Members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission blasted Sheriff Alex Villanueva this week after he declined to testify before the panel unless it meets certain conditions, namely the presence of a neutral hearing officer, the ability to cross-examine
witnesses and deliver an opening statement, and a preview of all exhibits.
Commissioners at the meeting rebuffed the sheriff’s requests and seemed resigned to the reality that he will never voluntarily testify during the panel’s proof of alleged deputy gangs within the agency. Both Villanueva and his undersheriff, Timothy Murakami, will be held in contempt of court if they don’t appear at the next hearing, which is tentatively scheduled for
August, according to Commissioner Robert Bonner.
“These requests are out of line,” Bonner said. “They’re not appropriate. And we should make clear we’re not going to accede to these requests.”
The commission plans to submit a written rejection to Villanueva’s proposed protocols.
“This is a neutral body,” Bonner said. “We’re an independent body. We’re investigating a matter. It’s not a court hearing. It’s not a criminal proceeding.”
Commissioner Lael Rubin said the sheriff’s letter, sent to the commission Sunday detailing the reasons for not testifying, was in line with his previous “absurd requests” when faced with subpoenas.
“This is a repeat of his outrageous behavior,” Rubin said. “And it’s clear that he never intends to appear before this commission.”
Sean Kennedy, the commission chair, agreed.
“It’s just not appropriate for this oversight body to allow the sheriff to dictate the terms of our oversight hearing,” Kennedy said. Villanueva said earlier he was prepared to testify before the commission Monday, but “was deeply disappointed to learn the commission is unwilling to allow very basic and reasonable elements of a legitimate oversight meeting designed to understand the truth. It makes neutral observers question whether the commission’s real agenda is to learn the facts, or to put on a show.”
Bert Deixler, counsel for the commission, said a representative for Villanueva informed him Friday that the sheriff would be available to testify between 9 and 11 a.m. Monday.
But by July 24, Villanueva had changed his mind.
Villanueva said he “strongly” believes that every public servant must be open to public scrutiny and legitimate oversight.
“Let me just say, personally, given the sheriff’s behavior, that’s laughable,” Bonner said in response.
Villanueva wrote: “This is why I sent department executives, on several occasions, to answer questions for the Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) about deputy cliques and subgroups.”