Sheriff: Coverup allegations are another political attack

A defiant Sheriff Alex Villanueva Tuesday again flatly denied being engaged in any effort to cover up a violent encounter involving a deputy who knelt on the head of a handcuffed inmate for three minutes, and said he is conducting a criminal probe into the reporter who broke the story.

Villanueva, in a downtown news conference, denied all allegations contained in a damage claim filed against the county this week by one of his commanders, who asserts the sheriff was made aware of the incident involving the handcuffed inmate days after it occurred and lied when he claimed not to have seen video of the altercation until months later.

The sheriff blasted the claim Tuesday, calling it part of what he alleges is an orchestrated attack involving an election rival, the county’s inspector general and even a Los Angeles Times reporter — saying he is conducting a criminal probe into all of them to determine who leaked the reporter surveillance video of the altercation.

“So the foundation of this entire lawsuit (claim) is false,” the sheriff said. “Everything in this lawsuit is false.”

In the damages claim, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, Cmdr. Allen Castellano contends that Villanueva and at least three other agency executives saw the surveillance video within days of the March 10, 2021, incident, and the sheriff said he would “handle the matter,” noting that the department did “not need bad media at this time.” Castellano said concerns were raised about the video of the altercation due to its similarity to the death of George Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes, sparking national protests.

The altercation, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times, occurred at the San Fernando Courthouse, where a 24-year-old inmate named Enzo Escalante allegedly punched sheriff’s Deputy Douglas Johnson in the face. Johnson and other deputies wrestled Escalante to the ground, with Johnson putting his knee on the inmate’s head.

Security video of the altercation shows Johnson keeping his knee on Escalante’s head for three minutes after he was handcuffed and did not appear to be resisting.

After the incident, Castellano wrote an internal report suggesting that officials within the department tried to suppress details and video of the altercation, “given its nature and its similarities to widely publicized George Floyd use of force.”

In his new legal claim, Castellano claims that Villanueva orchestrated an effort to cover up the video, and later took retaliatory action against people in the department who raised questions about that effort or challenged what the commander called an attempt by the sheriff to change the timeline of when he first viewed the video.

Villanueva last month denied that he was involved in any type of coverup, insisting that he did not see the video until November, when he immediately ordered that the deputy involved be relieved of duty and that a criminal investigation be initiated.

The sheriff conceded that an internal criminal investigation should have been started immediately after the incident, concurrent with an administrative probe, but it didn’t happen — something he blamed on errors in judgment by others in the department.

Villanueva reiterated that timeline Tuesday, again denying any type of cover-up or retaliation.

“When it comes to cover-ups or whistleblowers, I don’t see what was covered up or what whistle was blown, because that’s a mystery,” he said.

County Undersheriff Tim Murakami — who is also alleged in the claim to have seen the video days after the incident in March 2021 — also denied the allegation.

Villanueva called Castellano a “disgruntled employee.”

Castellano contends in his damages claim that despite the sheriff’s assertion that the deputy involved was relieved of duty in November, that actually didn’t happen until Dec. 7. Castellano also claims he was subjected to an internal investigation after raising concerns about the handling of the matter and was reprimanded for lapses in how the case was handled, despite his insistence that he brought the case to the sheriff’s attention within days.

Villanueva used his news conference Tuesday to blast a variety of his political opponents, including election challenger Eli Vera, county Inspector General Max Huntsman and Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian, who broke the story of the altercation involving the handcuffed inmate. Villanueva went as far to allege collusion among the various players, all designed to derail his re-election bid.

“When you take this entire thing into context you realize that there’s a lot of people working in concert and coordination,” he said. “That includes the L.A. Times. That includes people that obviously want to defeat me electorally. That includes the (Board of Supervisors)-appointed inspector general and the (Civilian) Oversight Commission. A lot of people working overtime and they’re doing it as best they can, so there’ll be more of this nonsense thrown at me until June 7, but it is what it is.”

Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida issued a statement calling the sheriff’s comments “outrageous.”

“Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s attack on Alene Tchekmedyian’s First Amendment rights for doing newsworthy reporting on a video that showed a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate’s head is outrageous,” Merida said. “His attempt to criminalize news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law. We will vigorously defend Tchekmedyian’s and the Los Angeles Times’ rights in any proceeding or investigation brought by authorities.”

Vera, a 33-year sheriff’s department veteran, issued a statement Monday backing Castellano’s version of events.

“As the individual who reported this truth to the inspector general, I’m infuriated to see Villanueva double-down on his lies to cover up his criminal activity,” Vera said.

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis issued a statement saying she is calling on the state attorney general to investigate Villanueva for a “pattern of unconscionable and dangerous actions like the one today,” referring to the sheriff’s penchant for calling news conferences with county resources to lash out at political foes.

“The latest attack on LA Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian is another dangerous example of Sheriff Villanueva attacking the media and the First Amendment,” Solis said. “This is in keeping with his past harassment of other women, including KPCC reporter Josie Huang as well as myself and other county officials.

“Displaying Alene’s photo at today’s press conference and making her appear as if she committed a crime is not just an attack on Alene but the entire journalistic community. What’s criminal is the sheriff’s cover-up of deputies using excessive force against an incarcerated person, including kneeling on his neck for three minutes. What’s not criminal, however, is Alene and other journalists reporting on it.”

Copyright 2022, City News Service, Inc.

CNS-04-26-2022 16:21

0 0 votes
Article Rating

Subscribe
Notify of
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

34 Comments
Newest
Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
West
27 days ago

Villanueva has screwed up plenty of times (it’s burned in my memory when I witnessed him dismiss the reality of deputy gangs as “conspiracy theory”… )

However, it’s hardly a stretch that the weasels on Board of Sups and mockingbird rag LATimes might collude to manipulate public sentiment and attack their political rivals.

We are watching the exact same play out on the local level with Horvath and Sook.

TruthTeller
TruthTeller
29 days ago

Let’s get this straight. A deadbeat criminal punched a cop in the face. The cop subdued the deadbeat. Nobody died. Nobody was seriously injured. But certain people (politically motivated) are using this to target the Sheriff?

When violent thugs are your martyr you’ve picked the wrong side.

Randy
Randy
29 days ago
Reply to  TruthTeller

When you are pointing out criminal behavior, even within the Sheriff Department, you are on the right side.

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
28 days ago
Reply to  TruthTeller

agreed

Davedi
Davedi
26 days ago
Reply to  TruthTeller

Everyone in this city should not only do a ride along with a deputy one weekend night but should also spend a few days helping out in the county jail. After two days there you’d want to step on the heads of half these mutts. They attack deputies regularly because they know the DA, liberal politicians and many of the public are on their side.

greeneyedguy
greeneyedguy
1 month ago

This outrageous assertion appears to be a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate Ms. Tchekmedyian for reporting unflattering (but entirely accurate) information about the conduct of individuals in your department and allegations of a cover-up by you and other officials. If the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department actually initiated an “investigation” of Ms. Tchekmedyian, it would contravene well-established constitutional law, which bars prosecutions of news reporters for publishing information from confidential official records, including leaked videos that involve matters of public interest.”

https://www.latimes.com/california/story/2022-04-26/l-a-times-protests-sheriffs-criminal-leak-investigation-against-reporter

Where are the conservative constitutionalists???

Wacky WeHo
Wacky WeHo
1 month ago

Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. probably does have ‘gangs’. In that sense its no different than, for example, NYPD’s notorious cliques of Italians or Irish LEOs: for LA County, these are Latino cliques, and they’re attacked (often with tacit white privilege) because they target bonafide criminal conspiracy street gangs. These bloods/crips/etc are ruthless predators who prey on the weak. No self respecting person *loves* the police, but we need them to do the things we don’t want to do: detain and if nessesary shoot (actual) thugs. Our Wokester Council procrastinates a great deal about what community safety actually means, but… Read more »

carleton cronin
carleton cronin
1 month ago

We have to get rid of this guy and bring in a real sheriff. H e only emphasizes the folly of electing, rather than appropriately appointing, sheriffs.

WehoFan
WehoFan
1 month ago

Why does the 90 yr old rich white man want to “get rid of” a Hispanic sheriff?

greeneyedguy
greeneyedguy
1 month ago

Can’t wait to vote this thug out of office.

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
28 days ago
Reply to  greeneyedguy

won’t happen. internet outrage.

voter
voter
1 month ago

I have never supported the sheriff more in my life–due to the corrupt incompetence of Horvath, Erickson, Shyne, and D’amico.

Ham Shipey
Ham Shipey
1 month ago
Reply to  voter

agreed

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
1 month ago

Sadly, the issue of a Sheriff Deputy attempting to murder an inmate will get lost with the equally important issue of a Fascist Sheriff, seeking Trumpian type revenge on a legitimate reporter doing their job. The job of exposing the fact that the Sheriff is a Fascist who doesn’t believe in a free press, and doesn’t like when they uncover that he is a Fascist, liar, and basically an accessory to an attempted murder he unsuccessfully tried to cover up.

Benjamin Story
Benjamin Story
1 month ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

Inmate Enzo Escalante, facing multiple charges including murder punched Deputy Johnson in the face multiple times. The Deputy responded to those punches and didn’t attempt to murder … the actual murderer.

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
29 days ago
Reply to  Benjamin Story

Genius, we know the inmate wasn’t Mother Theresa. The deputies are supposed to subdue the out of control inmate, and get him in handcuffs. That doesn’t include putting your knee on his neck for 3 or 4 minutes, just to get some revenge. I’m so glad I’m not you.

george noriega
george noriega
1 month ago

Looks like the reporter touched a raw nerve by exposing what happened.

Joshua88
Joshua88
1 month ago

The sheriff is a menace.

greeneyedguy
greeneyedguy
1 month ago
Reply to  Joshua88

Corrupt to the core.

WehoFan
WehoFan
1 month ago
Reply to  Joshua88

Don’t be racist Joshua. Admit why you really don’t like him…

Joshua88
Joshua88
29 days ago
Reply to  WehoFan

Because he is a menace.
I voted for the guy, but I made a serious mistake.

Cyn Guy
Cyn Guy
1 month ago

I find hilarious the actions of our lying, fascist and authoritarian leaning Sheriff. His righteous indignation in finding out he’s caught with his pants down leads to ever more ridiculous statements based entirely in an ego so large he no longer has perspective. This bafoon needs to be voted out of office ASAP. What a joke.

george noriega
george noriega
1 month ago
Reply to  Cyn Guy

He does seem to be coming undone.

WehoFan
WehoFan
1 month ago
Reply to  Cyn Guy

You’re still mad he wouldn’t enforce the mandates. Tyrant.

Cy Husain
29 days ago
Reply to  WehoFan

The FACT that the current Sheriff is a Pandemic ☣ denying antivaxxer in terms of policy enforcement of life saving nonpharmaceutical disease containment in the middle of a lethal COVID-19 Pandemic ☣ , is MORE than enough to get rid of him because he is enabling a lethal outbreak NOT helping with Public Safety ❗

:dpb
:dpb
1 month ago

This will be used for reducing the amount of sheriff deputies in West Hollywood. This will roll off the lips of the safety commissioner chick’s lips, ditto with council idiots Horvath, Shyne and Erickson. Of course the issues are completely separate. But the council will use it for their propaganda to deny residents protections.

Click to Hide Advanced Floating Content

0
0
votes
Article Rating
34
0
Would love your thoughts, please comment.x
()
x