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Criminal Justice

Ex-Sheriff's Official Is Second To Back Claim That Villanueva Saw Troubling Video Months Earlier Than He Says

Sheriff Alex Villanueva stands in uniform with his right hand raised at a news conference.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva at his April 26 news conference where he denied trying to cover up the video.
(Screenshot from Sheriff's Department Facebook video)
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L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva is facing a third whistleblower legal claim that asserts he directed a coverup of a controversial video of a deputy with his knee on the head of a man in custody for three minutes.

In her claim filed Wednesday, former Sheriff’s Chief LaJuana Haselrig says then-Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon told her in March 2021 that Limon and Sheriff Alex Villanueva had watched the video of a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed man’s head for three minutes.

The sheriff claims he didn’t see the video until November.

Haselrig is the second person to endorse Limon’s version of events. In his own whistleblower claim, Sheriff’s Commander Allen Castellano also says Limon told him about watching the video with Villanueva in March 2021.

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Villanueva did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Like the others, Haselrig’s claim accuses Villanueva of blocking a criminal investigation of the incident because he feared people would compare the video to that of the murder of George Floyd.

Haselrig states she brought the video to Limon roughly five days after the March 10, 2021 incident over concerns the deputy may have used excessive force. “That same day, Limon confirmed to [Haselrig] that she watched the video with Villanueva and that he agreed the force looked troubling and that he would ‘handle it,’” according to the claim.

Limon asserted in her own claim filed last week that she watched the video with the sheriff. She asserts her demotion four ranks to lieutenant last month was part of Villanueva’s alleged coverup.

Haselrig claims Villanueva forced her to retire as part of his alleged coverup.

The sheriff maintains that when he first saw the video in November, he immediately ordered a criminal investigation into the deputy’s actions. He has blamed subordinates for a “potential coverup.”

In her claim, Limon claims Undersheriff Tim Murakami and Captain Anthony Blanchard also watched the video with Villanueva. At an April 26 news conference held by the sheriff, both were asked by reporters about the meeting.

“The claim in March is false,” Murakami said. “It never happened.”

“The video was never seen in March the way it was presented,” said Blanchard. Neither Murakami nor Blanchard elaborated.

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Haselrig's claim alleges Villanueva on several occasions threatened to retaliate against whistleblowers.

“After Villanueva stated he was looking for revenge on whistleblowers in a teleconference meeting, stating again he would ‘get’ a whistleblower, [Haselrig] texted him to stand down, telling him ‘you can’t say that,’ and to ‘stop,’” the claim states.

It goes on to say Haselrig repeated her warnings in a meeting with Villanueva, who replied, “‘but I’m the elect.’”

She also claims he targeted her because she is Black.

“When Complainant expressed to Villanueva that she hoped there would be fairness and opportunity for qualified African Americans to promote in the department, Villanueva dismissively told her that ‘we have enough of you,’ meaning enough African Americans in management, indicating a bias against African Americans seeking earned promotions,” her claim states.

A legal claim is a precursor to a lawsuit. Haselrig, Limon and Castellano are all represented by L.A. attorney Vincent Miller.

In the video, which was obtained by LAist, Deputy Douglas Johnson is seen kneeling on the head of a passive Enzo Escalante inside the lockup at the San Fernando Courthouse. Escalante had punched Johnson several times. Escalante suffered minor injuries.

Main lockup

Villanueva has opened a criminal investigation into the leak of the video and at one point last week threatened to investigate a Los Angeles Times reporter who had obtained the video.

He told Spectrum News One that the leak is more serious than the deputy’s actions.

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