Leila Miller, Alene Tchekmedyian
Los Angeles Times
A small group protested near Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s home Wednesday afternoon, calling for the department to release the names of deputies involved in the recent fatal shootings of Dijon Kizzee and Fred Williams.
About 14 protesters were met by about a dozen deputies carrying batons around 3 p.m. near Villanueva’s home in La Habra Heights, a city in the San Gabriel Valley. The deputies formed a skirmish line and slowly walked the protestors down a residential street leading away from the sheriff’s property.
Protestors chanted: “Villanueva you can’t hide, we want killer deputies identified,” and “Give us the names.” A helicopter circled overhead.
“He has been concealing from the public the identity of the deputies responsible for killing Fred Williams and Dijon Kizzee,” said Cliff Smith, an organizer for the Coalition for Community Control over the Police, which led the protest. “The community and the families need to know who took the lives of Dijon and Fred.”
The Sheriff’s Department has told The Times that it would not release the names of the deputies involved in the two shootings because of threats of violence against them.
After about 30 minutes, the protestors requested to leave the area and go back to their cars. Officials let them leave but stopped one vehicle and detained two protestors inside. One was released after a few minutes while the other remained in custody. An official at the scene would not say why they had been detained.
“We were trying to leave like they told us we were allowed to do,” said David McDonald, 37, who was detained along with the driver of the car.
The action comes as activists and elected officials have urged Villanueva to resign, holding that the sheriff — who took office in December 2018 after being elected by voters — has failed to hold deputies accountable and resisted oversight of his department. Villanueva has said he’ll continue serving the community.
The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, a watchdog group that monitors the Sheriff’s Department, approved a resolution last month expressing no confidence in Villanueva and demanding his resignation. It stated that the sheriff had blocked oversight of deputy-involved shootings and failed to comply with subpoenas authorized by the commission — one compelling documents related to an inquiry on whether Villanueva covered up the sharing of graphic photos at Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash scene and another demanding he testify before the commission on coronavirus in county jails.
County lawyers have asked a judge to order Villanueva to testify, saying the watchdog panel is “entitled to hear directly from the boss of the department to address the public’s concerns regarding the effects of COVID-19 on the jails.”
An attorney representing Villanueva argued that the subpoena was an abuse of power. A hearing on the matter is scheduled for Friday.
Since the start of the pandemic, 3,495 county jail inmates have tested positive for the virus, and a majority have recovered, according to the Sheriff’s Department. Eight inmates who tested positive have died.
The commission’s resolution also said that violent deputy gangs continue to operate in the department despite the sheriff’s claims that members of the cliques have been disciplined or reassigned.
Last week, the L.A. County Board of Supervisors voted to explore ways to remove Villanueva from office, including by changing the state’s Constitution to shift California’s county sheriffs from elected to appointed positions.
The motion, authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, said the county had paid more than $149 million in the last five years to settle lawsuits and satisfy judgments in cases in which deputies were involved in incidents including civil rights violations, excessive force, sexual assault and killings.
“With a sheriff that is unwilling to demand accountability for deputy misbehavior, lawsuits will continue to be filed against the sheriff, and it is the county’s taxpayers who will continue to pay for the consequences,” the motion stated.
Villanueva has strongly refuted the criticism and has held that Board of Supervisors wants “a sheriff on the leash.” During the Tuesday board meeting, he described how he has removed federal immigration officers from county jails, rolled out body cameras for deputies and prohibited deputies from joining illicit cliques.
“I want to say that I have an open-door policy. I’d like to meet with each and every one of you personally,” Villanueva told the supervisors.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.
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