Acting on a motion by Los Angeles Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, the board voted 3-2 on Nov. 10 to seek advice on legislative changes that would result in the position of sheriff being appointed rather than elected.
Ridley-Thomas, Kuehl and Supervisor Hilda Solis voted yes, while Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn were opposed.
The board is also inquiring about ways to remove certain responsibilities from the sheriff to mitigate damage to basic department functions, and to curtail current Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s alleged resistance to transparency and accountability.
“We have managed to inherit the worst sheriff in recent memory, and he has set off what is as close to a constitutional crisis at the local level that we’ve ever seen,” said Ridley-Thomas, 2nd District, noting recent scandals over fatal deputy shootings, secret societies within the department, the rehiring of previously fired deputies and instability in the department budget. “It is painfully obvious that we need mechanisms to hold the sheriff accountable and we are willing to consider executive, legislative and judicial authority to restore order.”
“The L.A. County sheriff has continuously refused to cooperate with the Civilian Oversight Commission and our inspector general, defying both subpoenas and requests for information,” added Kuehl, 3rd District. “He has incurred tens of millions of dollars in settlement costs in excessive force litigation, re-employed deputies who were lawfully terminated and aggressively resisted the county’s attempt to balance the department’s budget, which is running unprecedented deficits.”
Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl noted that the board is ultimately responsible for setting policy and supervising county officers and employees. The board’s authority to supervise elected officers like the sheriff, however, is more limited. The motion noted the ongoing issues with the sheriff are in contrast to the city of Los Angeles, where the chief of police is appointed by the mayor.
Villanueva disputed assertions made by the board about his refusal to cooperate and highlighted accomplishments under his tenure to increase transparency, including the implementation of body-worn cameras and the establishment of an anti-clique policy for deputies.
“Everything we have been doing is about fulfilling the promises of why I took this job and everything is above the board and subject to inspection,” Villanueva said in a statement. “If anyone in the Civilian Oversight Commission or Office of Inspector General wants to do their job by all means do it, and all we ask for is for a fair and objective process. We don’t want politics to intrude in it.”
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