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Criminal Justice

LA Sheriff Villanueva Faces His First Challenger For The 2022 Election

Sheriff's Department Chief Eliezer Vera is seen in uniform.
Eliezer Vera, a chief with the L.A. Sheriff's Department, has announced he's challenging his boss Sheriff Alex Villanueva in next year's election. Vera, who has been with the department since 1988, was once a strong supporter of Villanueva.
(Courtesy LASD)
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A one-time confidant of L.A. Sheriff Alex Villanueva has decided to challenge him in next year’s election. Eliezer Vera, who was promoted by Villanueva to the position of chief, said his boss’s failure to get along with people has damaged the department.

“Unfortunately, at the present time, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department has developed a reputation for contributing to contention during trying times,” Vera said in a statement. Vera said he wants to “restore confidence in the Office of the Sheriff” by partnering with the Board of Supervisors and collaborating with oversight agencies.

Since taking office in December of 2018, Villanueva has clashed with the board, the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission, and the Inspector General. Vera played an important role in one dispute over the re-hiring of Carl Mandoyan, who had been fired by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell over allegations of domestic abuse and lying.

Vera sat on a three-member panel that said Mandoyan, a political aide to Villanueva during his campaign, should be rehired.

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In making his announcement, Vera made no mention of the racial justice movement in L.A., nor the civil rights investigation of the department by the California Department of Justice. The sheriff’s department is under increasing scrutiny over a series of fatal shootings as well as allegations that there are multiple deputy gangs operating within the organization.

“This is what democracy looks like,” Villanueva said of Vera’s announcement. “My reform efforts speak for themselves, removing ICE from the jails, equipping Body Worn Cameras, Wage Theft Task Force, all of this during civil unrest, defunding, and COVID-19”

A look at Vera’s department bio suggests he is a hard-charging cop who’s also a savvy political player within the sprawling Sheriff’s Department, which patrols unincorporated L.A. and 44 cities, and also operates the jail system

Vera joined the department in 1988 and almost immediately began working in some of the toughest neighborhoods. In the early 1990s, for example, he worked at the infamous Lynwood station, which was home to one of the department’s most notorious deputy gangs — known as the Vikings.

There appears to be no evidence that Vera was a member.

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Later he worked at the Lennox and Compton stations on the Crime Impact Teams, which aggressively targeted the most violent criminals. He also led the Special Enforcement Bureau, the sheriff’s equivalent of SWAT.

In 2008, there was a turn in Vera’s career when he became an executive aide to then-Sheriff Lee Baca. That’s a coveted job, one where you can learn a lot about the politics of the department. This helped tee him up for higher positions.

But it was Villanueva who promoted him two ranks, from captain to chief, and assigned him to lead the high-profile Central Patrol Division. He oversaw six of the busiest stations, including East L.A. and South L.A.

In January 2021, he was assigned to the Technology & Support Division, where he oversees the department’s Scientific Services, Data Systems, Records & Identification and Communications & Fleet Management bureaus.

Like Villanueva, Vera has spent more than three decades with the department and is steeped in its culture and practices. Unlike the sheriff, who holds a Doctor of Public Administration, Vera is working on his bachelors degree in criminal justice.

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Many consider Villanueva’s first three years in office to have been rocky and there are expected to be several challengers. Former Sheriff Jim McDonnell may seek revenge for his ouster in 2018. Former Undersheriff Ray Leyva, who most recently ran the county probation department, may also toss his hat into the ring.

The powerful Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which played a key role in getting Villanueva elected, has so far remained silent on the 2022 race.