Columnists Earl Ofari Hutchinson Opinion

THE HUTCHINSON REPORT: One more Guardado and Villanueva is done

I will skip the diplomacy. One more Andres Guardado and Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva must resign or be recalled.

Villanueva was elected in 2018 with the overwhelming support of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union for rank-and-file sheriff’s deputies. It backed him with gusto for a good reason.

He promised to be a tough cop’s cop and go to bat whenever and wherever there was any inference of wrongdoing by deputies.

He has been as good as his word. He has waged relentless battle with the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors over any cuts to the department’s funding. He has brought back a disgraced and discredited former deputy. He has said he would bring back other deputies allegedly unfairly terminated.

He has repeatedly been under fire from civil rights activists and the supervisors for lack of transparency and accountability on deputy-involved shootings. That issue exploded with the gunning down of Guardado just outside Gardena in June.

Villanueva added much fuel to the fire in the slaying when he refused to release the autopsy report on Guardado’s killing. There was good reason for the secrecy.

An independent autopsy found that Guardado had been shot five times in the back. Villanueva added more insult to injury when it was revealed that the department hadn’t interviewed the shooter about the circumstances of the killing. Time was passing with no movement to determine just what and why the deputy resorted to gunplay with Guardado.

Instead, Villanueva offered a weak rejoinder about Guardado having what looked like an illegal weapon, casting aspersions on his claim to be a security guard and hunkering down behind the standard claim that the investigation is ongoing.

Villanueva’s handling of the Guardado killing appeared to be squarely in keeping with his see-no-evil, hear-no-evil actions when it comes to deputies, no matter how questionable and dubious. That shouldn’t be a surprise. 

Villanueva is just the latest, and the worst, sheriff to slap a cloak of invisibility and invincibility over the actions of the sheriff’s department when it comes to transparency and accountability.

This is a department where deputies at some stations sport tattoos that look suspiciously like, take your pick: gang, white supremacist or violence promos.

Next there was the charge that deputies with dubious records of lying, planting evidence and other assorted acts of misconduct are routinely protected from disclosure under an archaic and thoroughly reprehensible California shield law that erects a near impregnable barrier to finding out anything about their misconduct.

Then there was the never-ending charge of racial profiling, harassment and excessive force against sheriff’s deputies. The victims almost always are young African American and Hispanic males.

There’s no debate, though, about officers who lie and shade testimony in criminal cases. There have been a lot of them. They have been placed in a data base of officers who have testified in criminal cases and their testimony is suspect, to say the least.

The problem is the state shield law that makes it nearly impossible for defense attorneys to get information about deputy misconduct.

Former Sheriff Jim McDonnell tried to turn over the names of the officers who give tainted testimony, but was blocked. He also promised to rein in the high number of excessive force actions by sheriff’s deputies, almost all unpunished. He didn’t get the chance.

We got Villanueva instead, who defeated McDonnell on the strong hint that cracking down on officers who overuse deadly force would not be a priority on his watch.

Tackling that problem means immediate and vigorous implementation of the reform recommendations such as a fully empowered independent civilian oversight commission, getting rid of deputies who brutalize prisoners at the jails and administrators who look the other way, total transparency and accountability on the reform process.

L.A. County District Attorney Jackie Lacey is under relentless attack for refusing to prosecute deputies who overuse deadly force. But even Lacey admitted that it’s tough for her office to get any information about a bad shooting from the sheriff’s department.

Unlike the LAPD, there is no internal department requirement that a deputy be interviewed about a shooting on a timely basis. Lacey claims that this makes it nearly impossible for her office to get all the facts. 

And in the absence of those facts, a prosecution is even less likely. Villanueva has given no indication that he will move to change this and require immediate disclosure of all the facts in a shooting. That first and foremost means putting the deputy on the legal hot seat.

Villanueva is an elected official and barring any illegal action can only be removed by the voters. But if abuse, unwarranted deadly force, defiance and obstructionism continue to be the watchwords of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and its sheriff, then Villanueva must resign or be recalled.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book, “Why Black Lives Do Matter” (Middle Passage Press) will be released in August. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One and the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network.