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County Inspector General Rips Sheriff for Refusing to Provide Transparency

Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaking to city managers of contract cities. Cropped
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Sheriff Alex Villanueva has “delayed, hindered, ignored and in some cases denied outright” requests for information on hiring, discipline and shootings, operating with secrecy that, in the past, has resulted in an abuse of powers to “stifle critics,” the Los Angeles County Inspector General said in a report issued Monday.

The 12-page report said Villanueva has refused to cooperate with a public transparency agreement established with his predecessor, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, restricting the Inspector General’s access to personnel records and other documents. In addition, the Sheriff’s Department has refused to comply with California Public Records Act requests in a timely manner despite a large staff assigned to the Sheriff’s Information Bureau, prohibiting the public’s access to records on “shootings, use of force, and findings of dishonesty,” the report said.

“This failure to comply … has significantly impaired the ability of the Office of the Inspector General to monitor the Sheriff’s Department’s operations and report publicly on its findings,” the report said. “In the past, such secrecy has resulted in a Sheriff misusing law enforcement powers in an effort to stifle critics through intimidation of an outside agency investigating the department.”

Specifically, the report said the department has declined to provide Inspector General Max Huntsman and his staff with information on secret investigations; interactions with civilians, including a local elected official; re-evaluations of deputy discipline cases, the department’s general performance and changes in policies and procedures.

In a statement, Villanueva’s second-in-command, Undersheriff Tim Murakami, said Huntsman has “in fact received all copies regarding development, implementation, and the enforcement of key department policies.”

“We invite Mr. Huntsman to demonstrate to the public how LASD is not complying with the Memorandum of Agreement. Making inflammatory & false accusations only impairs the credibility, legitimacy and impartiality of the Office of Inspector General’s stated mission to provide honest oversight of LASD.”

The scathing report comes just three weeks after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously to begin the process of giving the IG subpoena power so it can look into deputy “cliques” and other department matters. At that July 23 meeting, Huntsman outlined some of the resistance he faced, citing former Assistant Sheriff Paul Tanaka, who was sentenced to five years in prison in 2016 for civil rights abuses in the county’s jails that involved attempts to prevent the FBI from investigating.

“I was hired in part to tell you if we ever faced a Tanaka-level crisis again,” Huntsman said, asking the board to make his office stronger. “We face it now.”

Villanueva, the report said, stopped complying with the agreement when he took office, ending McDonnell’s practice of “relatively full access” and ended cooperation. Since then, the Sheriff has denied Huntsman’s office access to documents, personnel records and even banned him from high-level meetings.

According to the report, IG staff noticed differences in February when once routine requests for information were met with answers, including “Things have changed. I’ll have to talk to my captain.” Villanueva’s chief of staff had ordered that all requests for information from outside the department were to be forwarded to the Sheriff’s office.

In criticizing the department’s denial of access to investigations, the report said:

  • The LASD refused to turn over information on a June 5 traffic stop involving a local elected official that appeared to use unconstitutional procedures. Villanueva refused to provide a report and later removed a top official who had agreed to provide information to the IG, who never got what he wanted.
  • The Department has refused to provide summaries of private disciplinary reports that formerly included the deputy’s name, a description of the allegations, the findings and disposition. Without them, the IG’s office was unable to monitor the agency’s handling of discipline cases.

“In the past such secrecy has given us jail abuse, secret societies, some of which have engaged in violent acts and stratified themselves based on race and gender, and misconduct at the highest levels of the Department, resulting in federal prosecutions and convictions,” the report said. “It is not possible to conclude the current administration’s increase in secrecy is not repeating these mistakes.”

  • Villanueva told the Board of Supervisors in March that the IG would have a “front row seat” in re-evaluating disciplinary cases that resulted in deputies being fired under McDonnell’s leadership, but Villanueva did not fulfill that statement. This followed public scrutiny when Villanueva rehired Deputy Care Mandoyan, who had been fired for his involvement in a domestic violence case. Since that meeting, Villanueva similarly reinstated four or more employees, the report said, who, like Mandoyan, lost their jobs over dishonesty and making false statements to investigators. The IG’s office, the report said, cannot be “certain there are only these four.”

“Because the process was held in secret, or not held at all, we are unable to report on why these employees were reinstated,” the report said. ”Abandoning important safeguards increases the chances that allegations of misconduct will be covered up when the suspect is held in high regard by the Sheriff and unfairly pursued when they are not, precisely the wrong the current Sheriff claimed he sought office to prevent,” the report said.

  • The Sheriff’s Department banned Huntsman from executive meetings to discuss proposed changes to policies and procedures, and did not provide information on 50 policies under review for changes, including some on the use of Tasers and carrying a weapon while under the influence of alcohol.  Some of the policy changes were routine, but some weren’t, including addressing the so-called “code of silence.”
  • The Department refused to allow the IG’s office to see the hiring packets for potential deputies.

SoCal Connected is among dozens of media outlets that have sought public information on the department’s disciplinary records.
Supervisors Sheila Kuehl, Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn were not immediately available for comment.

Top Image: Alex Villanueva/Twitter

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