Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva argues that as head of a government agency his time is better spent not sitting down for interviews.
LOS ANGELES (CN) — Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says he will not honor a subpoena from the county inspector general, suing to block the county from forcing him to sit down for an interview on what he knows about “deputy gangs” within the sheriff’s ranks.
Villanueva filed his petition Monday calling the subpoena “too broad, harassing” and said as the head of a government agency he’s not subject to depositions.
For months, Villanueva has sparred with LA County officials over his management of the sheriff’s department and the rampant complaints about secret deputy gangs wreaking havoc among the department and in communities they’re supposed to protect.
The shooting death of 18-year-old Andres Guardado by two of Villanueva’s officers this past summer was the center of a probe and an autopsy report released without Villanueva’s permission confirmed Guardado had been shot in the back five times. Guardado’s parents say the officers who shot their son were members of a secret gang called the Executioners operating out of the Compton sheriff’s station.
Villanueva has been asked numerous times to respond to allegations that these gangs operate within the department. A Civilian Oversight Commission and a divided LA County Board of Supervisors voted to explore how to remove Villanueva, who was elected to office in 2018.
This past March, LA County Inspector General Max Huntsman subpoenaed Villanueva for a 90-minute interview according to Villanueva’s 13-page request to quash the subpoena. The sheriff says he already answered questions about “deputy secret societies” from the Civilian Oversight Commission in December 2020 and again in January. Villanueva says he provided a video on the topic but did not receive any questions about it at that meeting.
“The purported justification for this new meeting is that the inspector general did not have an opportunity to speak with the sheriff directly at the COC meeting, to ‘obtain necessary information to provide the feedback you requested’ about the video, whatever that means,” Villanueva says in his petition.
Villanueva also says Huntsman said the California Department of Justice is investigating the department over the deputy gangs issue and the commission received a detailed report from Loyola Law School Center for Juvenile Law & Policy about the same situation.
But Villanueva bristles at the tactics used by Huntsman’s office.
“Rather than use a less intrusive means of obtaining information, such as a series of questions or interviewing lower legal sheriff personnel who are involved in the day-to-day implementation of the policies and practices of the sheriff’s department, the inspector general is leap-frogging right to the top and threatening Sheriff Villanueva that ‘any statement you make during our meeting may be used in a future criminal proceeding against you,’” Villanueva says.
The sheriff says Huntsman’s office needs to show compelling reasons for the deposition and there should be limitations on the questions. Because he is the head of an agency, Villanueva says he generally would not be subject to a deposition, which should only be granted under “extraordinary circumstances.”
“In addressing the ‘extraordinary circumstances’ factor, courts look to whether no other person possesses the information in question, such as ‘lower-ranking members’ of the sheriff’s department or his administration, and whether “such information may not be obtained by other means,” Villanueva says in his petition.
“Thus far, the inspector general has refused any less intrusive methods or sources for the information he seeks, and has dismissively stated it will simply be ‘inefficient to use written questions.”
In an email, Huntsman said he has not seen Villanueva’s petition and pointed to a December 2020 report from his office outlining misconduct claims against the sheriff’s department.
Villanueva is represented by Linda Savitt from Ballard Rosenberg Golper Savitt.