How Is LA's Sheriff Handling Oversight? Blistering Critique Says: 'Delayed, Hindered, Ignored... And Denied'
L.A. County's inspector general issued a blistering report Monday accusing Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his administration of actively stymying oversight of the department on several fronts.
"In spite of the Inspector General's requests and public statements by the Sheriff to the contrary," access to information regarding the "development, implementation and enforcement of key Department policies has been delayed, hindered, ignored and in some cases denied outright," reads the report by Inspector General Max Huntsman.
The report revealed that sometime after June 19, Villanueva removed Chief of Staff Lawrence Del Mese. A department spokeswoman said Del Mese was replaced by Chief Dennis Kneer, who had headed the department's North Division.
Huntsman's report also said his office has learned that since March 12, the department has reinstated or tried to reinstate four or more employees, some of whom [like former Deputy Carl Mandoyan, whose controversial rehiring prompted L.A. County to sue the department] had been terminated for dishonesty.
The department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the report and the removal of the chief of staff.
Huntsman laid out the general outlines of the report in testimony before the L.A. County Board of Supervisors on July 23, arguing that Villanueva has advocated a "bunker mentality" at the sheriff's department.
Following that testimony, the sheriff's department tweeted:
Facts are important. IG Max Huntsman knows we are honoring the memorandum of agreement you & the @countyofla agreed to. You have all access right now to @lasdhq files. Pls elaborate on what you allege you are not receiving. TY. @kathrynbarger @sheilakuehl #BOS @mayalau @stiles— LA County Sheriffs (@LASDHQ) July 24, 2019
Here are some highlights from the report:
THE MCDONNELL AGREEMENT
The report said Villanueva has at times cited as a reason for his refusal to provide access to information a previous agreement between the Inspector General and former Sheriff Jim McDonnell that laid out guidelines for transparency.
But the agreement "specifically provides for a variety of kinds of access which the Sheriff has denied, including attendance at meetings, access to personnel records, and documents provided within ten days of request absent explanation," said the report. "The Sheriff has completely ignored those parts of the agreement and used it only as a justification for reducing transparency."
DIRECTIVE TO LIMIT ACCESS
Huntsman said his office was informed that "a directive had been issued by the Department's Chief of Staff" that all outside requests, including from the Inspector General, be forwarded to the Sheriff's office, which would then forward it to the appropriate person for a response.
The department did not consult, give notice or provide a copy of the directive to the Inspector General, the report said, adding that there was no response to a request for all correspondence "regarding providing department information" to the Inspector General.
The department "has blocked access ... to information in a manner which has compromised [the Inspector General's] ability to monitor the Department's operations in subject areas which significantly impact the Department's policing of the communities it serves," the report said.
ACCESS TO INVESTIGATIONS HAS BEEN DENIED
The report said after the department initially refused to provide information about a traffic stop of an unnamed local elected official, then-Chief of Staff Lawrence Del Mese agreed the department would furnish the information after the investigation was complete.
After noting that the agreement with McDonnell permitted the Inspector General to monitor in-progress investigations, the report said "the Sheriff has since removed his chief of staff and provided no documentation to the Inspector General."
After noting anomalies in data on internal disciplinary investigations, Huntsman requested that the department provide summaries of cases that were no longer visible in the Performance Recording and Monitoring System that tracks the investigations. (The department makes some files invisible to almost all users except the Captain of the Internal Affairs Bureau and the Captain's chain of command.) The department "did not respond to this request," the report said.
"Without access to these concealed case files we are unable to ascertain or confidently report precisely accurate information regarding the Department's handling of discipline cases," the report added.
"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," it said. "It is not possible to conclude the current administration's increase in secrecy is not repeating these mistakes."
FAILURE TO ADVISE ABOUT EFFORTS TO REINSTATE EMPLOYEES
Noting Villanueva's Mar. 12 statement to the Board of Supervisors that the Inspector General would have a "front row seat" to the process of reevaluating disciplinary cases, the report said the Inspector General has learned that since that meeting, the department "has entered into settlement agreements and reinstated or attempted to reinstate four or more additional employees, some who, like Mandoyan, had been terminated for dishonesty or for making false statements to investigators."
The department did not notify the Inspector General that it was evaluating the cases, did not involve it in the process and did not notify it about its decisions to reinstate the employees, the report said.
"Because the process was held in secret, or not held at all, we are unable to report on why these employees were reinstated," it said.
THE IG IS BARRED FROM EXECUTIVE PLANNING COUNCIL MEETINGS
On April 5, the sheriff barred the Inspector General from future meetings of the Executive Planning Council, the report said, noting these meetings discuss "significant proposed policies, procedures and practices."
FAILURE TO PROVIDE ACCESS TO DEPUTY CANDIDATES' HIRING RECORDS
The department has denied the Inspector General's requests to review the hiring packets of candidates for deputy positions, the report said.
Villanueva has vowed to sharply increase recruitment and hiring to address a deputy shortage. His "actions and public statements have caused concern that perhaps the Department's hiring standards have been relaxed in order to increase the applicant pool of candidates, resulting in the hiring of less qualified candidates," the report said.
Noting that the time from application to hiring "has been drastically reduced," the report expressed concern that the speeded up process "will result in scaling back protections against hiring people unqualified for the honor of being a deputy sheriff."
READ THE FULL REPORT BELOW: