LA Sheriff's Department Searches Public Officials' Homes
If you’ve been trying to keep up with all the news involving the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, our hats are off to you. LASD gave us one headline after another last week. Let’s see if we can summarize some of the details.
Sheriff Villanueva Accused of Targeting Political Enemies
By far, the biggest story in L.A. County last week was LASD searching the properties of public officials who have acrimonious relationships with Sheriff Alex Villanueva. Investigators with the LASD’s secretive public corruption unit searched the home of County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commissioner Patti Giggans, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Office of Inspector General.
The Sheriff’s Department says it is investigating public contracts awarded to the domestic violence nonprofit organization Peace Over Violence, which is headed by Giggans. LASD claims that “bribery and other crimes related to the contracts may have been committed, including ‘bribery of a county supervisor.’”
The targets of the investigation have denied any wrongdoing. They say they’re victims of a political hit.
This is not the first time Villanueva has been accused of using sheriff’s investigators to go after rivals. The public corruption unit has also targeted LASD watchdog Max Huntsman.
In February, the Attorney General’s Office agreed to look into Villanueva’s use of investigations to allegedly target political enemies. At the time, LA County Counsel Rodrigo Castro-Silva said that none of the probes — including the one involving Peace Over Violence — appeared to have merit. The District Attorney's Office was also unconvinced by the evidence and had declined to pursue the case.
The sheriff “has used these investigations to discourage legitimate oversight of himself and the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and to retaliate against any public official who criticizes him or the Sheriff’s Department,” Castro-Silva said.
Villanueva, however, insists he has recused himself from the current investigation to avoid a conflict of interest.
Did Someone Tip Off Sheila Kuehl?
More accusations abound. Sheriff Villanueva says he has reason to believe someone notified Supervisor Kuehl about the search before it occurred. During a press conference, Kuehl indicated was warned about the coming search the previous night.
Villanueva thinks Kuehl was alerted by Inspector General Max Huntsman. Huntsman denies the claim. Villanueva now wants the state’s attorney general to investigate the allegations that Kuehl was tipped off. Remember, the AG is already investigating Villauneva for potentially going after his critics.
Judge Orders LASD to Halt Search
On Thursday, a Superior Court judge ordered sheriff’s officials to stop searching certain computers seized from Metro’s Office of Inspector General. The warrant used was illegal, the judge said, because of a previous ruling on “an identical warrant” served last year. That ruling put a special master in charge of overseeing the search of the inspector general’s computers. LASD personnel appear to have simply turned around and sought another warrant from another judge.
The identity of the second judge — the one who issued the latest warrants — is also a point of intrigue. Judge Craig Richman has a long and very friendly relationship with Det. Mark Lillienfeld, an LASD public corruption investigator working on the case. LASD did not inform Judge Richman about the prior ruling which called for oversight by a special master.
It’s important to note that the latest ruling only pertains to the searches of Metro’s Office of Inspector General, not Giggans or Kuehl. Metro’s IG is the only one mounting a legal challenge so far.
The Sheriff’s Department Needs a Lawyer
Are you still with us?
County counsel is refusing to provide legal representation for the sheriff’s department, which shows you what they think of this whole affair. Now, LASD is seeking pro bono legal services.
You can't make this stuff up.
Villanueva Accused of CCW Nepotism
All this craziness has taken attention off of another potential scandal.
As the Los Angeles Times reports:
A Times investigation found that among the thousands of people who have received [concealed weapons] permits under Villanueva are dozens of donors to his election campaigns and others with special links to the sheriff. These people often gave questionable reasons for needing to be armed, received their permits more quickly than the average wait or were assisted by two deputies who worked directly for Villanueva.
And now those deputies, along with others with ties to the sheriff, have come under suspicion of wrongdoing that stems from the frenzied atmosphere Villanueva created around the permits, which are called licenses to carry concealed weapons or CCWs.
You can read more about the Times' findings here.
Image Credit: LASD