LOS ANGELES – Sheriff Alex Villanueva held an online press conference Wednesday and addressed a variety of subjects in what he suggested was evidence against criticism that his department lacks transparency.
Villanueva failed, however, to address a critical subject of concern — a motion by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to explore removing him for, among other reasons, a lack of transparency. He said the act of hosting the livestreamed event on Facebook and Instagram was proof of the contrary.
“I’m taking questions from the community,” he said, directly referencing the board’s qualms with his leadership. “Every elected official should be doing this.”
A proposal authored by Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas seeks to sideline or even remove Villanueva from his post, but was officially delayed by two weeks on Tuesday so that the board could explore its options.
Ridley-Thomas has derided the sheriff for being unable to balance his budget, and for blocking independent investigations into the deputy-involved shootings of Andres Guardado, Dijon Kizzee and Fred Williams — people of color from low-income neighborhoods.
During Wednesday’s video chat, Villanueva was asked about Measure J — a ballot initiative which would set aside 10% of locally generated unrestricted cash in county coffers for incarceration alternatives — but he declined to take a stance on it, instead, taking the opportunity to slam the Board of Supervisors for previously cutting his budget.
“There isn’t a pretty way around it,” he said, suggesting that Measure J would mean a cumulative 20% budget reduction during his tenure, and lead to 1,200 job cuts.
On multiple occasions during the livestream, Villanueva slammed efforts to move to more community-based models of policing in the county. And he said didn’t shy away from controversial questions.
When a caller asked about “murderous officers” he responded, “Everyone’s entitled to their own opinion but not their own set of facts.”
When someone asked whether he was making strategic plans for the potential of further local activism following the police killing of Walter Wallace — a Black man, in Philadelphia — the sheriff revealed his uncertainty about the situation there, saying “Not too sure about what’s going on.” He asked an aide, “Do we know what’s going on in Philadelphia?”
When told, he replied, “Oh, civil unrest. OK,” and said he would draw on lessons from the 1992 Los Angeles riots, including quick action to quell unruly behavior.
“What we’re not gonna do is have your peaceful protest marred by the knuckleheads that show up in football gear that want to make a statement, and start throwing things at law enforcement,” he said. “And if you had some point you wanted to make, well, it wasn’t heard because now you’re in jail … They want to be heard at midnight wearing football gear. I’m sorry, we’re not listening for that.”
He also outlined emerging protocols for releasing body-worn camera video, and pledged to do so promptly. Four tests must be met, he said, before the footage would be made public. One: All video must be collected from the crime scene, including body cameras; two: Preliminary coroner’s report must be released; three: All witnesses and suspects must be interviewed; and four: All evidence must be collected and search warrants executed.
A total of 800 body-worn cameras have been deployed across L.A. county sheriff’s stations, he said. On Nov. 2, more stations would begin receiving the technology.
The sheriff also noted that homicides are on the rise, with more than a 22% increase over this time last year in sheriff-contracted communities. He took another swipe at his critics, adding, “It’s not going to go away because we wish that social workers were out there handling our business.”
He added that arson was up 11%, and that grand theft auto was also trending up.
Regarding the coronavirus, he said that a sworn deputy and two professional employees were in the hospital with the COVID-19 and that to date, 1,025 employees have been confirmed to have contracted the disease — 781 in quarantine and 2,992 having returned to work. One professional staff member died of the disease. He added that 30 employees in high-risk categories were telecommuting.
He also provided an update on a deputy who was dragged by a motorist during a vehicle stop in the unincorporated Westmont area of South Los Angeles. The woman at the wheel of the vehicle was arrested shortly thereafter, and the deputy was hospitalized with non-life-threatening injuries. Villanueva said she suffered some “road rash” and bumps and bruises, but was recovering.