Robert Luna will be Los Angeles County’s next sheriff after decisively beating incumbent Alex Villanueva in the Nov. 8 election. After Luna held a commanding lead from the start it took the acting Sheriff Villanueva a full week to admit defeat and concede the race.
From the start of Villanueva’s one-term tenure, it was filled with rancor between his bosses, the LA County Board of Supervisors, and Villanueva’s nonconciliatory —his critics might term it “bullying” — management style. Just four years ago, considered a little-known underdog running as a progressive, Villanueva unseated incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell. That feat was nearly unprecedented as it was the first time in nearly a century that a sheriff had lost a re-election bid in the county.
At that time, Villanueva once stated, “I’m not a politician. I’m not a bureaucrat. I’m a reformer.” If that was the case, it wasn’t what the public saw.
Early in his four-year term, Villanueva rehired a deputy who had been let go over allegations of domestic violence against another deputy. He insisted there were no deputy gangs in the LA Sheriff’s Department. In a debate against Luna, Villanueva also claimed he had let some suspected deputy gang members go and said, “There is nothing legally we can do left. We can’t line up people, strip them down and fire people with tattoos, as some people have literally suggested.”
The sheriff also defied subpoenas from the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission and has been at the helm of the department accused of employing some abusive deputies in county jails and dealing a few high-profile deadly deputy-involved shootings.
Two promises he kept were equipping all deputies with body cameras to be worn while on the job and removing federal immigration agents from county jails that are under the sheriff’s jurisdiction.
There are no term limits for the LA County sheriff’s position, but the antagonism between Villanueva and the Board of Supervisors prompted the board to bring to the ballot Measure A, which allows the five-member board the authority to remove a sitting sheriff from office. County voters approved that measure.
Luna held an early lead in the vote count and eventually took nearly 60 percent of the vote Nov. 8 compared to Villanueva’s 40 percent. The former Long Beach Police Department chief came out of retirement to take on the embattled Villanueva. Luna, a 36-year law enforcement veteran, was first appointed to the top Long Beach cop position in 2014 and served for seven years before stepping down.
The sheriff-elect has promised to “modernize” the department’s jail system and improve the morale of deputies and employees.
In his concession speech Villanueva claimed his critics created a “false narrative” about his leadership of the LASD; however, he did offer congratulatory words to his rival. He said he wanted “to wish the incoming sheriff well.”
“The safety of the community depends on him succeeding,” Villanueva added. “The welfare of every single person on the department depends on him succeeding.”
As Villanueva’s term comes to a close, LA District Attorney George Gascón has launched a criminal investigation into allegations that the sheriff may have broken state law when he solicited campaign donations for his re-election from deputies.