LOS ANGELES – Sheriff Alex Villanueva‘s legal bid to avoid meeting with Inspector General Max Huntsman to discuss deputy “secret societies” that many criminal justice advocates characterize as gangs should be dismissed, a lawyer for Los Angeles County argues in new court papers.
“By filing this baseless (legal action), Sheriff Villanueva has delayed and obstructed the OIG (Office of the Inspector General) from conducting necessary and important oversight and has sought to immunize himself from future OIG oversight in a way that is plainly contrary to the OIG’s broad investigative powers under state and county law,” lawyer Harvinder S. Anand contends in the Thursday filing.
The OIG issued a subpoena on Feb. 25, calling on the sheriff to appear under oath for a 90-minute virtual interview on deputy secret societies. In a petition filed March 22, Villanueva’s lawyers disputed the necessity of the interview and noted that the sheriff previously appeared before the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission on Dec. 18 to answer an hour’s worth of questions on the same topic and shared a related video with the commission on Jan. 21.
In a Feb. 25 letter to the sheriff accompanying the subpoena, Huntsman said the sheriff had asked the commission for feedback on that Jan. 21 video.
“We asked to meet with you to, among other things, obtain necessary information to provide the feedback you requested,” Huntsman wrote.
In his petition, Villaneuva’s lawyer, Linda Miller Savitt, maintains the OIG could reach out to lower-level managers to get the information he needs, but that Huntsman is seeking to embarrass the sheriff with “gotcha moments” over inconsistencies.
“Rather than use a less intrusive means of obtaining information, such as a series of questions or interviewing lower legal sheriff personnel who are involved in the day-to-day implementation of the policies and practices of the Sheriff’s Department, the inspector general is leap-frogging right to the top and threatening Sheriff Villanueva that ‘any statement you make during our meeting may be used in a future criminal proceeding against you,”‘ according to the petition.
Savitt further argues in her court papers that the subpoena is too broad and harassing and lacks compelling reasons to require the interview of a senior public official, pointing to a recent federal decision to prevent the deposition of Gov. Gavin Newsom as support. Villanueva is seeking a protective order to stop the virtual interview from going forward. Anand counters in his court papers that there is no basis for Villanueva’s stand.
“The sheriff does not and cannot provide any explanation as to why he alone has a clear, present and beneficial right to be completely exempt from the oversight powers that (the Government Code) and the Board (of Supervisors) have granted to the OIG,” Anand argues in his court papers.
The OIG exercised its authority under the Government Code to issue the subpoena to conduct necessary, important oversight of the LASD and the Legislature wants oversight agencies like the OIG to “actually hold the Sheriff’s Department accountable,” Anand further argues in his court papers.
Last December, Villanueva publicly stated that he “can reiterate probably what has already been made public and the fact that this issue of deputy subgroups or cliques” dates back to the 1970’s, according to Anand’s court papers.
A June 24 hearing is scheduled on the county’s motion to dismiss Villanueva’s petition.