LA County Board of Supervisors votes to consider options to remove Sheriff Villanueva from office

City News Service
Wednesday, November 11, 2020
LA supervisors vote to look at options for sheriff's removal
Sheriff Villanueva and the Board of Supervisors have a contentious relationship, and Villanueva's term doesn't end until 2022.

LOS ANGELES (CNS) -- The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday voted 3-2 to look at options for removing elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva as the county's top lawman, rather than waiting to see if voters will do so in 2022.

Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn dissented, saying the matter should be left in the hands of Los Angeles County voters.

Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl co-authored the motion recommending that the county direct its lawyers, inspector general, civilian oversight commissioners and acting CEO to look at possible avenues for removing the sheriff or cutting back his responsibilities.

Everyone on the board has raised concerns about Villanueva's lack of accountability, including his willingness to flout subpoenas issued by oversight agencies. Yet the board split on this particular issue, with both sides claiming the moral high ground of supporting democratic principles.

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Ridley-Thomas -- who tabled consideration of the motion two weeks ago when Barger and Hahn first indicated their opposition -- said the idea of an elected sheriff was outdated.

"Despite the exponential growth of the county and tremendous advances of modern-day policing, we are still beholden to this anachronistic model of law enforcement,'' Ridley-Thomas said, reading from an opinion piece he wrote in 2014 for the Huffington Post. "We hold a popularity contest for arguably our most important law enforcement position. The result is that we have something worse than democracy -- we have the illusion of democracy.''

Supervisor Janice Hahn said democracy dictated that voters settle the matter.

"It's no secret that this board does not see eye-to-eye with this particular sheriff, and I have to point out that it's not for lack of trying ... this sheriff has acted like he's not accountable to anyone but himself,'' Hahn said. However, "(voters) can recall him or they can vote him out when his term's up. That's how democracy works ... I don't think it's our job to remove an elected official.''

Supervisor Hilda Solis asked that consideration of a report back on the options be held until January so that Sen. Holly Mitchell, just elected to replace Ridley-Thomas, could lend her voice to the discussion.

The termed-out Ridley-Thomas, who was elected last week to replace Herb Wesson on the Los Angeles City Council, agreed to support Solis' amendment.

Later Tuesday, Villanueva posted a video to Twitter responding to the supervisors' move.

He said he was "extending an olive branch" to the supervisors, asking them to work with him to address the county's most pressing problems.

"The voters have already spoken," Villanueva said. "We have a democratic process to elect sheriffs. I intend to honor that every single day that I'm working. I think the voters' rights and will need to be respected by the board. As President-elect Joe Biden said let's stop demonizing each other, lets work together o find common ground."

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A motion before the L.A. County Board of Supervisors would figure out a way to remove Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

The changes under consideration include amending the state constitution to move to an appointed, rather than elected sheriff. Many activists said the current sheriff is just the latest flawed leader of the department and expressed support for a permanent shift to an appointed post.

Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson of JusticeLA recalled meeting with then- Sheriff Lee Baca -- who would later be convicted of obstruction of justice and lying to the FBI -- at LASD headquarters 10 years ago as a moment that helped sparked a movement.

"We walked out of that meeting with a very clear and prophetic mandate, knowing that whatever mechanisms of accountability and transparency and shifts in power for Black and brown people that we were going to build had to be bigger than the denial of Sheriff Baca, bigger than the sadistic arrogance of (then-Undersheriff Paul) Tanaka, bigger than the rejection of subpoena power by (ex)-Sheriff (Jim) McDonnell, bigger than the expensive recalcitrance of Villanueva,'' Clayton-Johnson said. "Four years is a long time to wait for a ballot box to check a rogue sheriff.''

Others worried about the board's own expansive power.

"We definitely don't want to give the Board of Supervisors more power, but we feel like we don't have a choice because the sheriff is so out of control,'' said Pastor Stephe "Cue'' Jn-Marie of The Church Without Walls.

"The sheriff is elected not mainly to exercise power but primarily to ensure public safety.''

A constitutional amendment to appoint rather than elect the Los Angeles County sheriff would likely affect all 58 counties and bring them in line with city jurisdictions, which appoint police chiefs. Other possibilities include pulling some of Villanueva's responsibilities and appointing a county police chief, which Kuehl said she found most interesting.