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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.

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