With new subpoena power, the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission is demanding Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva testify about his handling of recent COVID-19 outbreak in jails.
The commission voted unanimously Thursday, during a virtual meeting, approving the issuance of a subpoena that orders the sheriff to attend the May 21 meeting of the oversight body.
“After repeated requests for the sheriff to attend our commission meetings, no one from the department has shown up,” Commission Chair Patti Giggans, executive director of nonprofit Peace over Violence, said in a prepared statement.
“The meetings now conducted virtually twice a month due to the critical COVID-19 crisis are very well-attended by the public. We are in a pandemic, which calls for more oversight, more collaboration, more input into policy, not less. The role of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission is a public mandate and one that every commissioner takes seriously,” said Giggans.
More than 400 comments from the community were emailed as public comments to express their thoughts and concerns before the commission took a vote, according to Giggans.
The directive comes after increasing concern that the virus continues to spread among inmates and personnel inside the correctional facilities, which has raised questions about the condition and care of those within the system. Of the current 11,837 inmates within the county system, 170 have tested positive for the virus and 3,785 remain in quarantine.
In the Santa Clarita Valley alone, the Department of Public Health reported Thursday as many as 126 confirmed cases of COVID-19 stemmed from the Pitchess Detention Center campus in Castaic. Inmates who spoke with The Signal Thursday expressed their own concerns over lack of appropriate care for them amid the pandemic.
Neither Villanueva nor the LASD have indicated whether the sheriff would comply with the issued subpoena.
In response to the pandemic, Villanueva has reduced the jail population by releasing low-level inmates and has isolated and quarantined others. The number of total inmates dropped from about 17,000 to the 11,837 reported, according to the LASD.