The California Department of Justice has assumed control over the investigation into Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, 3rd District, regarding Metro contracts awarded to Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit run by a friend of Kuehl’s that offers services to victims of sexual and domestic violence.
California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced on Sept. 20 that the state Department of Justice took control of the case from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, which on Sept. 14 raided Kuehl’s home and the residence of Peace Over Violence founder Patti Giggans, as well as offices at Metro headquarters downtown. Giggans is also a member of the Los Angeles County Oversight Commission, which has investigated alleged gangs within the sheriff’s department. Shortly after the raid at her home, Kuehl said the investigation stems from her criticism of Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
“Make no mistake. [The] search warrant is not motivated by a desire to get to the bottom of a Metro contract that dates from seven years ago. The process by which this contract was awarded never involved me and, indeed, the first I knew of it was an invite to a Metro press conference announcing it. The basis of this search was questionable and will be investigated,” Kuehl said in a statement. “[The] storming of my home by deputies with bulletproof vests and tactical gear was an effort to harass, intimidate and retaliate against a public figure who has been an outspoken critic of L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. I am not the only such critic, and other courageous county leaders have also been the targets of this sheriff’s vindictiveness.”
Villanueva has said the investigation was launched based on a whistleblower complaint about corruption involving Metro’s contract with Peace Over Violence, and was not retaliation against Kuehl. Bonta said the Department of Justice assumed the investigation because it alleges pubic corruption. Under the California Constitution and Government Code, the attorney general has supervisorial authority over the state’s sheriffs and when in the public interest, has the authority to take full charge of a criminal investigation if deemed necessary, Bonta said.
“In recent days, the public unfolding of an unprecedented investigation has raised serious questions for residents of Southern California and beyond,” Bonta said in a statement. “I recognize the deep uncertainty this has engendered and, given the unique circumstances, my team has committed to taking over this investigative process. Make no mistake: we are committed to a thorough, fair and independent investigation that will help restore confidence for the people of our state. If there is wrongdoing by any party, we will bring it to light.”
Bonta said at the sheriff’s department’s request, the Department of Justice will also investigate claims that county officials tipped off Kuehl about the raids. Kuehl responded to those claims via social media.
“Members of the sheriff’s department were already leaking to the press long before [the raids]. In addition, the department had no legal right to go through my texts on either my county phone or personal phone for information related to this purported ‘leak.’” Kuehl said. “Even the scope of the transparently retaliatory search warrant didn’t authorize it. By doing so, the sheriff has compromised not only my personal privacy but the privacy of my staff, colleagues, friends and family. The sheriff’s continued possession of my laptop and phones makes it very difficult to perform my duties as a supervisor, not to mention lacking all information to contact family and friends, as my personal phone and laptop were also confiscated. However, even without these indispensable devices, I will continue to do all I can to keep the focus on the real issues – seeing that the sheriff takes steps to reduce deputy-involved shootings [and] meaningfully addresses the existence of known gangs in his department.”
Bonta ordered the sheriff’s department to turn over all information gathered during its searches, and the investigation is ongoing. The case is separate from an ongoing civil rights investigation into sheriff’s department’s policies and practices, Bonta said.
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