Los Angeles County Sheriff, Robert Luna, speaks during a press conference at City Hall in Los Angeles, Calif., on Aug. 17, 2023. (Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)
The November 2022 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s election marked the end of a tumultuous four-year relationship between the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD).
It also began what may have been the most chaotic first year of a new administration in the department’s over 150-year history.
To add to the drama, outgoing Sheriff Alex Villanueva did not go away quietly after a significant loss at the polls and an ongoing witch hunt by the Board of Supervisors.
Mr. Villanueva was the subject of numerous attacks during his tenure, including the county defunding the department to the tune of approximately $150 million
, an unprecedented hiring freeze, and a ballot measure which successfully passed
, allowing the board to remove the elected sheriff “for cause,” which some say is unconstitutional.
The ballot measure was introduced in response to Mr. Villanueva’s refusal to stand down and bow to the whims of the political powers that be, which he made very clear at his swearing-in after a historic win in 2018 against incumbent Jim McDonnell.
The LASD suffered tremendously under Mr. Villanueva’s watch due to a culmination of foreseen and unforeseen circumstances, including the George Floyd riots, which sparked the defund-the-police movement, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the ongoing public berating by the Board of Supervisors because of their sheer disdain for Mr. Villanueva.
As a result of the devastating blows, a once strong sheriff’s department, recognized as the most prestigious in the world, was now barely functioning with only a faint, but detectable heartbeat.
In 2022, a virtually unknown retired Long Beach Chief, Robert Luna, entered the race for sheriff of Los Angeles County, seemingly at the last minute, securing coveted endorsements, including all five Los Angeles County Supervisors, with what seemed to be very little press or campaigning.
At the time, the front-runner for the Democratic party in the race was former LASD Captain Cecil Rhambo, who was the current Police Chief at LAX.
Mr. Rhambo’s flash and pizazz “police reform” campaign strategy tanked when allegations arose that he had ties to a deputy gang, leaving the door wide open for Mr. Luna to swoop in at the last minute, with virtually no time to scrutinize him, and take over the limelight as the progressive Latino candidate.
In hindsight, it seems like a very intentional move on behalf of the Board of Supervisors, now knowing the true nature of the relationship between Mr. Luna and District Attorney George Gascón, a recently exposed mentorship
that goes back more than 20 years, and which was essentially hidden from voters.
Had that critical relationship been revealed before the election, there is a high probability that Mr. Luna would have lost the race, especially given that Mr. Gascón was already two years into his pro-criminal directives that directly attributed to the catastrophic increase in crime in Los Angeles County and led to two voter-driven recalls.
Mr. Luna’s loss would have been devastating to the Board’s agenda, not only of finally being rid of Mr. Villanueva, but also their apparent long-term goal to neuter the LASD, essentially stripping the power and influence from the largest sheriff’s department in the country.
At the beginning of this year, in one of his first moves as Sheriff, and as an olive branch of sorts to the political powers that supported him, Mr. Luna dismantled the department’s public corruption unit responsible for the criminal investigation
against then-Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
The investigation, which spanned over three years, overseen by Undersheriff Tim Murakami, resulted in raids at multiple locations around Los Angeles on Sept. 14, 2022, making national headlines.
The criminal case is still ongoing and currently in the hands of State Attorney General Rob Bonta.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta speaks at a press conference in Santa Ana, Calif., on Sept. 8, 2022. (John Fredricks/The Epoch Times)
Shrinking Workforce, Anti-Law Enforcement Sentiment
There is no question Mr. Luna inherited an extremely handicapped department as a result of his predecessor’s controversial relationship with county officials and the defund-the-police movement during the pandemic.
Poor working conditions and the anti-law enforcement environment have caused the department to become understaffed by more than 1,000 deputies
. Sources who have requested anonymity out of fear of retaliation say that number has risen to 1,400, forcing current personnel to work mandatory overtime shifts.
For example, the LASD Century Regional Detention Facility is mandating
eight overtime spots per month. That’s two per week, per person on top of their 40-hour shifts and commute time. Most deputies, specifically the rank and file, live more than an hour away from their assignment.
Some even farther.
Overtime restrictions were lifted by Mr. Luna’s predecessor from 96 to 120 hours per calendar month. Current department policy states personnel shall not work more than 12 days straight. However, my sources say even that restriction has been cast aside due to current suffocating requirements for personnel to work more overtime than what is practical.
Besides being dangerous for personnel, it is also a sizeable waste of county funds, in that personnel are required to be paid time-and-a-half for overtime worked. In custody alone, the annual overtime cost is in the millions of dollars.
With an already underfunded, understaffed, and overworked rank and file patrolling an increasingly dangerous Los Angeles County due to the empowering of criminals by George Soros-backed
district attorney, Mr. Gascón, and a recently instated zero-bail policy
, deputies have been under immense internal pressure due to the Supervisor-backed Civilian Oversight Commission’s
focus to eradicate what they consider to be the “significant problem” of deputy gangs in the department.
On Feb. 16, six weeks into his new term, Mr. Luna announced the creation of the Office of Constitutional Policing within the LASD.
The intent of the office Mr. Luna said was to “help our department eradicate deputy gangs, comply with consent decrees, and ensure our policies, procedures and operations uphold people’s constitutional rights. The Office is an important step forward in my promise to bring new leadership and accountability to the Sheriff’s Department.”
The issue of deputy gangs, a controversial topic depending on who you talk to, is not a rampant problem in the LASD, contrary to what has been reported in the press.
“The problem of Deputy Cliques has been prevalent at only a handful of stations throughout LA County and has not been a systemic issue department wide as it has been wrongfully portrayed by members of Board of Supervisors, the [Civilian] Oversight Commission and local media,” said retired Chief Pat Jordan.
“The characterization of the Department, by critics, as being riddled with ‘Deputy Gangs’ is misleading and not consistent with my 38 years of service with the LASD.”
On March 16, Mr. Luna spent his 103rd day in office attending his first Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) hearing on deputy gangs.
For commissioners, this was a welcome sight after former Sheriff Villanueva’s refusal to respond to the COC’s multiple requests for his testimony on deputy gangs operating within his department. The requests quickly escalated to subpoenas due to his refusal to comply.
Mr. Luna appeared in front of the commission to discuss the findings published in the scathing COC report referring to deputy gangs as a “cancer” that “must be excised.”
While the focus of the meeting was to discuss Mr. Luna’s strategy to eliminate deputy gangs, there was an obvious conflict of interest that seemed to be completely ignored by the Sheriff and the commission.
Commissioner Patti Giggans, who was present for the meeting and addressed Mr. Luna, was—and currently is—under criminal investigation, which began under the LASD and is the same criminal investigation involving former supervisor Ms. Kuehl that resulted in the raids last fall and was the subject of senate hearings just two weeks before the commission meeting.
It is unclear how the Board of Supervisors and the commission would think it was appropriate to have a commissioner who was criminally investigated by the department participate in what should be unbiased oversight of policy and procedure of the department that investigated her.
Ms. Giggans continues to serve on the COC to this day while under criminal investigation by the California Department of Justice (DOJ).
Antelope Valley Settlement Agreement
Two of the stations mentioned in the COC report on deputy gangs are the Palmdale and Lancaster stations located in the Antelope Valley, which have been under a DOJ settlement agreement
since 2015 to undergo new training and demonstrate progress in applying the new skills learned.
That agreement between the DOJ and the Sheriff’s Department culminated from a two-year DOJ investigation which found that deputies routinely racially profiled black and Latino residents in the Antelope Valley.
In July, the Lancaster station came under scrutiny after an incident
at WinCo Foods was caught on video by a bystander of a deputy throwing a black female to the ground. The incident went viral on social media.
Deputies had responded to a 911 call of a robbery in progress. The woman and another man were suspected of shoplifting and fighting with store employees, including physically shoving and spitting on one, before workers contacted the police.
Body cam footage shows deputies confronting the woman in the grocery store’s parking lot. The altercation escalated into what some believe was an unjustified use of force.
Although superior officers reviewed the body-worn camera and store security footage and found the deputy’s actions were within the reasonable scope of their duties to make arrests, the two officers were relieved of duty and felt openly betrayed by Mr. Luna who, at a July 5 press conference regarding the WinCo incident, instead of defending the actions of his deputies who were following procedure, instead called the video of the incident “disturbing.”
Almost as if to add salt to the proverbial wound, one week later, Mr. Luna announced
the resurrection of a previous use of force investigation in Palmdale the year before.
The incident involved deputies pulling over a vehicle driving without headlights. The driver appeared to be intoxicated, with four other passengers, all females, who also appeared to be under the influence, holding infants on their laps instead of securing them in car seats.
The deputies decided to arrest everyone in the vehicle for child endangerment, as well as the driver for driving under the influence and with a suspended license, prompting the use of force incidents that followed.
Mr. Luna said the incident, which was already investigated and closed under the previous sheriff, “was brought to my attention” by the division Chief Dennis Kneer who was in that same position under former Sheriff Villanueva, when the incident happened.
A few weeks before the WinCo incident, Lancaster activists had demanded action from Mr. Luna and the department to be in compliance with the 2015 settlement agreement and called for the resignation of the Lancaster Station Captain John Lecrivain.
Mr. Luna’s response was to prosecute his deputies in the court of public opinion first and investigate later. Mr. Luna and his command staff’s open ongoing betrayal of their rank and file despite following department policy, procedure, and training led to series of anonymous “Just a Deputy” letters released department-wide and on social media.
The first letter released after the Lancaster and Palmdale incidents revealed alarming crime statistics as a result of Mr. Gascón’s pro-criminal directives and the zero-bail policy now in effect for Lancaster, considered the busiest station throughout Los Angeles County.
Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón speaks at a press conference in Los Angeles on Dec. 8, 2021. (Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images)
It also revealed the day-to-day despair deputies are experiencing as a result of being unsupported by the Sheriff and LASD executives who are more concerned with appeasing politicians and activists, rather than supporting the rank and file who have an immeasurably difficult job protecting the citizens of Los Angeles County.
“Deputies have become increasingly hesitant to perform their sworn duty because our own department has become openly hostile toward those willing to do proactive police work. It is a reality that actively looking for, and confronting, criminals is liable to result in violence, and fighting just doesn’t look pretty on camera,” states the first anonymous letter.
“Rapidly evolving, tense situations, and legal standing to defend ourselves against aggressive and violent suspects, have taken a backseat to swift and severe discipline whenever a vocal few complain in front of a camera, about a Deputy using force to overcome the violent actions of a suspect who fights to avoid being handcuffed and arrested.
“Deputies see the removal of hardworking personnel as nothing less than lack of faith in ability to perform our duty, and a betrayal from the Sheriff, and his command staff, overseeing the Antelope Valley. Deputies are no longer actively looking for criminal activity, and are hesitant to respond to emergency calls without several units backup to accompany them.
“Emergency calls are seeing a longer response time now. When our own department supports a vocal few touting a viral video, rather than support the people it has trained to handle criminal suspects in exactly this manner. When the department itself poses the greatest risk for our means to provide for our families, or worse, treating us like the very criminals we try to apprehend, that is more disheartening than the thought of dying in the line of duty.”
To add to the distress, on Sept. 16, Palmdale deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer was ambushed
while waiting at a stoplight in his patrol vehicle just outside the Palmdale station.
A good Samaritan found Mr. Clinkunbroomer slumped over in his seat and ran to the station to get help.
Thirty-six hours later, Kevin Salazar, 27, was arrested and charged with Mr. Clinkunbroomer’s murder thanks to numerous tips that were called in by the community.
At a press conference on Sept. 18, shortly after the suspect was apprehended, Mr. Luna declared his expectations regarding the punishment for the execution of his law enforcement officer:
“We are devastated by the brutal murder of Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer and share in the grief with his family, partners, and community as we try to grapple with this tragedy,” said
Luna. “This ambush attack was absolutely unacceptable and an attack on law enforcement as a whole. Deputy Clinkunbroomer was in uniform, stopped at a red light in his patrol vehicle like thousands of other law enforcement officers and deputies do every day when he tragically lost his life while serving his community. ... Our detectives and personnel worked relentlessly for thirty-six hours to locate and arrest the suspect responsible for Ryan’s murder and we support the charges that were filed today. We expect the maximum punishment available under the law for the murder of Deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer.”
Mr. Luna assured
the public the case against Mr. Salazar would be “meticulously presented to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office for filing considerations, underscoring our unwavering commitment to pursuing justice to the fullest extent of the law.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 20, Mr. Gascón announced that he would seek the “maximum penalty allowable under the law” for Mr. Salazar, which seemed to be in lockstep with Mr. Luna’s expectations of the district attorney’s office. Or maybe not.
What Mr. Luna and Mr. Gascón believed the maximum penalty meant was starkly different than what is stated in the penal code, specifically the special circumstances involving lying in wait and the execution of a peace officer.
At the press conference held at the Hall of Justice on Sept. 20, Mr. Gascón, in front of the slain deputy’s family, fiancée, and partners, unapologetically disregarded the penal code’s first-degree murder specifications, with special circumstances.
“If I thought that seeking the death penalty was going to bring Ryan back to us, I would seek it without any reservation,” he said in a recent news conference. “But it won’t.”
Mr. Luna appeared to be unsurprised and unfazed by Mr. Gascón’s intention not to seek the death penalty.
Mr. Clinkunbroomer’s mother Kim, however, was blindsided
by Mr. Gascón’s failure to seek the death penalty and was given no prior knowledge of Mr. Gascón’s intentions by Mr. Luna, LASD, or the district attorney’s office. Ms. Clinkunbroomer took her fury to the national news media.
“How dare you, on national TV, tell me you’re not seeking the death penalty because it won’t bring my son back? My son’s not coming back, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your job,” said Ms. Clinkunbroomer.
Somewhere along the line, there was a communication breakdown and a glaring misunderstanding. Not between Mr. Luna and Mr. Gascón, but between Mr. Luna and Mr. Gascón notifying the family.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna speaks as the family of sheriff's deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer and his fiancée Brittany Lindsey (2nd R) stand during a news conference at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 20, 2023. (Richard Vogel/AP Photo)
Many in Los Angeles County have grown accustomed to Mr. Gascón deflecting attention from the catastrophic rise in crime in Los Angeles, which he contributed to with his directives favoring criminals while forcing hundreds of thousands to flee the county.
What the citizens of Los Angeles County are not accustomed to is the leader of the largest sheriff’s department in the country standing idly by while the district attorney diminishes the value of his own murdered deputy—in front of his family and partners who valiantly tried to save his life moments after he was ambushed—by not denouncing the district attorney’s refusal to seek the maximum penalty allowed by law, which he himself promised would be pursued.
Shortly after the press conference, the mentorship relationship between Mr. Luna and Mr. Gascón that dates back over two decades was exposed, explaining many of the decisions Mr. Luna has made in his first year in office and ultimately where his loyalties lie.
Deputies feeling the crushing blow of losing one of their own deputies in such a violent matter was now exacerbated by the lack of support they received, yet again, by the sheriff and his command staff, leading to the release of a second “Just a Deputy” letter in response to the tragedy and what they perceived as Luna’s lack of compassion and integrity in the situation.
The poignant letter addressed the high-profile issues that have plagued the Palmdale and Lancaster stations over the last few months, as well as the department’s unapologetic willingness to make examples of patrol deputies to please the political opposition whose sole motivation is to abolish or have complete control over law enforcement.
4 Suicides in 24 Hours
The mental, physical and financial toll on the Sheriff’s Department rank and file hit a devastating low point on Nov. 7 when four members of the LASD, past and present, committed suicide
within a 24-hour period. It was an unprecedented event in the department’s history, bringing the total number of suicides in 2023 to nine.
Mr. Luna released a statement addressing the department suicides: “During trying times like these it’s important for personnel regardless of rank or position to check on the well-being of other colleagues and friends. I have the deepest concern for our employee’s well-being, and we are urgently exploring avenues to reduce work stress factors to support our employees’ work and personal lives.”
According to my sources, Mr. Luna was “visibly shaken” at the news of the suicides. However, department personnel, already jaded by Mr. Luna’s previous actions, especially regarding his refusal to denounce Mr. Gascón for not seeking the death penalty for the murder of one of his own deputies, referred to him as “phony.” They say Mr. Luna allegedly openly admitted himself, “I know everyone thinks I am.”
Personnel pushed to the brink allegedly confronted Mr. Luna directly, one-on-one, regarding his actions—or more importantly his inactions—regarding the suicides.
The wife of one of the deputies who committed suicide earlier this month confronted Mr. Luna and Assistant Sheriff of Custody Operations Sergio Aloma at the hospital, blaming Mr. Luna for not acting in an expeditious manner to make critical changes to the extremely stressful and taxing work conditions at the department.
In response to the suicides and yet another crisis at the Sheriff’s Department, the second “Just a Deputy” letter was released:
“Recent events have once again compelled me to write about serious issues within the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Things cannot continue the way they are. We work multiple overtime shifts a week, often only getting a couple hours of sleep between continuous double shifts. We are frequently required to work overtime on our days off, and requests for time off to be with family are denied due to lack of staffing and straining relationships. We frequently see violence and horrors beyond comprehension, like a Lancaster man who recently beat his own children to death.
“The workload and stress alone would be enough to dishearten people, but there is more. Sheriff Luna, his command staff, and DA Gascón push for leniency toward criminals. But when it comes to us, they seek maximum punishment toward Deputies, potentially including termination and criminal charges, for even the smallest violations of department policy. This has created hesitancy for many to perform their duties.”
Retired Captain Mike Bornman has also become a vocal advocate for the troops desperately seeking support and leadership during these tremendously trying times:
“Even though I retired from the LA County Sheriff’s Department after 36 years of service, I still keep informed about what is happening with my beloved LASD,” he said. “I still bleed ‘tan and green,’ and continue to care deeply about everyone lucky enough to be working for the greatest law enforcement agency on the face of the planet. Which is why I have become a critic of the current sheriff and his executive staff, who clearly care more about their own optics and appeasing anti-cop, anti-law enforcement advocates than supporting their own personnel. What I have seen from this sheriff and his cronies infuriates me. If this were a public corporation it would have already slipped into insolvency, receivership, and bankruptcy.”
With disastrous work conditions and crushing morale leading to hopelessness and despair—even death at their own hands—the LASD has seen its darkest days in 2023. It is evident that if the LASD is not course-corrected immediately, it could lead to the collapse of the most prestigious sheriff’s department in the world.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Deputies from Palmdale listen during a news conference as Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascon announces charges in the killing of their colleague, sheriff's deputy Ryan Clinkunbroomer, at the Hall of Justice in downtown Los Angeles on Sept. 20, 2023. (Richard Vogel/AP Photo)