Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva did not attend the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission meeting Thursday to testify about the COVID-19 crisis in jails despite a subpoena ordering his appearance, which prompted the board’s vote to challenge his resistance in court.
After Commissioner Robert Bonner issued a motion, the board members voted unanimously to take the matter up to the Los Angeles County Superior Court to compel Villanueva to comply with their subpoena issued May 11 and to hold the sheriff in contempt for his failure.
“Let’s make it clear, we don’t want this to drag out. I want this to move forward promptly because, within our power, our authority to issue subpoenas has been challenged by the sheriff. We can’t just allow the status quo to stand,” said Bonner during the virtual meeting.
Villanueva said Wednesday he would not join commissioners on Thursday and would instead have Assistant Sheriff Bruce Chase attend the meeting. Chase did attend and briefed the board about the county Sheriff’s Department’s coronavirus response.
“The subpoena, Measure R and the ordinance enacted by the (Los Angeles County) Board of Supervisors, all these things were generated without any oversight, without any third party, independent legal analysis of its constitutionality,” Villanueva told reporters during his Wednesday briefing. “That still remains in doubt and until that issue is resolved, I will not be adhering to any subpoena issued by either entity, via the inspector general or the oversight commission.”
During public comment, members of the public expressed appreciation for the Sheriff’s Department’s efforts to reduce the jail population amid the pandemic, but said more can still be done. Others urged the Oversight Commission to ask for documentation as to the Sheriff’s Department’s efforts related to the COVID-19 outbreak within the jails, citing a lack of transparency.
Villanueva said Wednesday he was committed to being “as transparent as possible” and that all the information “that we can legally provide to the public” would also be available through the Transparency Project on the department’s website.
The sheriff had not issued a statement regarding the board’s vote Thursday.