A court order requiring the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to cease searching computers seized from L.A. Metro’s inspector general has been expanded by a Superior Court judge to also include devices taken from the home of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl and from other county agencies.
The ruling Tuesday, Sept. 20, by Judge William Ryan requires sheriff’s detectives to immediately stop their searches, to refrain from duplicating any hard drives and to compile a list of anyone who has created or reviewed copies of the drives already. It mirrors an identical ruling from Sept. 15 that only applied to Metro’s Office of the Inspector General.
Ryan received emergency applications Monday from attorneys for Kuehl, Metro’s headquarters and Max Huntsman, Los Angeles County’s inspector general, requesting similar rulings in their favor. The judge declined to dismiss the warrants outright and did not order the return of any of the seized property, but he has agreed to freeze the searches temporarily until he can hear all sides at a hearing scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 22.
Ryan has demanded the Sheriff’s Department explain why it sought search warrants from a different judge after Judge Eleanor Hunter had decided just days earlier that a special master — a court-appointed third-party overseer — should monitor the searches.
In her filing, Kuehl’s attorney, Cheryl O’Connor, called the items seized from the supervisor’s home “shockingly overboard,” noting deputies took recordings of “Broadside,” a television show Kuehl starred in during the 1960s, and materials related to a UCLA camp where the supervisor served as a student counselor.
“Simply put, this search warrant should be seen for what it is: a flagrant abuse of power and an offense to the rule of law,” O’Connor wrote in the emergency application.
Kuehl’s attorney stated the seized computers could contain privileged information, including communications that pertain to political rival Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
“As Sheriff Villaneuva and the LASD are undoubtedly aware, in the ordinary course of her official duties, Supervisor Kuehl sends and receives attorney-client privileged communications to and from both County Counsel and the LASD Office of Inspector General, including privileged communications about ongoing investigations into both Sheriff Villanueva himself and the LASD,” O’Connor wrote. “Yet the search warrant contains no protocol to protect against invasion of attorney-client privilege, such as a request for a special master or use of a filter team to review items seized from Supervisor Kuehl’s home or office.”
The sheriff’s probe into Kuehl and Giggans, a civilian oversight commissioner, is related to a series of contracts, worth $890,0000, awarded by L.A. Metro to Giggans’ nonprofit, Peace Over Violence, for an anti-harassment campaign and hotline for the county transit system.
Undersheriff Tim Murakami, who leads the department’s public corruption unit, said the searches will help investigators “prove or disprove” allegations against the two officials. Their investigation largely comes from the complaints of a former Metro employee who alleges Peace Over Violence received the original contract in 2017 due to a behind-the-scenes push from Kuehl, a close friend and ally of Giggans.
Kuehl has described the former employee as “disgruntled” and accused the sheriff of using the investigation as a “thuggish attempt to intimidate and silence” two of his most vocal critics. Kuehl and Giggans had previously called for Villanueva’s resignation.
Peace Over Violence did not respond to a request for comment.
The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which typically handles public corruption cases, declined to prosecute this case when the Sheriff’s Department presented it last year. Prosecutors publicly stated they would not defend the search warrants if they were challenged.
Meanwhile, the Sheriff’s Department has accused county counsel of firing its attorney ahead of the legal challenges to the search warrants and leaving the law enforcement agency without the means to hire its own counsel.