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For The First Time In Over A Year, Villanueva Appears At Sheriff Watchdog Meeting

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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. (L.A. Sheriff's Department)
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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva attended the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission meeting Thursday, marking the first time he's made an appearance since July 2019.

"Thanks for being here, you've been missed over these last many, many months," Commissioner Priscilla Ocen told the sheriff.

The meeting was a rare moment of cooperation in a relationship that has been marked by frequent clashes. Earlier this year, Villanueva defied a commission subpoena to testify, saying his appearance would be a "public shaming endeavor."

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In October, the Commission called on Villanueva to resign, citing his alleged failure to rein in "violent deputy cliques or gangs" operating in the Compton and East L.A. stations and his alleged attempts to block efforts to "ensure independent oversight of deputy-involved shooting investigations," among several other complaints.

Last month, a judge said the sheriff had to honor the commission's subpoena, and set a January hearing for Villanueva's lawyers to argue why he should not be held in contempt of court.

The sheriff's hour-long testimony Thursday focused on deputy cliques.

"Have you personally made it clear to department personnel that the days of deputy cliques are over?" Commissioner Robert Bonner asked the sheriff.

"We've made this very, very clear that those days are behind us," Villanueva said.

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At the same time, the sheriff noted that the policy he enacted earlier this year does not forbid deputies from joining cliques; rather, it forbids them from joining any group that violates others' rights.

It states: "Department personnel shall not participate or join in any group of Department employees which promotes conduct that violates the rights of other employees or members of the public. Participation in these illicit groups, herein referred to as 'deputy cliques' or 'subgroups' which often include an associated symbol and/or tattoo, harms morale and erodes public trust."

Villanueva said just banning membership in these groups would run afoul of the Constitution.

Bonner disagreed, arguing the policy should explicitly ban membership in cliques. "If this policy doesn't cover that, then you need to re-write this policy to make it clear," he said.

Bonner said the oversight panel was provided with information that "just within the last two weeks, three deputies in the East L.A. station were inked, that is to say they became members of the Banditos."

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Villanueva asked for the information to be shared with his department so it could conduct a "proper assessment."

The sheriff said he would be open to attending more of the commission's meetings in the future.