Voters to decide if L.A. County supervisors can remove elected sheriff

If approved by voters, the ballot measure would give the board the authority to remove a sheriff "for cause" on a four-fifths vote of the five-member panel

By Steve Scauzillo
Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES — As expected, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, Aug, 2, voted to place a measure on the November ballot that would give them the power to remove a publicly elected sheriff from office.

The board vote was 4-1, with Fifth District Supervisor Kathryn Barger the lone dissenting vote. The action was taken as part of the consent calendar with no discussion.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva. (Photo/Sarah Reingewirtz of Los Angeles DailyNews via TNS)

If approved by voters, the ballot measure would give the board the authority to remove a sheriff “for cause” on a four-fifths vote of the five-member panel.

“Cause” is defined as “a violation of any law related to the performance of their duties as sheriff; flagrant or repeated neglect of duties; a misappropriation of public funds or property; willful falsification of a relevant official statement or document; or obstruction of any investigation into the conduct of the sheriff by the Inspector General, Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, or any government agency with jurisdiction to conduct such an investigation.”

Although board members supporting the measure have denied it was political in nature, the move is a clear response to repeated clashes with current Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Villanueva has repeatedly tangled with the board, accusing members of defunding his agency at the expense of public safety, while also rebuffing subpoenas to appear before the county’s Civilian Oversight Commission.

During the last four years, Villanueva has blocked investigations of deputy gangs and resisted oversight into several fatal shootings by deputies, often defying subpoenas, the board’s motion said.

A post on the sheriff’s Facebook re-election page on July 8 read: “The people of LA would be better served if the Supervisors spent their time doing their jobs by reducing homelessness and improving healthcare, instead of trying to seize even more power.”

In a separate statement made last month, the sheriff said he would take the county to court to defend his rights as a duly elected official. He argued that “this measure will likely be ruled by the Courts to be unconstitutional.”

He called the move a way to undermine his run for re-election. In November, Villanueva faces former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, who finished as the runner-up during the June primary.

In the last few years, the supervisors repeatedly passed motions to investigate the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, including two motions in 2020 for independent reviews of the fatal deputy shooting of 18-year-old Andres Guardado, a security guard from Gardena, who was shot five times in the back, as shown in two independent autopsies.

Increasingly, the relationship between the sheriff and the Democrat-dominated Board of Supervisors, who hold the Sheriff’s Department’s purse strings, has become outright toxic.

Board Chair Holly Mitchell and Supervisor Hilda Solis introduced the motion July 12 calling for the ballot measure. Mitchell said during the July 12 board meeting that the issue goes beyond Villanueva.

“The issue of sheriff accountability before us is both urgent and systemic, having impacted past generations of Angelenos, but also with important consequences for the future,” Mitchell said. “Unfortunately, the county has had long and troubling history with sheriff oversight and transparency.”

At a previous meeting when the item was discussed, Barger said the board action was political, not practical: “The motion appears to be more personal than it is about the office of the sheriff,” she said.

Because Villanueva will be in a run-off election Nov. 8, having a charter amendment granting the board power to remove the sheriff seems like bad timing, Barger said.

“The voters will have an opportunity to speak in November through the ballot box,” said Julie Haff, executive director of the Republican Party of Los Angeles County on Tuesday. “I am not in favor of subverting the will of the people.”

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