LASD cover-up allegations: Sheriff Alex Villanueva denies what cameras catch him saying

"We have no interest in pursuing, nor are we pursuing, criminal charges against any reporters," the sheriff said on social media.

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Thursday, April 28, 2022
Sheriff Alex Villanueva denies what cameras catch him saying
On Tuesday, he said his department is investigating an L.A. Times reporter who broke a story critical to his department. He's now denying that he said that statement - even though it was recorded by multiple news outlets.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who on Tuesday said his department is investigating a local reporter who broke a story critical to his department, has now denied that he said that statement - even though it was recorded by multiple news outlets and posted on his own social media pages.

Villanueva has been accused by former and current members of the sheriff's department of ordering his staff to cover up a violent, use of force incident between a deputy and an inmate in March 2021.

In a rambling news conference Tuesday morning, Villanueva spoke for roughly half an hour before taking questions and used nearly 20 presentation slides to lay out a timeline surrounding the cover-up.

READ MORE | LA County sheriff on defense in use of force cover-up allegation

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva was in the hot seat Tuesday denying he buried a case that's now getting national attention. He also announced an investigation into the Los Angeles Times reporter who first exposed the alleged cover-up.

During that presentation, the sheriff showed a slide featuring the photo of Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian, who first obtained video of the use of force incident and has published several stories making the cover-up public.

Villanueva then said his department had launched an investigation into everyone involved in the leak of the video.

Pointing toward Tchekmedyian, who was at the news conference, Villanueva said "The L.A. Times, maybe you need to start clarifying exactly what you did with this and who did you get it from and when did you get it?"

When reporters asked the sheriff if his department was specifically investigating Tchekmedyian, Villanueva responded, "Well, the act is under investigation. All parties to the act are subjects of the investigation."

Villanueva's announcement that he was investigating a newspaper reporter sparked criticism across the country from journalists and academics who accused him of attacking freedom of the press.

The sheriff then posted a statement on his social media outlets denying he ever said his department was investigating Tchekmedyian.

"Resulting from the incredible frenzy of misinformation being circulated, I must clarify at no time [Tuesday] did I state an LA Times reporter was a suspect in a criminal investigation," he wrote in a series of tweets. "We have no interest in pursuing, nor are we pursuing, criminal charges against any reporters. We will conduct a thorough investigation regarding the unlawful disclosure of evidence and documentation in an active criminal case. The multiple active investigations stemming from this incident will be shared and monitored by an outside law enforcement entity. What should be of interest is the fact the LA Times refuses to acknowledge their reporting, and the account of a disgruntled employee, were thoroughly debunked during today's press conference."

Brian Williams, the executive director of the Los Angeles County Civilian Oversight Commission, which is responsible for monitoring the sheriff's department for improprieties and violations of the law, criticized Villanueva's attempt to tamp down free speech.

"When you have an agency such as the L.A. County Sheriff's Department abridging those rights, and really doing everything they can to sort of frustrate the purpose of the press, well that's a serious violation, we think, of the Constitution," Williams told Eyewitness News.

Since Villanueva was elected sheriff, the oversight commission has been swamped with investigations into his department, including allegations of deputy gangs, an increase in the number of inmate deaths and the cover-up of the March 2021 use of force incident at the San Fernando courthouse.

When inmate Enzo Escalante started throwing punches at Dep. Douglas Johnson, other deputies swarmed the inmate and were able to restrain him about a minute later.

But Johnson had placed his knee on the head and neck of Escalante and kept it there for nearly three more minutes.

Sources tell Eyewitness News it was Villanueva himself who blocked two criminal investigations to prevent video of the incident from becoming public.

According to Villanueva's own timeline, he only took action against the two top executives he now blames for the cover-up after the L.A. Times story broke.

Villanueva hosted an online briefing Wednesday morning in which he usually takes pre-submitted questions from the media.

Eyewitness News had hoped to ask him about his new denial that his department is investigating the L.A. Times reporter, but the sheriff refused to answer questions from any news outlets.