide the COC with independent counsel and funding commensurate with its duties, and ensure membership of community members directly impacted by LASD and the criminal legal system. 2 California statutes establish that the board of supervisors “shall supervise the official conduct of all county officers . . . particularly insofar as the functions and duties of such county officers . . . relate to the assessing, collecting, safekeeping, management, or disbursement of public funds.” Cal. Gov. Code § 25303. The board “shall see that [county officers],” including the sheriff, “faithfully perform their duties . . . .” Id. 3 See Robert Greene, Opinion: When the Board of Supervisors last threw out the sheriff, L.A. TIMES (Oct. 15, 2020), available at https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-10-15/firing-the-sheriff. 4 See Editorial: Sheriffs should not be elected, L.A. TIMES (Oct. 27, 2020), available at https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2020-10-27/sheriffs-should-be-appointed. 5 Dibb v. Cnty. of San Diego, 8 Cal.4th 1200, 1208-09 (Cal. 1994); Cal. Gov. Code § 25303. 6 See L.A. Cnty. Code § 2.06.130. 7 See, e.g., Letter from Inspector Gen. to L.A. Cnty. Sheriff Civilian Oversight Comm’n re Report Back on Unlawful Conduct of the Los Angeles Cnty. Sheriff’s Dep’t (Dec. 14, 2020), https://oig.lacounty.gov/Portals/OIG/Reports/UnlawfulConductOfLASD.pdf. 8 L.A. Cnty. Ord. 2020-0006 § 1, 2020: L.A. Cnty. Ord. 2016-0048 § 1, 2016. 9 See Cal. Gov. Code § 25303.7.3

Sincerely,

Check the Sheriff Coalition

ACLU of Southern California

Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles

Centro Community Service Organization

National Lawyers Guild – Los Angeles

Alliance for Community Transit – Los Angeles

(ACT-LA)

American Indian Movement Southern California

Anti-Recidivism Coalition

Arts for Healing and Justice Network

Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los

Angeles

Bend the Arc: Jewish Action

Black Jewish Justice Alliance

Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition

California Faculty Association LA Chapter

California Immigrant Policy Center

California League of United Latin American

Citizens (CA LULAC)

Central American Resource Center (CARECEN) –

Los Angeles

Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice

(CLUE)

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights

(CHIRLA)

Community Coalition

Courage California

Creating Justice LA

Crenshaw Subway Coalition

Debt Collective

Democratic Party of the San Fernando Valley

Democratic Socialists of America – Los Angeles

Dignity and Power Now

Disability Rights California

Essie Justice Group

Feel the Bern San Fernando Valley

Gente Organizada

Glendale Democratic Club

Ground Game LA

Immigrant Defenders Law Center

Indivisible Northridge

InnerCity Struggle

J-Town Action and Solidarity

JusticeLA

Khmer Girls in Action

Koreatown Immigrant Workers Alliance

Ktown For All

LA CAN

La Defensa

LA Forward

LA Pays Attention

LA Progressive

LA Voice

Labor Community Strategy Center

LatinxFaculty4BLM

Los Angeles County Public Defenders Union

Local 148

Me Too Survivors’ March International

Mental Health Advocacy Services

National Association for the Advancement of

Colored People – Beverly Hills/Hollywood;

Compton; Los Angeles; San Fernando Valley;

Santa Monica/Venice

NoHo Home Alliance

NOlympics LA

Occupy ICE LA

People Organized for Westside Renewal

People’s City Council

Reform LA Jails

San Fernando Valley Young Democrats

Secure Justice

Service Employees International Union – United

Healthcare Workers West

Southern Christian Leadership Conference of

Southern California

Shtibl Minyan

Social Justice Learning Institute

Stonewall Democratic Club

Street Watch LA

[email protected] Coalition

UNITE HERE Local 11

Unrig LA

Valley Grassroots for Democracy

White People for Black Lives

Women’s March Action

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