Current Los Angeles County sheriff Alex Villanueva campaigned with the promise he would clean up the literally gang-infested Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD). Once he took office, however, he just became part of the problem. Rogue units of deputies continued to freely operate, resulting in federal lawsuits, a bunch of whistleblowing, and [re-reads report] the attempted removal of an LASD gang tattoo with a [re-re-reads report] handgun.
The Sheriff has responded to criticism of his non-efforts to purge the department of bad officers by opening investigations into his critics and threatening city council members with defamation lawsuits for (truthfully) referring to the existence of deputy gangs in his department.
The intimidation continues. The LASD recently searched the homes of two longtime critics, walking away with phones, computers, and a re-established chilling effect. Alene Tchekmedyian reports on the latest for the Los Angeles Times:
Los Angeles County sheriff’s investigators searched the house of county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl on Wednesday as part of a criminal investigation into a county contract awarded to a nonprofit organization.
A few minutes after 7 a.m., a deputy pounded on the front door of the supervisor’s Santa Monica property, with several other deputies lined up behind him.
“Sheriff’s Department. We have a warrant. We demand entry,” he shouted. Kuehl appeared shortly after and was handed some paperwork. Several deputies went inside.
According to the warrant, this search was part of an alleged corruption investigation spearheaded by the LASD. But the targets are conspicuous in their similarities.
A copy of the warrant, signed by Superior Court Judge Craig Richman, showed that the search was tied to an ongoing probe into Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit run by Patti Giggans, a member of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission and a close friend to Kuehl. Both Kuehl and Giggans have clashed fiercely with Sheriff Alex Villanueva and have called for his resignation.
Giggans’ house was also searched by the LASD, along with the LA County Hall of Administration, and the Metro Transportation Authority’s HQ. All of these searches were supposedly related to the contract awarded to Peace Over Violence by the county. Despite first claiming it could not talk about the ongoing investigation, the LASD later posted a detailed statement to its website, alleging bribery of a country supervisor.
If there’s any legal basis for these claims, much less their accompanying searches, the county DA’s office hasn’t seen anything. In addition, it says it’s not going to help the LASD harass its critics.
Later on Wednesday, the county district attorney’s office said in a statement that prosecutors “were not consulted or aware of the search warrants that were served today. In this case, because we did not review the warrant beforehand, we do not intend to defend it if challenged in court.”
Prosecutors aren’t just saying this stuff to distance themselves from the toxic sheriff or because they’re not privy to the details. The DA’s office said it was presented evidence by LASD investigators last year, but didn’t see anything resembling evidence that would “prove criminal conduct beyond a reasonable doubt.” The LASD didn’t let that declaration deter its investigation of these two critics and forged ahead. The DA’s office said last September’s shoot-down of the LASD’s evidence presentation was the last contact the office has had with the department.
Even if we choose to believe this is a legitimate investigation into potential bribery, there’s no explanation for this:
When a tow truck prepared to take away her car, Giggans angrily objected, saying the warrant did not authorize seizing the vehicle. “This is a lawsuit in the making,” Giggans said, adding, “Bullies.”
The department had already seized computers and flash drives, both potential sources of evidence related to the alleged crimes. Trying to take a car that would provide zero evidence related to the investigation is nothing more than a power move by the LASD, testing the waters to see what it could get away with.
And already some of the LASD’s sprawling, detractor-targeting investigation has been shut down by a judge. An order issued late last week prevents the Sheriff’s Department from searching some of the computers they seized.
The order from Judge William Ryan applies solely to computers sheriff’s investigators took from Metro’s Office of Inspector General, whose attorney filed papers Thursday asking the judge to toss the search warrant used to seize the equipment.
The attorney argued that the warrant served this week was illegal. He said it failed to comply with a ruling made by a different judge regarding “an identical warrant” served last year in the same case, which has generated criticism that Sheriff Alex Villanueva is targeting his critics.
Whatever the eventual fallout from this show of force, Sheriff Villanueva is sure to survive it. He’s elected, which means he can’t be run out of office until voters decide they’ve had enough. And until they decide that, this is the sort of dubious law enforcement work they’ll be paying handsomely for.