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Criminal Justice

LA Democrats Helped Elect Sheriff Villanueva. Now They Want Him Out.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at the graduation ceremony for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy class, Jan. 4, 2019.
(Kyle Grillot for LAist)
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The L.A. County Democratic Party is calling on Sheriff Alex Villanueva to resign, accusing him of perpetuating a culture of police brutality” among his more than 9,000 deputies and failing to rid the department of “deputy gangs.” The resolution won the support of 91% of delegates to the party’s central committee at its meeting Tuesday night.

The loss of Democratic Party support is a blow to Villanueva. Along with the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the party played a big role in getting him elected. ALADS has not said whether it will support the sheriff again in 2022.

The resolution said the party was acting partly in solidarity with the family of Andres Guardado, who was killed by a deputy a year ago in a controversial shooting. It calls the killing a “murder” and says Villanueva has overseen a rise in deputy shootings. (There were 33 shootings in the two years before he took office and 49 during his first two years as sheriff.)

Villanueva also has blocked outside efforts to watchdog his agency, according to the resolution, by defying subpoenas from the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and refusing to hand over information to the inspector general.

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In a campaign-style email to party members before the vote, a pro-Villanueva flier said he was a “progressive Democrat” and returned to the themes that carried him to an upset victory over incumbent Jim McDonnell in 2018.

“Democrat Villanueva defeated a Trump-supporting Republican incumbent…who was deporting immigrants...” said the flier, under a picture of McDonnell.

“Today’s resolution is yet another example of the Board of Supervisors and their paid activists to disparage and weaken me in order to gain control of the sheriff’s department,” the flier said. “Don’t be fooled,” it added in bold type.

Party activists soured on the sheriff shortly after he took office, when he tried to rehire a deputy who’d been fired for domestic abuse and lying. The deputy was a campaign aide. Less than a year into his term, the party called on him to “restore trust” in the agency.

The Civilian Oversight Commission has asked Villanueva to step down. The Board of Supervisors has considered ways to remove him.

“I’m not going anywhere,” Villanueva said during his weekly Facebook Live chat on Wednesday.