Voters To Decide If County Supervisors Should Have Power To Remove Sheriff
The L.A. County Board of Supervisors Tuesday voted to ask voters for the power to remove a sitting sheriff, a move prompted by anger over Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s performance and resistance to oversight.
The vote was 4-1, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger opposing the idea. She has said allowing the board to remove a sheriff would be “diluting the voice of the voters.”
Supervisors take a second vote on the proposal next week, which is mostly a formality. After that, it will go to voters on the November ballot, where they will also select the county's next sheriff. Villanueva faces former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in a November runoff.
Proponents said allowing the board to remove the sheriff would provide another check on the leader of the nation’s third largest law enforcement agency.
Right now, people can vote a sheriff out at the end of their four-year term or launch a recall campaign — a costly effort in a county where nearly 600,000 signatures are needed to place any recall on the ballot.
A sheriff can also be found guilty of a crime and removed from office.
What The Amendment Says
Under the proposed charter amendment, four of the five members of the board would be able to vote a sheriff out of office “for cause.” It lists five definitions:
- Violation of any law related to the performance of a Sheriff's duties
- Flagrant or repeated neglect of a Sheriff's duties as defined by law
- Misappropriation of public funds or property as defined in California law
- Willful falsification of a relevant official statement or document
- Obstruction, as defined in federal, State, or local law applicable to a Sheriff, of any investigation into the conduct of a Sheriff and/or the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department by any government agency, office, or commission with jurisdiction to conduct such an investigation.
Before any finding, the board would have to provide a sheriff with “a written statement of alleged grounds for removal” and provide a “reasonable opportunity to be heard regarding any explanation or defense.”
Villanueva has blasted the motion. In a letter to supervisors, he wrote that:
“[t]he board is attempting to cheat the system and create a ‘fast track’ pathway to remove a duly elected sheriff, one which circumvents the law and the foundational principles of due process enshrined in the Fourteenth Amendment.”
A Track Record Of Refusing Oversight
The sheriff has frustrated the board and activists alike with his controversial decisions and refusal to submit to civilian oversight.
Within a month of taking office in 2018, he rehired Caren Carl Mandoyan, a deputy who had been terminated over allegations of domestic violence and lying to investigators. A judge ruled he violated civil service rules. Mandoyan was Villanueva's personal driver during his campaign for sheriff.
Since then, Villanueva has launched criminal investigations into watchdogs of the department, including the inspector general, relaxed discipline of deputies, and faced allegations that he covered up a video of a deputy using excessive use of force on an inmate.
Villanueva has refused to cooperate with the Civilian Oversight Commission, which is investigating deputy gangs. He has called it a “political witch-hunt” and defied a subpoena to testify.
Public Comment On Amendment
People who spoke during public comment offered different views of the proposed charter amendment.
“You cannot amend the charter because you hate a particular sheriff,” said Eric Previn of Studio City.
“This is not about one person but about creating appropriate checks and balances and ensuring that our community has confidence in our law enforcement,” said Judy Mark of Disability Voices United. Mark, who said she teaches police how to interact with people with disabilities, said it was one step toward changing the culture of the Sheriff’s Department.
“Our tools for real and meaningful accountability are tragically far and few,” said Minerva Garcia of the Check The Sheriff Coalition.
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In a memo, Chief Michel Moore said “extremist groups have hijacked the use of the ‘Thin Blue Line Flag’ to symbolize their undemocratic, racist, and bigoted views.”
LAPD Chief Moore also questioned officers' actions in the fatal shooting of Takar Smith, although not in two other fatal incidents.
In a conversation with LAist, the new sheriff acknowledges that, as an outsider, "I have my work cut out for me" in winning the support of the department's rank-and-file.
He was elected in 2018 after running as a progressive Democrat who would reform the department. He ended up fiercely resisting oversight and clashing with watchdogs and the rest of the county’s political establishment.