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Sheriff Alex Villanueva and department under investigation

Updated: Sep 9, 2022

A hearing originally scheduled for March 2023 will now start early next month, with internal investigations ongoing.

By Cassandra Nava, Managing Editor

Amid an investigation from the Los Angeles Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission on LASD’s “deputy gangs,” Sheriff Alex Villanueva may be held in contempt at an expedited hearing on Sept. 7.

The commission began the public hearings in early July. Both Sheriff Villanueva and Undersheriff Timothy Murakami were scheduled to testify, but did not attend the first hearing. According to the LA Times, Villanueva and Murakami steered clear of Loyola Marymount University (where the hearing took place) for fear of their safety, as opponents of the LASD wore clothing that criticized the department. Their refusal to obey court orders prompted Judge Michelle Williams’ clerk to hold the next hearing six months ahead of schedule. The oversight commission hopes to share their findings by Oct. 5.

Villanueva stated he believes the investigation was created in order to bring negative press to his name ahead of re-election in November.

“I await whatever new FACTUAL information they can provide,” reads a statement posted on March 25 by Villanueva on the official LASD website. “I can see this for what it is, the weaponization of government in order to influence the outcome of an election, nothing more.”

The oversight commission released a statement earlier this year, stating that gangs or gang-like conduct within the district would be thoroughly investigated. This follows decades-long suspicions of misconduct within the department, including use of excessive force within jails, bullying tactics on non-gang affiliated deputies and assaulting civilians to “earn their ink.” According to an investigative series by Cerise Castle on Knock LA, there are at least 18 deputy gangs within the department, and members are identified by matching tattoos specific to their station.

Oversight commission chair Sean Kennedy penned a report on deputy gangs last year, as he and the commission aim to investigate the impact these cliques have on other deputies and the general public.

“By glorifying shootings and other uses of force against community members, LASD deputy gangs and cliques undermine the sanctity of human life and deny the dignity and respect owed to all people,” states Kennedy’s report.

Sergeant Jefferson Chow has gone on record stating he was ordered to not ask questions about “subculture groups” despite having detailed logs of gang-like activities. Chow revealed at a hearing on Aug. 19 that he feared for his job after questioning the events of an alleged 2018 deputy gang brawl in East Los Angeles.

The East LA deputy gang, known as the Banditos, attacked newly hired deputies at a bar — which left several members unconscious or on the verge of passing out. According to the LA Times, Villanueva and other LASD officials tried to stop Chow from testifying.

"So, they've created this grand conspiracy, a fake conspiracy of course, and they have me telling Del Mese [Lawrence Del Mese, retired LASD chief of staff] who tells Burson [retired LASD chief] who tells Mr. Chow — who I think is a sergeant investigator — not to ask questions," Villanueva said in a Facebook video in July.

The next hearing will take place on Sept. 7, and like previous hearings, will be available on Youtube to watch in full.

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