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LA Sheriff Villanueva Subpoenaed Over Jail Coronavirus Policy

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The civilian panel that oversees the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department used its new subpoena power for the first time today, issuing a subpoena demanding Sheriff Alex Villanueva testify about his agency’s efforts to protect jail inmates from coronavirus.

The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission issued the subpoena amid growing concerns that COVID-19 is spreading rapidly inside the jails. The county’s inspector general reported there are now a total of 253 inmates who have tested positive at one point – 70 more than Monday. Ninety-three staff have been infected, according to Public Health Director Dr. Barbara Ferrer.

Villanueva has rebuffed invitations to address the commission's online meetings since the pandemic began, frustrating the nine-member panel.

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“I think it’s outrageous that the sheriff isn’t here to answer questions about what’s going on in the jails,” said Commissioner Priscilla Ocen.

The panel wants answers on a range of issues, including why the sheriff isn’t testing every inmate.

"In regards to any subpoena, we have not received one as of this statement and have absolutely no details as to what they are requesting," the Sheriff's Department said in a statement.

Villanueva has released several thousand low-level inmates early to reduce crowding, and he’s isolated and quarantined thousands more. He’s also facing a lawsuit claiming he hasn’t done enough.

The sheriff strongly opposed the March ballot measure that gave the commission subpoena power; voters overwhelmingly approved it in the wake of his efforts to resist independent oversight.

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