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Board Of Supervisors Votes To Consider Legal Options To Oust LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors voted Tuesday to consider options to remove elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva from office rather than leaving his fate in the hands of voters.

Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn dissented in the 3-2 vote after Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl co-authored the motion recommending that the county consult with lawyers, its inspector general, the Civilian Oversight Commission and its acting CEO to look at options for removing or impeaching Villanueva before his term concludes in 2022.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announces an arrest of the suspect in the ambush shooting of two on-duty deputies who were sitting in their marked patrol car at the Metro Blue Line station in Compton September 12, 2020.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Homicide Bureau Captain Kent A. Wegener, right, announce an arrest of Deonte Lee Murray in the ambush shooting of two on-duty deputies who were sitting in their marked patrol car at the Metro Blue Line station in Compton September 12, 2020. Hall Of Justice on Wednesday, Sept. 30, 2020 in Los Angeles, CA. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times

The board will also look into whether in the future the position should be appointed, like the Los Angeles Police Department chief, rather than elected.

After tabling consideration of the motion two weeks ago, Ridley-Thomas Tuesday read from an opinion piece he wrote in 2014 for the Huffington Post describing the idea of an elected sheriff was outdated.

"Despite the exponential growth of the county and tremendous advances of modern-day policing, we are still beholden to this anachronistic model of law enforcement,'' Ridley-Thomas said. ``We hold a popularity contest for arguably our most important law enforcement position. The result is that we have something worse than democracy -- we have the illusion of democracy."

Villanueva released a video response Tuesday afternoon offering to work together with the board to come up with solutions.

Villanueva has said in the past he had no intention of stepping down. He addressed the board this morning and talked about his accomplishments before the decision.

"Body worn cameras are here to stay and is deployed out in the field," he said. "We cut our overtime budget in half, we made good on the transparency promise, we've honored all requests for information...unfortunately, you've been deliberately misled by your Inspector General."

The Board of Supervisors has been at odds with Sheriff Alex Villanueva since he was elected to the position in 2018.

"Under the current sheriff, hard-fought vital progress is being undone, and community trust is rapidly eroding," the motion states. "While the board has been able to navigate challenging times with previous sheriffs, this sheriff's actions demonstrate the dire need to explore options for removing a sheriff who refuses oversight or, at a minimum, mitigating damages cause by unacceptable behavior."

Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl also argue that Villanueva has been unable to balance the sheriff's department budget and has cut youth programs and eliminated the parks services bureau, actions that have also drawn criticism from the deputies' union.

A vote on the matter was postponed by Ridley-Thomas two weeks ago when it appeared there might not be sufficient support for it. The termed-out supervisor -- who was elected last week to replace Herb Wesson on the Los Angeles City Council -- said he was concerned his colleagues had not had sufficient time to consider the proposal.

Supervisor Kathryn Barger said at the Oct. 27 meeting that she was in favor of voters deciding Villanueva's fate.

"Understand that I still stand by my belief that the sheriff is elected, and that in 2022, unless there's (an)...effort to vacate that seat prior to that, that's where the voters have a right," Barger said.

Supervisor Janice Hahn plans to oppose the motion because she believes that power is in the hands of the voters, according to spokeswoman Liz Odendahl.

Other possibilities to be considered include pulling some of Villanueva's responsibilities and appointing a county police chief.

The board motion comes after the civilian oversight commission called for the sheriff's resignation last month. Villanueva dismissed the commission's vote, and accused the group of punishing him for investigating potential corruption.

During his comments at the Oct. 27 meeting, Villanueva urged the supervisors to meet with him privately.

"We are a county family and when there is collaboration we can do great things," the sheriff said. "Let's set aside the past and work out our differences...I look forward to finding common ground we can all stand together on in the interests of public safety and fiscal responsibility."

Though the union that represents rank-and-file deputies has had its own issues with the sheriff failing to confer with them about major staff transfers, it appears for now to support Villanueva.

(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)

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