Civilian Oversight Commission and Sheila Kuehl call for Villanueva Resignation

Sheriff Alex Villanueva addresses the audience at Duke's in 2018.

During last week’s LA County Civilian Oversight Commission meeting on Thursday, Sept. 17, Oversight Commissioner Robert Bonner called for LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva to resign.

The call for resignation was almost immediately supported by two LA County supervisors, including Sheila Kuehl, who represents Malibu, and nonprofit organizations like Reform LA Jails, which wrote in a later statement, “We couldn’t agree more. Villanueva has been hiding records of deputy misconduct, disregarding the Civilian Oversight Commission and blocking misconduct investigations.”

Other groups on board with resignation are Unite Here Local 11, Justice LA, Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, ACLU of Southern California and Check the Sheriff Coalition.

Previously, Villanueva had faced intense scrutiny for his department’s treatment of KPCC/LAist reporter Josie Huang on Saturday, Sept. 12. Huang was covering protests outside a hospital in Lynwood where two deputies had been taken after being shot at point blank range while sitting in their patrol car. Protestors said things such as “death to the police, kill the police” and allegedly blocking the emergency exit and entrance to the hospital where the two injured deputies were taken. The sheriff’s department tweeted that protesters were yelling, “We hope they die.”

Huang was filming officers who were pursuing protesters on foot when she was tackled onto the pavement and arrested by five deputies, who also stomped on her phone. LASD claimed in a tweet that she ignored commands to stay back as they tried to arrest someone else and didn’t identify herself as a member of the press. Those claims were later refuted by video evidence, although the department has not acknowledged the discrepancy. LASD charged Huang with obstructing justice and kept her in jail overnight.

LA County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas later called on the LA County Sheriff Citizens Oversight Commission to discuss Huang’s arrest at an already-scheduled Sept. 17 meeting, and for County Inspector General Max Huntsman to open an investigation.

“There is no question—this kind of treatment of a journalist doing their job is disturbing and inappropriate,” Kuehl wrote in her weekly newsletter. “Even more disconcerting is the disinformation swirling around the event, most especially from Sheriff Villanueva himself, who offered several false or misleading defenses of this indefensible behavior.

“I’m deeply disappointed at the Sheriff’s Department’s repeated failure to respect the legal rights of the reporters we rely on to make sure we get the full story,” Kuehl continued. “I’m very supportive of the OIG [inspector general]’s decision to launch an investigation into this troubling behavior, and I echo the widespread condemnation of this egregious arrest. This is the latest in a long string of dishonest, unseemly and evasive behavior from Sheriff Villanueva. I agree with the members of the Civilian Oversight Commission who expressed their belief that it is time for the Sheriff to resign. As of yesterday, we had received over 1,500 emails in agreement.”

Villanueva, as head of the LASD, oversees policing in Malibu. He indicated in a statement that he’s “not going anywhere” and called the request for his resignation “morally repugnant.”

On Thursday, Sept. 24, the LA District Attorney announced the department would not be pressing charges against Huang, citing “insufficient evidence,” according to multiple sources. In its memo, the DA confirmed Huang was heard announcing she was a reporter.