Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Tuesday responded to allegations of a cover-up related to a use of force incident involving deputies at a courthouse last year, announcing a new investigation and indicating a top aide has been replaced.
During the March 10, 2021, incident, an inmate punched a deputy multiple times before the deputy pinned the inmate to the ground and knelt on his head for about three minutes after the defendant was handcuffed and compliant, the Los Angeles Times reported last week after obtaining video of the incident.
Tuesday’s news conference came days after the newspaper published a story indicating people involved attempted to cover up the incident by not reporting the assault up the chain of command, fearing bad publicity.
Additionally, the incident occurred just two days after jury selection began in the case against former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Those involved did not pursue criminal charges against the involved inmate in an effort to avoid drawing negative attention to the incident and its similarities to the use of force tactics in the George Floyd case, according to the Times, citing an internal force review.
On Tuesday, Villanueva admitted there was a break in communication following the incident and no criminal investigation was ordered. He said he did not become aware of the video until November (not October as the story indicated), when he then ordered the deputy to be relieved of duty pending a criminal and administrative investigation.
He said a third investigation was then ordered to look into the “disturbing conduct” following the encounter. He added: “If i was aware of these efforts, it wouldn’t be a cover-up.”
Villanueva said he also replaced a top aide following the incident. He named an acting assistant sheriff, Holly Francisco, to oversee countywide operations, including the Court Services Division, where the March incident happened. Francisco is taking over for Robin Limon, who held the position at the time, the L.A. Times reported.
The sheriff accused the Times of attacking him amid an election cycle, indicating the newspaper had published negative, “clickbait” headlines about him and his department several times in the past week, even quoting from one written by columnist Gustavo Arellano.
Villanueva said the newspaper is trying to “regurgitate” old news.
“This is all about throwing everything possible at my campaign,” Villanueva said. “This is everything but the kitchen sink.”
He even accused the Times of working “in concert” with the inspector general and oversight commission on an investigation into so-called deputy gangs, comparing the inquiry to “finding bigfoot.”
When asked why the original incident wasn’t made public at the time, the sheriff said it didn’t merit media coverage because no one was seriously injured.
“It was not something that was earth shattering news,” Villanueva said.