Supervisor, inspector general question sheriff over transparency, threats

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County Supervisor Kathryn Barger and Inspector General Max Huntsman echoed their repeated calls for more transparency and oversight Thursday regarding Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who they say has repeatedly denied routine public information requests and has been accused of personally threatening public officials. 

The latest allegation came from Huntsman, who shared frustration about Villanueva and alleged threats he’d received, in response to his investigation into a number of incidents, ranging from a controversial rehire to a recent 911 call involving a high-profile Santa Clarita Valley incident Aug. 7, in which the department was questioned over guns being drawn on several teenagers.

Huntsman indicated the SCV incident is one example among other instances where Villanueva has not cooperated with the Office of the Inspector General’s investigations. In one instance, where the OIG had provided the department a draft report with facts behind the decision to rehire Caren Mandoyan, allegedly a member of a secret society known as the “Grim Reapers,” the LASD shut down the OIG’s computer access, he said. 

“The sheriff personally threatened me that there would be ‘consequences’ if I issued the report,” Huntsman added. “When I issued the report, he placed myself and members of my office under criminal investigation for doing what County Code section 6.44.190 requires and what had, until then, been authorized by LASD.”

Accusations disputed

Sheriff’s officials disputed Huntsman’s accusations Thursday, saying the inspector general “has a well-established pattern of issuing unsubstantiated and inflammatory allegations, while at the same time selectively omitting facts which are unfavorable to his position,” Lt. John Satterfield wrote in an email to The Signal.   

Satterfield said Huntsman’s allegations are “factually incorrect,” and the OIG access was not shut down, but rather required to utilize computer access via a different bureau “due to security concerns.” 

“Contrary to his accusations, at no time was OIG ever refused access to (profile reports). Our current protocols are consistent, and in full compliance, with the (Memorium of Agreement) wherein OIG personnel has, and will continue to have, direct access to (profile reports) via secured computer terminals maintained at the Sheriff’s Department,” said Satterfield’s email. 

Barger, chair of the Board of Supervisors who represents the 5th District, which includes the SCV, shared Huntsman’s frustration in a phone interview Thursday, noting Villanueva’s pattern represents a “lack of transparency.” 

The Signal has been denied multiple requests for an update into the status of the investigation, and a Public Records Act request for the 911 calls was also denied, saying the evidence is part of an ongoing investigation into the events of Aug. 7.

Huntsman also requested documentation regarding the 911 phone calls and Sheriff’s Department communications, such as mobile data terminal traffic, which could provide more information into what happened last month, he said in a statement to The Signal. 

“LASD has declined to provide us the documentation requested at this time,” Huntsman wrote, in his email to The Signal. “They have said they will provide documentation when they have completed their inquiries. The Sheriff (Alex Villanueva) has publicly stated repeatedly that civilian oversight (simply asking questions and receiving documents) obstructs law enforcement and he will not comply with our investigations until he decides a matter is closed.”

SCV incident

In the Aug. 7 incident, three teenagers — two Black 16-year-olds and a white 18-year-old — were detained at gunpoint after deputies responded to reports of an assault with a deadly weapon on an apparently homeless man. Witnesses who video-recorded deputies’ response, which included one deputy pointing an AR-15 toward the teens, contended the teens were actually the victims of the assault. The teens were eventually let go, and no charges were filed. 

Huntsman’s comments come after Barger called on him to review the sheriff’s investigation into the Aug. 7 incident and “asked that he share his independent review of the results of the investigation with my office, city leaders and the community.” 

On Thursday, Barger mirrored Huntsman’s frustration. 

“There is a pattern that is growing a great concern to me with the sheriff and his lack of transparency, and he’s doing a disservice to all the men and women within his department by not cooperating with the inspector general,” she said via a phone interview. “It leads me to believe that either he doesn’t respect his communities or he thinks he’s above the law. And both of them concern me greatly.” 

Expecting openness

Santa Clarita Mayor Cameron Smyth, who, along with city staff called for a full investigation into the incident just days after it occurred, said Thursday that the expectation remains for there to be an open and transparent outcome. 

“When we called for an investigation, the expectation is that it would be done in an open and transparent manner, which is important for our community — to see a report completed,” he said. “As part of any public agency, (transparency) has to be a part of it, and I certainly would hope that this investigation would follow suit.” 

The inspector general raised concerns that despite subpoenas from the LASD’s Civilian Oversight Commission and the state’s Assembly Bill 1185, “LASD continues to refuse to comply with document requests and subpoenas.” 

“When an arm of government which regularly uses deadly force places itself above the law,” Huntsman added, “nobody is watching the watchmen.”

To see the full text of the emails from Huntsman and Satterfield, click here.

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