The Worst Sheriff of 2021: Los Angeles’s Alex Villanueva
December 21, 2021
I didn’t set out to have someone win Worst Sheriff two years in a row. But a clear-eyed view of the evidence left me with no choice. There really is no sheriff who manages to be simultaneously politically clueless and oddly savvy, who revels in pettiness while claiming to uphold the law, and who just plain old lies. Plus, he runs the largest sheriff’s office in the United States. What could go wrong?
There’s too much to say about Villanueva, so I will just hit a few highlights.
Deputy killings. LASD has been known for violence and aggression since…forever. Under Villanueva, there has been no abatement. Villanueva has blocked investigations into the murders of Andres Guardado, Dijon Kizzee, Samuel Herrera, Jr., and Dana Mitchell “Malik” Young, Jr., which all went to a coroner’s inquest, an extraordinary measure and one that Villanueva decided he didn’t need to participate in, instead accusing the Board of Supervisors of “misusing corner’s inquests.”
Not only has Villanueva consistently dodged responsibility, he also blocked inquiry into the incidents and has stepped aside while his deputies harass the families of victims. The families of Anthony Vargas, Andres Guardado, and Paul Rea have endured years of deputies driving by and harassing memorials. Deputies have followed family members home from school, mocked loved ones wearing memorial t-shirts, and parked their cars outside of relatives’ homes. Why? To frighten, intimidate, deter, bully?
This leads to Villanueva’s other major problem, his failure to acknowledge criminal gangs within the department. He has basically ignored multiple reports, subpoenas, and requests to change the department policy to weed out gangs. Honestly? He probably can’t because there are too many gangs. (Read Cerise Castle’s masterpiece for more.)
Investigating Political Enemies While Saying He Is Not. Villanueva opened a special department that he says is investigating corruption but is actually investigating and harassing people on the Civilian Oversight Committee, like Inspector General Max Huntsman.
Complaining. He believes his department is being defunded. He whines about the Board of Supervisors not giving him more money. He wails with the Civilian Oversight Commission doesn’t praise his name to the high heavens. He has done troll-ish things like complaining about the state of policing on public transit and conducting his own sting operation on Venice Beach, all the while complaining that people were coming to California for the benefits and accusing houseless people of sleeping outside on purpose.
Lawlessness. The Civilian Oversight Committee nominally has subpoena powers over the sheriff and department employees. But, Villanueva has decided that he doesn’t have time for oversight (despite continuing to broadcast himself talking once a week for over a house on Facebook Live.) He also continues illegal policing, like stopping Black and Brown bikers – I mean, this is all in addition to the gangs.
Beds With the Enemy: Villanueva was elected as a Democrat, and he says he is running as one. But it’s easy to be confused. Villanueva has decided to position himself against the “woke mob” and transform into an alt-right troll. He not only appeared on Newsmax and Tucker Carlson’s show, but he has also decried COVID vaccine mandates and then started claiming that the test provider was somehow shady, a conspiracy theory that feels pretty tin hat, even for Villanueva.
You might think that I am overstating this, but there are literally reams of official documents that document Villanueva’s villainy. You cannot make this stuff up. Villanueva has taken sheriff supremacy to such an extreme that he just ignores multiple levels of oversight. He’s a walking argument for eliminating the office altogether.
It’s important to note that Villanueva couldn’t accomplish all of this villainy alone. One of his main “public relations” officers trolls people on Twitter, especially some of Villanueva’s competition for the election in 2022.
Even Dumpster Fires Shed Light
From the dumpster fire that is Alex Villanueva have come some glorious phoenixes, however. First, there’s the dogged reporting of people like Cerise Castle, Alene Tchekmedyian, and Kate Cagle of Spectrum News.
And there are the activists, community members, and loved ones of those killed by the LASD. They have shared their stories and keep sharing even when people don’t listen or when they are harassed and threatened. Without them, there wouldn’t be the changes was have seen, like pressure on the Civilian Oversight Committee to hold the sheriff responsible, a petition to change the county charter to provide more sheriff oversight, and Measure R, a plan to fund community service over jail expansion.
So, while Alex Villanueva is the worst sheriff of the year for the second time running, he has also given birth to a glorious revolution, one that I hope will inspire abolitionists in years to come.
Alex Villanueva is up for election in 2022, so it’s worth previewing his competition and talking about what is gearing up to be the biggest Clown Fest of next year.
The top contender, if you believe the news, is Cecil Rhambo, who embarrassingly removed his shirt on television (and sent the video to an LA Times reporter). Rhambo was the top Democratic Party pick to replace Villanueva. But, he has a troubling history and was probably a gang member, according to Cerise Castle.
Former Houston and Miami Police Chief Art Acevedo talked about running for sheriff, then did not, taking a job instead as CNN commentator. And there are several other people running…we shall see how it turns out.