County Leaders Consider Stripping Sheriff of Power

Sheila Kuehl and Mark Ridley-Thomas

Malibu-area County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl has co-authored a proposal that could strip LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva of much of his department. 

Kuehl and fellow supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas are looking for one more vote to launch efforts to impeach, remove or drastically reduce the role of the elected sheriff—”We have managed to inherit the worst sheriff in recent memory! And he has set off what is as close to a constitutional crisis at the local level that we’ve ever seen. We have to use executive, legislative and judicial authority to restore order,” Ridley-Thomas wrote on Twitter on Oct. 25.

One way may be to remove his authority over municipal police services in 40 small cities in Los Angeles County—most certainly including Malibu.

Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas placed an item on the agenda for the Tuesday, Oct. 27, board of supervisors meeting to discuss stripping out the municipal police functions from the sheriff and transferring them to a new county police agency, which would answer to civilian control, much like the City of Los Angeles Police Department. That hearing was since re-scheduled to Nov. 10, but Villanueva took the opportunity at the Tuesday meeting to address the agenda item.

“The facts show, I have been more transparent, more accountable and have provided greater access to our community than any former sheriff,” Villanueva said, adding that “transparency and accountability do not come cheap—they are expensive.”

Malibu officials have discussed the possibility of hiring a different police agency to patrol Malibu, and there was talk about setting up a mutual police force with the Las Virgenes-Malibu Council of Governments (COG) cities of Agoura Hills, Calabasas, Hidden Hills and Westlake Village.

Supervisors say Villanueva has been unable to balance the LASD budget, and Villanueva has blocked independent investigations into a string of deputy shootings that led to months of protests, including Andres Guardado in Gardena, Dijon Kizzee in Westmont and, most recently, Fred Williams in Willowbrook.

Plus, the county has paid out more than $149 million in the last five years to settle lawsuits and satisfy judgments in cases in which deputies were involved in incidents that include civil rights violations, excessive force, sexual assault and killings.

Villanueva has accused supervisors of “exploring ways to [undo] the results of a lawful election.” If LA County voters are unhappy with his work as sheriff, he said, they can recall him, cause a grand jury indictment, or defeat him in the next election.

“Before the board votes on this motion and triggers a legal battle which will waste millions of taxpayer dollars, I urge each supervisor to meet with me privately. Let’s set aside the past and work out our differences,” Villanueva said Tuesday.


A version of this story first aired on KBUU News.