LA Sheriff Sets Date To Kick ICE Out Of Jails, But Will Keep Turning Over Immigrants

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva greets new recruits during the graduation ceremony for class 433 of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy at East Los Angeles College, Friday, Jan. 4, 2019. (Kyle Grillot for LAist)

Fulfilling a campaign pledge, L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced Wednesday that he's kicking ICE agents out of all jail facilities and patrol stations effective Friday. But the move may disappoint immigrant rights activists.

The sheriff said at a news conference that he will continue to hand over unauthorized immigrants eligible for deportation. Under his new policy, a federal contractor will detain them inside the jails and transport them to ICE.

The move may seem cosmetic, but VIllanueva argues it's important inmates not see the department cooperating with ICE inside the jails. He blamed a decrease in the reporting of sexual assaults in primarily immigrant communities in L.A. on the perception that local law enforcement works with the Trump administration.

"That is the Trump effect," he said. "That's what happens when you mix local enforcement with federal immigration enforcement."

In an interview with LAist, Villanueva said he is not ready to take steps that would reduce the number of people he hands over to ICE.

Under SB 54, the so-called sanctuary state law that took effect a year ago, California sheriffs are prohibited from handing over to ICE jail inmates who've been convicted of any of 800-plus less serious misdemeanors - like traffic offenses and trespassing.

Villanueva's opportunity to reduce the number of people he turns over is related to a second list of about 160 crimes.

A number of the crimes on that list are "wobblers," offenses that prosecutors can treat as a felony or a misdemeanor.

Villanueva told LAist earlier this month that he's inclined to stop handing over people with misdemeanor convictions for most wobblers.

"I'll have that for you when we're ready to announce it," he said, declining to provide further details.

However many crimes Villanueva ends up adding to the protected list, he said "we don't expect the number [of inmates handed over to ICE] to drop dramatically."

In 2017, the latest year for which statistics are available, 1,223 suspected unauthorized immigrants leaving jail were transferred to ICE inside a jail facility or at the courts.

DEFENDING A CONTROVERSIAL REHIRE

The sheriff also offered a spirited defense Wednesday of his decision to rehire Carl Mandoyan, a deputy who had been fired for alleged domestic abuse and later was a Villanueva campaign aide.

Villanueva aimed pointed criticism at the members of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors who confronted him Tuesday about the case and approved a motion urging him to reconsider his decision. Supervisors are worried that Villanueva may have inappropriately rewarded a campaign worker and that the decision engangers the community's trust in the department.

In his first "State of the Department" news conference as sheriff, Villanueva made clear he's not backing down. The supervisors are "politicians," he said. The sheriff said he's only interested in "the truth."

Then he brought to the podium Chief Steve Gross, who sat on an ad hoc committee appointed by Villanueva that reviewed the facts of the case. Gross said the panel found Mandoyan's offenses did not rise to the level of termination.

Mandoyan's girlfriend — another deputy — had accused him of domestic violence and stalking, and provided some video evidence. The district attorney's office declined to prosecute him on the grounds that it had insufficient evidence.

McDonnell went ahead and fired Mandoyan, and an appeals board upheld the decision.

Asked when he decided to review Mandoyan's firing, Villanueva said he was aware of problems with the case during the campaign.

"We knew the Mandoyan case and a half dozen others that are low hanging fruit that we have to address up front," Villanueva said, adding that he did not promise Mandoyan that he would rehire him if elected.

The sheriff promised to review all deputy terminations over the four years McDonnell was sheriff and predicted "a lot of them" will be offered their jobs back. Many firings were already overturned by the civil service commission, so it's unclear exactly how many people might be rehired.

"The previous administration treated our employees as if they are a disposable liability," Villanueva said.