Villanueva accuses DA’s office of suppressing information ahead of election

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva

In a press conference on Thursday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva accused the L.A. County District Attorney’s Office of withholding the outcomes of four cases from the public in a deliberate attempt to undermine the Sheriff’s Department ahead of Tuesday’s election. 

Villanueva alleged that a whistleblower, within the D.A.’s office, has provided documentation to prove these accusations, although Villanueva stated he has not seen or read them yet.  

“Whistleblowers inside the office of the district attorney have provided the following disturbing and disappointing information: The outcome in many cases assigned to the District Attorney Justice System Integrity Division were intentionally withheld from the public release, in order to avoid criticism from supporters during the recall effort of George Gascón, as well as to affect the outcome of the sheriff’s election,” said Villanueva. “Many of these cases were also cited as contributing factors for cause of my resignation and for Measure A being placed on the ballot by the Board of Supervisors and the Civilian Oversight Commission.” 

Measure A is on the ballot for Tuesday’s election, which, if passed by voters, would amend the county charter to give the Board of Supervisors the power to remove a county sheriff.  

The four cases in which Villanueva is accusing the D.A. ‘s office of withholding rulings and information are the cases of Anthony Weber, Andrés Guardado, Dijon Kizzee, and Enzo Escalante.  

In May 2019 Weber’s family received a $3.75 million settlement a year after he was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies in 2018. The Sheriff’s Department has said Weber matched the description of a suspect and fled upon contact, according to their report. A gun was not found at the scene following the shooting, but the Sheriff’s Department said the gun may have been removed once community members descended upon the scene. Weber’s family has denied this version of events.  

Guardado’s family is set to receive a settlement of $8 million after he was shot and killed by sheriff’s deputies in the city of Gardena in June 2020. Deputies said Guardado fled after allegedly displaying a handgun.  

Kizzee was shot and killed by deputies in August 2020 after being stopped for an alleged vehicle code violation in South L.A. Attorneys representing the Kizzee family are alleging he was not armed.  

Escalante is currently filing a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Department after having his head knelt on by deputies while being detained at the San Fernando County Courthouse in March 2021, a video of which surfaced in March. 

Villanueva said he has taken appropriate action for each of these cases and said it’s wrong for the D.A.’s office to use these tragedies for political gain.    

“We’re not supposed to play politics with our offices. And when we do our investigations, good, bad, indifferent, the results – we have to present them and do what we’re supposed to do. Take action administratively. We take action. We present the case for the district attorney, the attorney general if it’s a federal case, but we don’t withhold things for material gain, or for political advantages. And this is exactly what’s happened, [with] all four cases,” said Villanueva. “I’m disappointed but I’m not shocked.” 

Tiffiny Blacknell, Bureau of Communications director for the D.A. ‘s office, called Villanueva’s claims lies and a political stunt ahead of the election. 

“Sadly, there were many lies told in today’s press conference. In every investigation involving a killing at the hands of law enforcement our JSID unit reviews the investigation and makes a filing recommendation to the D.A. through the chain of command unless the case is being handled by the attorney general,” wrote Blacknell in a prepared statement. “I would also add that the families of those who have been killed or injured by law enforcement deserve better than to have their loved ones’ cases be made into a media stunt on the eve of an election.” 

Blacknell stated that if a case is being handled by the D.A. ‘s office, it has the option of either following the JSID’s recommendation, overruling it, asking for a presentation, or requesting further investigation. According to Blacknell, a filing decision is not final unless the D.A. has signed off on it. Once this occurs, the D.A.’s office makes “every effort to contact [the family] before that information is disseminated to the press” out of respect.  

The D.A.’s office has not responded to a request for comment regarding whether Gascón has officially signed off on any of these cases.  

Villanueva’s election opponent, Robert Luna, also dismissed Villanueva’s claims as political fodder.  

“This is just another Sheriff Villanueva attempt to distract voters from his scandals, chaos and dysfunction that has put our public safety at risk,” read a prepared statement from his campaign. “In Santa Clarita, violent crime and property crime have both increased by more than 20% this year. And instead of developing an effective strategy to reduce crime, Villanueva refuses to take responsibility and blames others. That’s why 70% of L.A. County voters in the primary voted to replace the sheriff.” 

Villanueva rejected Luna’s statement, saying he was just repeating a narrative.  

“When my opponent falsely asserts that nothing has been done, he’s just repeating the narrative, politically driven by the Oversight Commission… that’s what we can expect from a candidate who is grasping for straws. I think he has his own problems with his own candidacy and his lack of actually anything that he plans on doing as sheriff,” said Villanueva. 

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