Trending Topics

Civilian oversight panel to subpoena LA sheriff for testimony on jails

The commission is using its voter-provided direct authority to use subpoenas to investigate conduct within the department

Alene Tcheckmedyian
Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — The Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission voted Thursday to subpoena L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva to appear at its next meeting to discuss his handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the jails, marking the first use of a powerful new oversight tool.

“I think it’s outrageous that the sheriff isn’t here to answer questions about what’s going on in the jails,” said Commissioner Priscilla Ocen, who suggested that inmates are being housed in conditions that increase their vulnerability to contracting the virus.

The unanimous vote came after the Sheriff’s Department declined the panel’s request that Villanueva or a senior official attend Thursday’s virtual meeting, which was streamed live, to discuss his proposal to close two patrol stations and cut other services to reduce the department’s budget deficit. Neither he nor a representative showed up.

In March, voters overwhelmingly approved Measure R, handing the commission direct authority to issue subpoenas to investigate conduct within the Sheriff’s Department.

It’s unclear whether Villanueva plans to comply with the subpoena.

In a statement, the Sheriff’s Department said, “We have not received one as of this statement and have absolutely no details as to what they are requesting. Furthermore, any subpoena served to LASD would be processed by county counsel as this may affect current pending litigation.”

The panel is seeking testimony about the sheriff’s policies and handling of the virus outbreak in the jails, where the number of inmate infections has more than doubled in a week. As of Thursday, 248 inmates had tested positive for the virus, up from 115 on April 30. Officials, however, are conducting more testing, including of all new bookings.

Villanueva has significantly reduced the jail population in response to the pandemic. As of Thursday, the jails, which typically house 17,000 people, held 11,837 inmates, according to the Sheriff’s Department.

Some critics contend that L.A. County has not done enough. A recent class-action lawsuit claims that inmates are not being tested even when they show symptoms and lack sufficient space for physical distancing. The lawsuit claims inmates don’t have enough soap or a safe way to dry their hands.