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LA County asks judge to hold Sheriff Villanueva in contempt for ignoring subpoenas

The embattled sheriff has ignored three subpoenas from the Civilian Oversight Commission.

(CN) — The county of Los Angeles asked a judge to hold Sheriff Alex Villanueva in contempt for ignoring three subpoenas issued by the Civilian Oversight Commission last fall, in a court filing on Wednesday.

The commission ordered Sheriff Villanueva to testify on two different topics: a unit within the sheriff's department set up, according to the Los Angeles Times, to investigate critics of the department; and the department's policy regarding gangs, or "deputy cliques," amongst sheriff's deputies.

"Villanueva disobeyed all three subpoenas by refusing to appear before the [oversight commission] and by declining to testify under oath," reads the court filing. "Indeed, Sheriff Villanueva has flatly declared he will 'not agree to be placed under oath' under any circumstance."

When Villanueva was subpoenaed in September, he wrote the commission to say, "my schedule is extremely busy and my calendar is usually filled months, if not years, in advance."

The following month, in response to being handed another subpoena, he explained in a press release: "Although they have subpoena power, it is an abuse of power to simply use it to demand I show up and then testify under oath... They are there to offer advice, not interrogate. I have freely answered questions in the past, so why now do they want to interrogate me under oath in an adversarial setting?"

The Civilian Oversight Commission is a 9-member advisory panel, appointed by the Board of Supervisors and set up in 2016. After Sheriff Villanueva stonewalled the commission in its efforts to investigate deputy gangs, the Board of Supervisors voted to give the commission subpoena power, a power later reaffirmed by a voter referendum and a new state law.

Still, Villanueva refused to cooperate with the Oversight Commission. When the commission subpoenaed him to testify about the effects of Covid in the jails in May 2020, Villanueva was a no-show. The county asked the judge to order the sheriff to show cause why he shouldn't be held in contempt. After Judge Holly Fujie granted that request, Villanueva did appear before the commission — but only "voluntarily," and not under oath.

Villanueva also refused to answer a February 2021 subpoena issued by the office of the inspector general. Villanueva filed a petition to quash the subpoena, calling it "too broad" and "harassing," but Judge James Chalfant dismissed it. The request to hold Villanueva in contempt in that matter is still pending.

Villanueva, who faces a tough reelection fight this year, has cut a defiant figure lately. He is a frequent guest on Fox News, where he can be seen speaking out against the county's vaccine mandate, the city's homelessness policy, even Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. He also makes regular appearances on Facebook Live, a forum he uses to give long, rambling monologues denouncing the Civilian Oversight Commission, the Board of Supervisor, District Attorney George Gascon, the LA Metro board and the Los Angeles Times.

"Yellow journalism is alive and well in Los Angeles," Villanueva said on Facebook Live last week, after a Times editorial listed him, in a pre-Christmas piece, as "naughty," alongside Tucker Carlson, Joe Manchin and billionaires.

He criticized the Oversight Commission for having no Latino members, adding: "When they're using their position to be political attack dogs for the Board of Supervisors, they have zero value for the community." And he railed against every other elected official in the region: "Every single seat at the county and city level is dominated by woke individuals. There is no other point of view, no other single perspective allowed."

A representative from the Sheriff's Department could not be reached for comment.

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