LOS ANGELES – Sheriff Alex Villanueva has agreed to appear next week before the civilian board that oversees his department and talk about the coronavirus problem in the jails, avoiding a hearing on a possible contempt finding for allegedly resisting a subpoena to appear before the panel.
In a Christmas Eve hearing before Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Fujie, lawyers for Los Angeles County agreed to drop their petition demanding Villanueva show why he should not be held in contempt during a hearing on Jan. 21, the same day he is now scheduled to appear and testify before the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission.
The county’s decision is “without prejudice,” meaning the petition could be brought again if Villanueva breaks his promise to show up and provide 45 minutes of testimony, exclusive of any opening or closing statement he may choose to make.
According to the petition filed by the county on behalf of the COC last June 25, the “dire consequences felt by many in Los Angeles naturally precipitated concerned members of the community to contact the COC about the effects of COVID-19, a highly contagious and deadly virus, on jail safety.”
The filing further states that by failing to show up, Villanueva “lost an opportunity to engage the public directly regarding this important matter, which is of escalating public concern, and to enhance the public’s trust in the Sheriff’s Department.”
The COC’s subpoena powers are authorized by Measure R, which was passed by voters last March. After Villanueva did not appear voluntarily at a May 7 meeting, the commission voted unanimously to subpoena him.
Villanueva sent Assistant Sheriff Bruce Chase in his place to answer questions about the jails during the May 21 COC meeting. Villanueva said that testifying before the commission would be a “public shaming” and he has questioned whether Measure R is legal.
Villanueva attorney Linda Miller Savitt argued the commission had already received the information it needed from Chase. She called the subpoena “unclear” and “bizarre” and denied there was a willful violation of the subpoena by the sheriff.
The Board of Supervisors created the COC in 2016 to improve public transparency and accountability of the LASD by providing opportunities for community engagement.