Villanueva Defends LASD Conduct Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva

In a live streamed public Q&A session on Wednesday, Aug. 26, LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva pushed back at Inspector General Max Huntsman’s accusations about deputies not wearing masks and holding parties during the pandemic. 

According to reporting by City News Service, Huntsman reported to the LA County Board of Supervisors and a watchdog agency that oversees the sheriff’s department on Friday, Aug. 21, that deputies were failing to follow public health orders that require them to wear masks while working. Huntsman said he had previously sent a letter to Villanueva on June 25 about the issue and received no response. 

In his livestream, Villanueva called Huntsman’s letter “weird.” Still, he told the public his department was working to do better on wearing masks. “We want to flatten the [coronavirus] curve, obviously,” he said. Villanueva referenced the “extreme heat” his deputies have been working under, the high-stress situations such as fires and civil unrest they’ve had to respond to and “all the other restrictive gear” they already wear.

“Between the vests, the 15-pound belts, helmets, shields, all these things, the physical exertion in the field, not easy. But they need to wear them whenever they can, that means when they’re contacting civilians … and we’re working hard to enforce that,” Villanueva said around six minutes into the livestream, which is available on the department’s social media. 

As of Friday, Aug. 28, 766 LASD personnel were currently quarantined. A total of 835 personnel have been confirmed positive with the virus since the virus’ inception. The website is updated daily. 

The other criticism Huntsman made in his letter was about the alleged participation of sheriff’s deputies in a social gathering known as the “Sassafras party.” Huntsman recommended supervisors subpoena the Sassafras Saloon in Hollywood to identify attendees at a party held there earlier this month, after a viral video of the party appeared to depict sheriff’s department personnel in attendance despite pandemic restrictions. City News Service reported that the sheriff’s department has said that the people in the video of the party are not their employees and that the video is a hoax. The bar’s owner also told Eater LA that the event was meant to honor first responders and was not booked by the LA County Sheriff’s department directly.