Ex-LA County Sheriff Villanueva Agrees to Testify on Deputy Gangs

Ex-LA County Sheriff Villanueva Agrees to Testify on Deputy Gangs

Then Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks at a press conference in downtown Los Angeles on Nov. 2, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)

City News Service

City News Service

12/26/2023

Updated: 12/26/2023

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LOS ANGELES—Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has agreed to appear in front of the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission next month to testify under oath about deputy gangs, it was reported Dec. 26.
The former sheriff’s lawyer notified the commission of the decision in a letter stating that Mr. Villanueva “is very willing to testify” at the Jan. 18 meeting and will “answer any questions you have under oath,” according to the Los Angeles Times.
The reversal came days after a county judge scheduled a hearing to decide whether to order the former sheriff to comply with the commission’s subpoenas, the Los Angeles Times reported.
Mr. Villanueva’s attorney, Linda Savitt, confirmed in an email to the newspaper that her client plans to appear in front of the commission.
“He is going to testify under oath,” according to the email. “He’s a private citizen now.”
The former sheriff is running for county supervisor against incumbent Janice Hahn.
Ms. Savitt is out of her office until next month and did not respond to a request by City News Service for comment. Sean Kennedy, who chairs the oversight commission, also did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this year, the commission’s special counsel issued a 70-page report, saying, allegedly, at least a half dozen deputy gangs or cliques are currently active throughout the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, and that misbehavior by members has already cost taxpayers more than $55 million.
The report said that new deputy cliques form as members of existing groups retire or otherwise leave the sheriff’s department.
The special counsel also found evidence to suggest that gangs are re-emerging in the Men’s Central Jail after efforts over the years to eradicate the problem of excessive force behind bars.
Supervisors voted to implement the commission in January 2016 with the mission to oversee and improve transparency and accountability with respect to the department.
The legal dispute with the former sheriff began in 2020, after the Board of Supervisors granted the commission subpoena power, which voters then affirmed by approving Measure R. A few months later, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law granting subpoena power to oversight bodies statewide.
Also in 2020, the commission issued a subpoena directing the sheriff to testify about his response to COVID-19 inside the jails, and the dispute ended up in court, with Mr. Villanueva agreeing to answer the commission’s questions, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Oversight officials issued more subpoenas, which led to multiple court cases.
The former sheriff’s lawyer argued that the 2020 legislation Newsom signed described a two-step process and that the judge first needed to issue an order directing Mr. Villanueva to comply with the subpoena, according to the publication. Only if he ignored that could he be found in contempt, his lawyer said.
In September, an appeals court agreed. This month, lawyers for the county started on the two-step process by asking for a hearing so a judge could decide whether to order Mr. Villanueva to comply with the subpoenas.
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