LA Sheriff Accused of Using ‘Secret Police’ to Target Political Enemies
Allegations of misconduct have dogged LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva since he took over in 2018. But the latest scandal over a secretive group of deputies allegedly acting as henchmen against the sheriff’s critics has got to be the craziest one yet.
The allegations center around the actions of nine individuals who comprise the LASD’s “Civil Rights and Public Integrity Detail.” Much of what the group does is a mystery, according to the Los Angeles Times. But one thing is certain: they have a knack for investigating the very people who’ve been investigating the sheriff.
County Inspector General Max Huntsman, the sheriff’s top watchdog, has been under investigation by the unit for years. No criminal charges against him have ever been announced. In fact, federal and state officials have already concluded no crimes were committed, yet the fishing expedition continues.
The unit has also been probing a non-profit called Peace Over Violence and its executive director Patti Giggans. Giggans just happens to be the former head of the Civilian Oversight Commission, which oversees the sheriff and his department. During her tenure, the COC and Villanueva frequently clashed.
As part of the Giggans probe, some members of the unit have engaged in dubious investigative tactics. As with Huntsman, no criminal charges have ever been filed.
Villanueva initially tried to get District Attorney George Gascón to collaborate with his public corruption unit. But after looking at the scope of its work, it was clear “he’s only targeting political enemies,” Gascón said. After Gascón declined, Sheriff Villanueva publicly called for his recall from office.
Within the sheriff’s department, some refer to the unit as Villanueva’s “secret police,” according to the Times. After a deputy anonymously reported an alleged assault by a sheriff’s department gang to Internal Affairs, two members of the unit paid him a visit. The deputy’s attorney says they came to “retaliate” against his client and put him “in danger.”
The COC wants Villanueva to answer questions about the unit’s activities. So far, he has refused. But he did offer this defense in response to the Times’ story last week:
“The sole responsibility of the Sheriff’s Department is to investigate allegations of criminal conduct as they are discovered, regardless of how inconvenient it may be to the subject of the investigation. The unit is supervised by the Undersheriff, and I have recused myself from all decision making to avoid any potential conflict of interest. The department routinely seeks out the opinion of the District Attorney, the State Attorney General’s Office, and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) to decide jurisdictional issues and appropriate prosecutorial venues on all cases.”
Any accusation that the team was created to attack his political opponents, the sheriff said, “is false.”