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Sheriff Villanueva - Part 5
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Episode 5
Sheriff Villanueva - Part 5
By the end of 2021, Alex Villanueva has done a 180. Once supported by the local Democratic party, he’s become a darling of Fox News. Instead of working closely with immigration activists, he’s proposing a military-style approach to clear all the unhoused off the streets. He’s won the intense loyalty of the overwhelming majority of his deputies, but lots of people who voted for him in 2018 have changed their minds. Villanueva now faces an uphill fight to win another four years in office.

Frank Stoltze  00:01

I'd been wanting to talk to Sheriff Alex Villanueva one more time before the election, but I didn't think it would happen. After our first interview for this podcast, the Sheriff had called me out of the blue. He complained about my questions and accused me of being unfair. He said he wished he had never done the first interview. So I'm surprised when a few weeks before voting starts, someone from the Sheriff's campaign calls me, agreeing to set up a second interview. I ask Villanueva why.

Sheriff Villanueva  00:29

Well, my goal one day is to reform you, and to make you a credible journalist. And I still hold out hope for you that one day, you'll embrace the concept that there's a corrupt establishment. And an honest man is never welcome in a den of thieves.

Frank Stoltze  00:45

You're not kidding, are you?

Sheriff Villanueva  00:46

No, I'm not k- I'm dead serious. [music in]

Frank Stoltze  00:49

How do you think you can make me a better journalist?

Sheriff Villanueva  00:54

When you start r- askin', goin' after information, asking questions. But if you limit your questions to what your preconceived bias is, well, then you're, you're never gonna discover the whole truth, or the other side of the story, you're not.

Frank Stoltze  00:58

What he means is his truth. Villanueva is seeking a second four-year term, and this time around, he's no longer a no-name candidate, an underdog with no leadership experience. He's the sitting sheriff. He's also no longer running as a progressive reformer. He's instead catering to a totally different group of voters, with a different message.

Sheriff Villanueva  01:33

[audio clip] They want a woke sheriff funded by George Soros. [people mumbling in background] Imagine what that would look like with our woke DA. So if you- [woman: What can we do to help you?] Spread the word. Spread the word.

Frank Stoltze  01:48

Villanueva has served as Sheriff during a period of intense scrutiny of law enforcement, [sounds of protest and chanting] and lots of people in LA hoped he would meet the moment. Now that we've seen him in office for four years, and we know what kind of Sheriff he's been, who still supports him? Who doesn't? And why? Did Villanueva pull a bait and switch? Or is this who he was all along? This is Imperfect Paradise: The Sheriff. I'm Frank Stoltze. [music out]

Frank Stoltze  02:22

In my second interview with Villanueva, I wanted to drill down on what he meant by reform.

Frank Stoltze  02:28

You know, what you meant when you said, "I am a reformer." You know, clearly, the former supporters had a definition of what reformer meant- people who supported you in 2018. What did you mean by reformer?

Sheriff Villanueva  02:42

When I said reform, I said I was gonna reform the way we do our business. And we've done exactly that.

Frank Stoltze  02:47

But not all of Villanueva's supporters from the 2018 campaign agree he's "done exactly that." [music in] Four years ago, Angelica Salas of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles or CHIRLA, walked door to door for Villanueva. And not long after he won, he called her up. He wanted to show her how he had made good on one of his biggest promises- to get federal immigration or ICE agents out of the jails.

Angelica Salas  03:18

When he called and he said, Yeh- I want to set up an appointment so you can come into the jail, and you can see for yourself, what has happened.

Frank Stoltze  03:24

Villanueva gave her a personal tour of the Twin Towers downtown jail.

Angelica Salas  03:29

The most important, he said, and I want you to see that this office that used to have ICE here is empty. And I remember that I just felt like, and this is why we elected him, like, in my opinion, this is the hard work. So I was like okay, this has been fulfilled.

Frank Stoltze  03:46

The transfer of people to ICE plummeted 50% during Villanueva's first year in office. It went from more than 900 people to less than 500. He ended transfers entirely during COVID. It was huge. This was the single biggest issue that got him elected, at a moment when former President Trump was promising mass deportations. For Angelica, Villanueva fulfilled his promise. He also came through on another big promise- equipping deputies with body worn cameras, something his predecessor had dragged his feet on. So when Angelica first started hearing criticism of Villanueva early in his term, she defended him.

Angelica Salas  03:48

Why is there so much scrutiny of this sheriff in comparison to McDonnell and Baca because this corruption has existed for a long time. But then there's a certain moment where you start seeing that this person who had promised to be a progressive, who had promised to be transparent, who had promised to be working with community was not doing that.

Frank Stoltze  04:52

She's talking about Villanueva's decision to rehire Carl Mandoyan, who had been fired over allegations of domestic violence and lying. Mandoyan was Villanueva's personal driver during his campaign. She noticed Villanueva kept blaming others for all of the department's problems.

Angelica Salas  05:09

My sense with Sheriff Villanueva is that he never wanted to admit to those who are doing wrong, that he basically and instead really protected deputies that were not fulfilling their duties to protect our community.

Frank Stoltze  05:24

She realized at that moment that this person who had sold himself as a progressive reformer, who she helped get elected- he still came from law enforcement. His bond with fellow deputies, she believed, was stronger than his bond with the people he was supposed to protect and serve.

Angelica Salas  05:42

What I remember saying to somebody was, we have to be okay with the complexity of this, where he fulfills something for the immigrant rights. You need to recognize that he actually did what he committed to do, even if he is not fulfilling all the rest of his promises. I felt like there was an unwillingness to see that which he had fulfilled and that which was still lacking. [music out]

Frank Stoltze  06:08

Angelica no longer supports Villanueva, and CHIRLA's action fund didn't endorse him this year, or any other candidate for sheriff. She told me they were wary of making the Villanueva mistake again. That's what she called it- the Villanueva Mistake- backing a reformer who, at the end of the day, wasn't as progressive as they thought. Angelica wasn't the only one using that phrase. That's after the break. [break]

Frank Stoltze  06:39

Like Angelica, Hans Johnson of the East Area Progressive Democrats also got a call from the Sheriff during his first weeks in office. Hans knew his way around LA politics, and he had supported Villanueva, and now the Sheriff wanted his help. But Hans was concerned by then about Villanueva's decision to bring back Carl Mandoyan.

Hans Johnson  07:00

That, to me, was so damning. And, as a public servant, to put your own private interest in a crony's hope of regaining a job with you, ahead of the public interest and the manifest public outcry over what this former deputy had done- to me, was so inexcusable.

Frank Stoltze  07:27

But it wasn't just bringing back Mandoyan. The story Villanueva was telling about why he brought him back made no sense to Hans. He felt like it was full of blatant mischaracterizations and inaccuracies.

Hans Johnson  07:40

I began to be aware of the conspiratorial thinking that gripped him as he became Sheriff of Los Angeles County. [music in] He was in thrall to a conspiracy that former Sheriff's Department staff and county staff were engaged in a plot to undo him.

Frank Stoltze  08:05

And what are you saying back to him?

Hans Johnson  08:08

I'm taking it in because I am struck by the bunker mentality, and everyone being out to get him is a position to me that just smacks of delusion.

Frank Stoltze  08:23

As time went on, Hans and other supporters within the Democratic Party say they began to see other problems with Villanueva. So in June 2021, they called for him to resign. In their resolution, the party accused him of perpetuating a culture of police brutality. It cited a rise in the number of deputy shootings. It said Villanueva had blocked efforts by the Inspector General and the Sheriff's Civilian Oversight Commission to investigate deputy gangs. It said he has allowed deputies to harass families of shooting victims. And it said all of this disproportionately affected Black and Latino residents of LA County. [music out]

Frank Stoltze  09:10

When the Democrats called for his resignation, it was a huge blow to Villanueva, who had prided himself on being the first Democrat elected sheriff in 100 years.

Frank Stoltze  09:20

So what was that like for you to have a- all this amazing support? I mean, the Democratic Party propels you in, what's it like to just-

Sheriff Villanueva  09:28

Well, it's a betrayal, really, because I realized that the LA County Democratic Party has been overtaken by an ultra-progressive far left group that has no desire to have a big umbrella that everybody can fit under.

Frank Stoltze  09:44

But these are the same people that propelled you to victory. [SV: They did.] They're the same people that you liked back in [SV: Right.] 2018.

Sheriff Villanueva  09:51

All of a sudden, come 2020 roughly about the time of the George Floyd murder, [FS: Umm hmm.] and the whole defunding of law enforcement. Then, they did a radical shift in gear, and it was all about defund the police. All cops are bastards, blah, blah, blah.

Frank Stoltze  10:08

The Sheriff is making a straw man argument. The local Democratic Party never called for defunding the police. He is distorting his opposition into an extreme version of itself, then mocking it.

Frank Stoltze  10:21

You're aware that rank and file Democrats, even people at CHIRLA, certainly police reform activists, say you're the one that changed, that you're the one that presented yourself as a progressive reformer and turned out to be something else.

Sheriff Villanueva  10:36

Well, they were trying to brand as conservatives, or Maga this, or Trump supporters, all that- it's all fake.

Frank Stoltze  10:43

[music in] Not all of Villanueva's original supporters have turned their back on him. Back when Villanueva was running for sheriff the first time, he looked for support from a powerful group that wields a lot of influence inside and outside the department. But the pitch he made to them at a closed-door meeting, where no reporters were allowed, was very different from the pitch he was making publicly. And I wonder if we'd all paid a little more attention to it, maybe we wouldn't have been so surprised by who Villanueva turned out to be.

Sheriff Villanueva  11:18

[audio clip] Good evening members of the political endorsement committee and ALADS members attending. It's an honor to be here debating the future of the Sheriff's department... [duck under]

Frank Stoltze  11:27

Back during Villanueva's 2018 campaign for sheriff, he met with the leaders of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs- ALADS. ALADS represents sheriff's deputies in labor negotiations and provides legal representation when deputies are accused of misconduct. It also backs political candidates. During this meeting, Villanueva is standing at a lectern taking questions from deputies.

Sheriff Villanueva  11:51

[audio clip] We have an opportunity to take the department back from the special interests that are destroying the LASD. And I can enter the office of Sheriff with a credibility of being a true reformer.

Frank Stoltze  12:02

And here are the kinds of reforms he wants to make. He says he'll consider giving jail guards back their metal flashlights- something that was previously banned because deputies were using them to hit people, not to see in the dark.

Sheriff Villanueva  12:15

[audio clip] I want to give the deputies, the staff that work in custody, all the tools they need to defend themselves.

Frank Stoltze  12:22

He says he'll review the cases of deputies who've been fired, to see if they really should have been.

Sheriff Villanueva  12:26

[audio clip] We're going to have to go through all the things that happened in those last now going on 18 years, and find out who was harmed, who was wrongfully harmed.

Frank Stoltze  12:36

He says he'll rewrite former Sheriff Jim McDonnell's tough discipline guidelines.

Sheriff Villanueva  12:40

[audio clip] Our discipline system is shattered. As Sheriff, I have the intention actually redoing the entire system from the ground up. [music out]

Frank Stoltze  12:57

When I hear about reforming the Sheriff's Department, I think about the need to address jail violence, deputy gangs, and bad shootings. But when Villanueva talks about reform here, behind closed doors in front of a friendly crowd, he means something different. He means fixing a department that he believes doesn't treat its deputies well.

Sheriff Villanueva  13:16

[audio clip] Well, I want to thank everyone for uh, for listening. And I want to point out a few things. This race is about trust- is who do you trust in the office of Sheriff? Someone who's worn that uniform of tan and green. And I fought for the rights of the marginalized, the weak, the people that don't have a voice. I've done that since the very beginning.

Frank Stoltze  13:40

ALADS ended up endorsing Villanueva and its members are his fiercest supporters.

Frank Stoltze  13:47

[music in] A survey of deputies by their union found 86% backed Villanueva for a second term. To understand better why, I wanted to talk to one of them. So I sat down with Deputy Steve Blagg in a conference room at the homicide bureau's headquarters in Monterey Park. Steve investigates murders. He's been a sheriff's deputy for over 30 years. He's dressed in a murder cop's uniform- shirt and tie, badge on his belt. Look closely at his blue paisley tie and you see a small pin in the middle- a silver bulldog with the number 187. The bulldog is homicide's mascot. 187 is the penal code for murder. I ask him how he thinks Villanueva has performed as sheriff.

Steve Blagg  14:41

At heart, he's still a deputy. He truly cares about the men and women that are out there doing this job every day. I mean, sometimes it doesn't come off great to the outside world and the media. But I believe when the deputies who are on this department, they see him out there. They see him, you know, speaking on their behalf. And as being a deputy, that means a lot to us when we have a boss that is actually out there trying to do better by us.

Frank Stoltze  15:17

Deputies like a sheriff who is unafraid to stand up to what they see as the forces working against them- police reformers, the Civilian Oversight Commission, the District Attorney. Someone who doesn't kneel with protesters, like LAPD Chief Michael Moore did, as a gesture of solidarity during the George Floyd demonstrations. He says it's a tough time to be a cop.

Steve Blagg  15:41

Folks passing by will either yell derogatory things towards us, just because we're there. I mean, we're here trying to investigate the murder of somebody which is someone's loved one. My partner and I were grabbing something to eat. We're waiting in line. A person walks past us, and basically says, you know, pigs, you're nothing but a bunch of murderers. And I asked the person I said, What do you mean by that? You don't even know who I am. And the person said, No, every single cop I know is a murderer.

Frank Stoltze  16:17

After covering police for decades, I've noticed a growing us versus them mentality. It's a dynamic Villanueva seems to feed into. In fact, his new campaign slogan is, "Finally someone on our side." [music out] Villanueva says he's still a registered Democrat, but the party has abandoned him. Now, he needs new support. So last December, he accepted an invitation to speak at the LA County Republican Party's Winter Wonderland holiday event. That's after a break. [break]

Announcer  16:55

[audio clip] It's my honor to bring up the Los Angeles County Sheriff. [clapping and cheering]

Sheriff Villanueva  17:03

[audio clip] Thank you for inviting me here. Thank you for having an open mind. I know some things I may do you may disagree with, other things you may agree with. But trust me, every decision I make, it's a hard analysis of what's the best thing for public safety moving forward.

Frank Stoltze  17:18

I'm here in the backyard of a modest home. It's at the end of a cul de sac not far from LAX. There is Mexican food and holiday chocolates and an open bar. People wear festive sweaters and ties and they're nodding their heads as Villanueva speaks. His comments by now are not shocking. He no longer describes himself as a progressive reformer and uses the language of the right to describe opponents.

Sheriff Villanueva  17:44

[audio clip] They want a woke Sheriff funded by George Soros. [people mumble in background] Imagine what that would look like with our woke DA. So if you- [woman: What can we do to help you?] Spread the word. Spread the word.

Frank Stoltze  17:58

He's criticizing the Board of Supervisors.

Sheriff Villanueva  18:01

[audio clip] Why is Holly Mitchell? Sheila Kuehl. Hilda Solis. Yoga Pants. All these people- [laughter] Why are they committed to harming the public to make a social experiment? Why?

Frank Stoltze  18:19

He has nicknames for some of his rivals just like Donald Trump. Yoga Pants is what the Sheriff calls LA Mayor, Eric Garcetti. Next, he turns to his favorite punching bag, the LA Times.

Sheriff Villanueva  18:32

[audio clip] The Times- they would rather eat their own liver [laughter] than admit that we did something right. It is officially impossible for them to acknowledge something right.

Frank Stoltze  18:43

Knowing the homelessness crisis is the number one issue for LA voters, Villanueva says he has made it his top priority. Amid heated debate over knotty issues like temporary shelters, housing affordability, and mental health and drug treatment, Villanueva says just let him take care of it.

Sheriff Villanueva  19:01

[audio clip] Give me 90 days and the full cooperation of city and county. We will map this out military style. One third planning a month and two thirds execution. We can get everybody in, get everything cleaned up, and get everybody the help they need.

Frank Stoltze  19:18

Villanueva is not just courting Republicans in private. He's also talking to them on Fox News. Here he is on Tucker Carlson last year, explaining why he's refusing to enforce LA County's vaccine mandate for his deputies.

Tucker Carlson  19:32

[audio clip] Your priorities are so exactly in the right place. I just have to ask you: Are people thanking you for taking a stand on this?

Sheriff Villanueva  19:39

[audio clip] Well, I got a lot of people that are thanking me from across the political spectrum except for [TC: Yeah.] one group. The woke left who has somehow embraced this idea like it's another cultural war to fight a mandate.

Tucker Carlson  19:50

[audio clip] Man, w- why didn't you run for governor [laughs]? Sheriff, I appreciate your coming on tonight. [SV: chuckles] Sorry to embarrass you with that. Great to see you. [SV: No, you got it.] God speed.

Frank Stoltze  19:59

I asked Villanueva, with everything we know about the lies Tucker Carlson spews, the subtle race baiting, how he feels about going on his show.

Sheriff Villanueva  20:09

When I appear on Fox, they actually allow me to speak and, and say and tell my story. When I go on a media that's on the other side, it's "isn't it true this, isn't it true that," and they're trying to shift or craft the entire narrative into um y- kn- I'm in a, in a deposition for a lawsuit. And on the other side, they actually listen to what what I'm saying. And for them, public safety is a big thing for their audience. For the far left, public safety is really not that big of a deal.

Frank Stoltze  20:41

So you think Fox is fairer to you?

Sheriff Villanueva  20:43

I think they're more receptive to the message that I have.

Frank Stoltze  20:50

[music in] Villanueva's approach to being sheriff has made him a star in the constellation that makes up the American right-wing firmament. And while LA is deeply blue, there are plenty of people who like that about him. On Primary Day in June, producers Marina Pena, and Francisco Aviles Pino went out to interview voters as they were leaving the polls. People were divided over the Sheriff. Some residents of Venice were happy he moved to clear unhoused people off the famous boardwalk, even if it was in LAPD territory.

Chie Lunn  21:22

[audio clip] He stepped up to the plate, and he didn't allow for elected officials to get in the way of that.

Frank Stoltze  21:28

Others like how he's talked tough on crime and stood up to the liberal DA.

Anna  21:33

[audio clip] He's a law-and-order man. Good enough for me.

Frank Stoltze  21:38

And there are people who support him because of who he is.

Santiago  21:40

[audio clip] Yo siempre apoyo a los Latinos cuando el Latino esta haciendo algo provechoso.

Frank Stoltze  21:47

He's saying, I always support Latinos when they're doing something useful. But there are many who say Villanueva pulled a bait and switch.

Leonard Sanchez  21:56

[audio clip] And I thought he would have been a good candidate, a positive, you know, a change. So, I mean, it didn't work out that way.

Liliana Cortez  22:02

[audio clip] In 2018 um, actually, you know, now that I think about it, I may have voted for him. And you know, he was running as a reformist. So, you know, I think we've learned our lesson from 2018. There is no such thing as reforming the Police Department or the Sheriff's Department. [music out]

Frank Stoltze  22:23

Villanueva's opponent in the fall runoff is former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna. Here he is speaking to KPCC's Larry Mantle.

Robert Luna  22:31

[audio clip] I would do a complete 180 from what's happening right now. I believe that you need to find a balance in keeping LA County safe, supporting your employees, doing meaningful reform. But do it without so much conflict, drama, and chaos.

Frank Stoltze  22:50

His pitch to voters is essentially, I'm not Villanueva. For some people, that's enough. That concerns Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson. He's the head of Dignity and Power Now, a grassroots organization fighting to abolish the LA County Sheriff's Department as we know it because Mark-Anthony thinks the department can never truly be reformed from within.

Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson  23:14

There's not really a sheriff candidate that I would say I get excited about in terms of solving the fundamental issues with the department.

Frank Stoltze  23:22

Wait a minute, there's no sheriff that that can make these reforms?

Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson  23:27

I think you're going to find that sheriffs will run against a lot of limitations including the unions, including the deputy gangs.

Frank Stoltze  23:34

The jails, for example, remain a persistent problem.

Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson  23:38

After almost a decade of DOJ intervention, and ACLU lawsuits and public and national exposure and grassroots power and board of supervisor intervention, we had the deadliest year in the jails that we've had in almost a decade.

Frank Stoltze  23:53

55 people died while in jail last year. The department has said most of those deaths were "natural." Researchers at UCLA, however, found a disturbing pattern of mis-classifying violent jail deaths. [pause] Mark-Anthony reminded me that Alex Villanueva isn't the first sheriff to sell himself as a "reformer." Former Sheriff Lee Baca, who ended up in federal prison for his role in covering up the jail violence scandal, also ran as a reformer. He mentions Villanueva's opponent, Robert Luna.

Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson  24:26

The question is less around for me, can Luna reform the department? But if he can, will that stop the fundamental problems with the department? Will that change the fundamental nature of the department? The problem of unchecked violence, the problem of the ability of law enforcement to secure such a massive portion of our county budget. You know, all these things are things that the department has proven to be able to do under any political climate. Under any political leadership.

Frank Stoltze  24:58

The culture persists. [MACJ: Yeah.]

Frank Stoltze  25:01

He's worried that if Villanueva's opponent, Robert Luna wins, people could just breathe a sigh of relief. They might say, well, at least it's not Villanueva and start paying less attention to the inherent problems within the department.

Mark-Anthony Clayton-Johnson  25:15

We will not allow another election to go by where voters in Los Angeles County don't see the sheriff as a really critical place where they need to vote.

Frank Stoltze  25:24

[music in] This is a time when all of law enforcement is under incredible scrutiny. In Los Angeles, Sheriff Villanueva and his department are in the spotlight the way the LAPD was in the 1990s. There are three separate investigations by the FBI, state attorney general, and a grand jury- all looking into allegations of brutality, false arrests, and cover ups within the Sheriff's Department. The Board of Supervisors cancelled a contract for a new sheriff's jail. In 2020, voters approved a measure to spend more money on alternatives to incarceration. And that same year, they elected a progressive DA, George Gascón. Finally, this November, voters will decide on whether to make a massive change to how the LA County Sheriff is held accountable. There's a ballot measure that will allow the Board of Supervisors to remove an elected sheriff with a four fifths vote. The board placed this highly unusual measure on the ballot in response to Villanueva's behavior as sheriff. [music out] To Villanueva, this is one more example of how the entire Democratic political establishment in Los Angeles has been out to get him, that all along, it has conspired to make him a one term sheriff.

Frank Stoltze  26:47

Why do you think they wanted to do that? What's their motivation?

Sheriff Villanueva  26:51

They did not want to see me succeed. They're objective from day one, so to see me fail. [FS: Why?] Because they cannot have an honest independent sheriff. If you're running a corrupt entity, a criminal enterprise, the last thing you want is an honest person in your midst. I am an honest person in their midst. That's why they've been freaking out since day one.

Frank Stoltze  27:11

[music in] In the weeks leading up to the election, polls were showing Villanueva trailing his challenger, Robert Luna. He seemed increasingly desperate. And on September 14th, I got an early morning text from a source. It said, "Lillienfeld hitting Sheila's house in 15 minutes." Lillienfeld is Mark Lillienfeld. He is someone Villanueva brought back from retirement to lead his newly created public corruption unit. Some call it the sheriff's secret police. Sheila is Sheila Kuehl, one of five Los Angeles County Supervisors. Mark Lillienfeld is about to raid her house in Santa Monica. I throw on some clothes and jump in the car. As I arrive, the last of the sheriff's deputies are driving away in their black and whites and unmarked cars. Sheila is emerging from the front door of her two-story house on Pearl Street. She walks across the street where a dozen reporters are waiting.

Sheila Kuehl  28:08

[audio clip] [ambi reporters talking] [reporter: Hold on. Let me uh- I'm trying to work with my-] All right. Take- Take your time guys. They took my phones. Consequently, I can't work today.

Frank Stoltze  28:17

As a news helicopter circles above, she says a county attorney had warned her about a possible raid.

Sheila Kuehl  28:22

[audio clip] Put on some clothes, went downstairs, opened the door and I have never seen so many deputies all in one place. You know, it's just me. I'm five foot tall and 81 years old.

Frank Stoltze  28:34

This is not the only raid happening this morning. Deputies also descend on the house of Patti Giggans, a friend of the supervisors who runs a non-profit. The Sheriff says Sheila used her influence to help Patti get a lucrative government contract. Sheila says that's outrageous.

Sheila Kuehl  28:49

[audio clip] I never voted on the contract, and I knew nothing about the contract.

Frank Stoltze  28:54

Sheila and Patti are two of the Sheriff's sharpest critics. Sheila was one of the first to call for his resignation. And Patti sits on the Sheriff's Civilian Oversight Commission.

Frank Stoltze  29:04

[audio clip] [ambi helicopters] Why do you think he's doing this?

Sheila Kuehl  29:06

[audio clip] It's like an enemies list. He was investigating anybody who was critical of him. But it all has to come back to the Sheriff and the department being so out of control that a thing like this could happen.

Frank Stoltze  29:19

This raid came weeks before voting started in the 2022 election. And to me, it seemed like a campaign stunt. Villanueva insisted that wasn't the case. [music in] Since our interview in late September, Villanueva has been texting me. At 6:10 on a recent Saturday evening, I got a message. He said he had read a story of mine the day before. It was about another one of his extraordinary moves. He had blocked the inspector general from entering any Sheriff's Department building or accessing its records, period. Villanueva accused me of being "complicit" with the Board of Supervisors in pushing a false narrative. When I pushed back, he responded, "Denial is not a river in Egypt." He's still trying to convince me, and LA County voters, of the righteousness of his cause. [music out]

Frank Stoltze  30:33

[music in] Imperfect Paradise is a production of LAist Studios. This episode was written and reported by a bunch of us, and hosted by me, Frank Stoltze. Our senior producer is Emily Guerin. Marina Peña is our producer, and Francisco Aviles Pino is our associate producer. Editing by Meg Cramer and Paul Glickman. Fact checking by Caitlin Antonios. Sound design and scoring by Emma Alabaster. Mixing by E. Scott Kelly. Original music by J. Valle. Bruno Lopez-Vega is our intern. Antonia Cereijido and Leo G are the executive producers for LAist Studios. Our website is designed by Andy Cheatwood and the digital and marketing teams at LAist Studios. The marketing team of LAist Studios created our branding. Thanks to the team at KPCC and LAist Studios, including Megan Garvey, Tony Marcano, Taylor Coffman, Sabir Brara, Kristen Hayford, Kristen Muller, Andy Orozco, Michael Cosentino, Donald Paz, and thanks to our VP, Shana Naomi Krochmal. Special thanks to my family, friends and mentors who have provided so much support to me during the making of this podcast. Support for this podcast is made possible by Gordon and Dona Crawford, who believe that quality journalism makes Los Angeles a better place to live. This podcast was made possible with support from the Committee for Greater LA in partnership with the Weingart Foundation. This program is made possible in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people. [music out]