Week after week, we have come to anticipate a number of issues from Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, amongst them wild accusations, a penchant for petulance, and the slightest lack of regard for legally questionable conduct.
This previous week didn’t disappoint.
At a press convention to place a cease to a wider scandal over a deputy kneeling on the pinnacle of a handcuffed prisoner, Villanueva introduced that she was investigating our Instances colleague, Alain Tchaikmedian, for reporting it.
Leaving apart her typical poisonous equipment, Villanueva urged she was in possession of “stolen property” as a result of she had acquired leaked surveillance video.
“These three males have some vital inquiries to reply,” he mentioned, pointing to jumbo-sized pictures of the Czechmedians and their political opponents Eli Vera and Inspector Basic Max Huntsman.
Certain sufficient, it took Villanueva lower than 12 hours to stroll it again—unsurprisingly, to outrage from politicians and media shops, led by The Instances, that such an investigation right into a reporter would violate constitutional regulation.
However do not assume for a second that he has discovered a lesson.
Conversely, if the occasions of final week have taught Villanueva something, it is how invulnerable she really is to accountability and oversight—identical to each different sheriff in California.
In contrast to metropolis police chiefs, who’re appointed and will be fired at will, county sheriffs are elected by voters, as required by the state structure. They’ve super energy, however between elections, checks and balances are uncommon till it is too late. (See former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca.)
Sheriffs are topic to California’s expensive and flawed voter recall course of. So, technically, they don’t seem to be above the regulation.
However state lawmakers and county supervisors who have already got the facility to show that technicality into actuality typically do not depart the general public begging for larger accountability, whereas persevering with to behave like sheriffs do with primary decorations. legal guidelines, insurance policies and rules of don’t apply to them.
“For a wide range of political causes, boards of supervisors up and down the state of California are usually unwilling to pursue that authority as a result of sheriffs step again on boards of supervisors in varied ways in which make it more durable for them to take action, Through which…
This hands-off method to the sheriff by different elected officers is as disturbing as it’s harmful – particularly now.
As a result of it is not simply Villanueva, a Democrat with Trumpian tendencies, we’ve to fret about. More and more, we have to fear about elected presidents in a few of California’s extra rural counties turning to far-right extremism and who’ve the facility to implement their worldviews with little pushback. .
A few of these are so-called constitutional sheriffs who comply with the misguided concept that their county has king-like powers. They consider that the US Structure, which by no means mentions a sheriff, provides them the authority to not solely implement the regulation, however to determine what the regulation is—the power to override federal officers. with.
Though it sounds absurd, the Constitutional Sheriff has created its personal nationwide group (based by a sheriff who was additionally a member of the Oath Keepers). The group doesn’t publish its membership listing, however it has grow to be a darling of far-right teams that see these sheriffs as a strategy to implement a Christian, white-nationalist agenda.
Greater than 90% of the nation’s sheriffs are white individuals, a statistic mirrored in California, and constitutionally-minded individuals share an unwavering dedication to cowboy hats and cowboy attitudes, identical to Villanueva.
In fact, the “patriots” love them, macho shtick and all. Through the pandemic, many sheriffs with constitutional leanings, together with Chad Bianco of Riverside County and greater than a handful in Northern California counties together with Del Norte, Shasta and Siskiyou, have refused to implement the COVID-19 masks mandate, a lot much less for them. Public well being recommendation. Public representatives for vaccination.
Others have voiced assist for the January 6 rebellion within the US Capitol, indulging in baseless claims of electoral fraud, voicing robust immigrant views and a “decision to oppose any registration for weapons”. ” has made.
A latest audit by 5 regulation enforcement companies in California, together with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Division, discovered assist for far-right extremist teams amongst their ranks, together with the Proud Boys and the Three Percentors.
Auditors additionally discovered proof of bias towards individuals of coloration, immigrants, girls, and the LGBTQ group. Additional, the companies lacked applicable insurance policies to root out such bias, examine its allegations amongst its officers and proper it as soon as recognized.
Based on a report from the State Auditor’s Workplace, “Because of this, there’s a excessive threat of those departments being unaware and unable to successfully tackle the methods their officers show bias.”
In fact, not all sheriffs – only a few of their representatives – are steeped in extremism. However not having checks and balances to take care of those that do is unimaginably harmful, particularly at this crucial second for democracy.
The identical goes for sheriffs who proceed to abuse public belief, the best way Villanueva did throughout her first time period.
To date, efforts to rein in it have executed little. Villanueva continues to defy any try by the inspector normal and, as of final week, was apparently investigating Huntsman for leaking video of the deputy, who confirmed our colleague Tchekmedian kneeling on a prisoner .
It is in the identical vein that Sacramento County Sheriff Scott Jones pulled off a stunt a number of years in the past when he blocked the investigation of then-Inspector Basic Rick Braziel by revoking entry to division information and personnel. Jones, who’s now working for Congress, was upset that Brazile criticized deputies for ways that resulted within the loss of life of a mentally unwell black man.
A invoice handed in 2020 was supposed to repair all of them. Meeting Invoice 1185, authored by Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), offers true investigative energy with the power to concern summons to inspector generals and inspection boards.
It clearly hasn’t executed a lot.
In response to final week’s ridicule over alleged “prison leaks” of surveillance video, LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis requested the county’s legal professional to ship a letter to California Etsy. To look at the “patterns of unconscious and harmful actions” of Basic Rob Bonta Villanueva.
That additionally in all probability will not do a lot. In spite of everything, there’s already an open civil rights investigation into the sheriff’s division in Bonta’s workplace.
Ideally, the legislature would name upon political will to implement true accountability by amending the state structure to create sheriff-appointed posts like these of police chiefs. This course of can take years at most, however it is going to give boards of supervisors the power to rapidly oversee and implement penalties for rogue conduct.
However in return for that legislative lengthy shot, Los Angeles County may nonetheless be a pacesetter for the remainder of the state.
In February, the ACLU, Black Lives Matter and several other different organizations launched a marketing campaign asking county supervisors to push for a constitution modification that may enable them to take away the sheriff for the trigger. Not solely Villanueva, who’s up for re-election on June 7, however any future sheriff elected.
That is hardly a brand new thought. That is an possibility that, with voter approval, is accessible to all constitution counties in California, together with San Bernardino County, the place its board of supervisors took benefit of it in 2002.
However in LA County, there’s a reluctance amongst some supervisors to take action — and even to take a extra lively function in inside recruiting and firing and disciplinary practices that may finish in litigation.
“There may be nonetheless a hesitation to problem the sheriff instantly and to say full energy over the sheriff’s division with the board,” the ACLU’s Ochoa mentioned. “The continued engagement with the division and the train of their officers is in the end going to be extra vital than simply the facility to take away.”
In the meantime, for Villanueva, nothing has modified.
He will probably be again within the workplace on Monday as standard. Within the weeks to come back, he’ll you’ll want to interact in additional baseless allegations, extra petty and extra brazenness.
He’ll flout extra guidelines, dismiss extra prices of extreme pressure, and get into extra fights with the inspector normal, observers, and the media, safely safe within the perception that nothing goes to occur to him.
We are able to discuss in regards to the want for police reform in California to be all we wish. However that will not occur except elected officers converse with the sheriff.