A defiant Sheriff used a press conference today to slam a variety of his opponents, both political and perceived, including election challenger Eli Vera, county inspector general Max Huntsman, and reporter Alene Tchekmedyian. Villanueva alleged today that the piece was potentially based on information stolen from the department. Six possible crimes involving the incident include burglary, theft, and conspiracy.
He enhanced the presentation with a blown-up photo of the reporter, as long as law enforcement authorities are wary to handle suspects when it comes to the prosecution.
Villanueva, as asked by the media today if Tchekmedyian was under investigation, said, "The matter is under investigation."
Another reporter said, "You placed her picture there," and talked about it in terms of a criminal investigation. Is this reporter from Los Angeles Times being investigated by the Department?"
"The act is under investigation," said the Sheriff. "All parties to the act are subjected to investigation," he said.
He narrated the article as a "click bait" and as a "hit parade by the Los Angeles Times."
After a leaked video revealed a deputy kneeling on the head of a handcuffed cop, Los Angeles Co Sheriff Alex Villanueva reveals the LASD is investigating his political opponent.
Kate Cagle (@KateCagle)
Kevin Merida, the executive director of the Los Angeles Times, issued a statement calling the sheriff's comments "outrageous."
"It's outrageous that Sheriff Alex Villanueva's attack on Alene Tchekmedyian's First Amendment rights for reporting on a video that showed a deputy kneeling on the head of a handcuffed victim is against the law, according to Merida. "His attempt to criminalize news reporting is against well-established constitutional law. In any proceeding or investigation, we will enthralle Tchekmedyian's and the Los Angeles Times' rights."
The following letter was sent to Villanueva late today by its general counsel, Jeff Glasser. In it, Glasser outlines the legal precedents prohibiting such an investigation of a journalist, claiming the move as "a thinly veiled attempt to intimidate Ms. Tchekmedyian for lack of (but entirely accurate) information regarding the conduct of individuals in your department, as well as statements made by you and other officials."
The law has in place, too.
Paul Thornton (@PaulMThornton)
Late today, the sheriff retaliated the furious, posting a denial to social media, which says in part:
I must clarify at no time today that a reporter in the Los Angeles Times was a suspect in a criminal investigation. We have no interest in pursuing, nor are we inpursuing criminal charges against any reporter.
I must clarify the fact that, following the frightening disinformation being transmitted, a reporter in the Los Angeles Times was no longer a suspect in a criminal investigation. We have no interest in or are not pursuing criminal charges against any reporters.
Sheriffs in LA County (@LASDHQ)
Earlier in the day, however, Villanueva also went as far as allege collusion among the various players, all of which he wanted to disrupt his re-election campaign.
"When you take this whole thing into account, you realize that there are a lot of people working in tandem and coordination," he said. "That includes people who obviously want to defeat me electorally. That includes the [Board of Supervisors]-appointed inspector general and the [Civilian] Oversight Commission. A lot of people are doing it as best they can, so there will be more of this nonsense thrown at me until June 7, but it is what it is."
She said she is urging the state attorney general to investigate Villanueva for a "pattern of unconscionable and dangerous actions" like this one today, as well as the sheriff's desire to press conferences with county resources to provoke political foes.
This is in accordance with his previous harassment of other women, including KPCC reporter Josie Huang, as well as myself and other county officials.
"Displaying Alene's photo at today's press conference and making her appear as if she committed a crime is not a lie down against Alene, but the whole journalism community. What's criminal is the sheriff's depreciation of deputies using excessive force against an incarcerated person, including kneeling on his neck for three minutes. "It's not a criminal, however, is Alene and other journalists reporting on it."
The Los Angeles Times reporter's own statement was released, saying, "stands in solidarity with Alene Tchekmedyian and all journalists threatened or harassed by the law enforcement."
The press club and 20 other media-affiliated organizations have signed the letter.
We stand up with other press organizations and advocates for securing the help of and all journalists that have been threatened/harassed by law enforcement, including and others.
LA Press Club (@LAPressClub)
Villanueva denied all allegations in a damage claim filed against the county this week by one of his officers, who claims the sheriff was informed of the incident days after it, and lied when he claimed not to have seen footage of the altercation until months later.
Tuesday, the sheriff blasted the claim, claiming it was part of what he alleges is a coordinated assault against an election opponent, the county's inspector general, and even a Los Angeles Times reporter, claiming that he is conducting a criminal probe to determine who leaked the reporter surveillance video.
"So the foundation of this entire lawsuit [claim] is false," said the sheriff. "Everything in this lawsuit is false."
Cmdr. Allen Castellano says Villanueva and at least three other agencies executives saw the surveillance video within days of the March 10, 2021 incident, and the sheriff said he would "handle the matter," adding that the department did "not need bad media at this time." Castellano said he was concerned about the footage, which he believes was a precursor to a lawsuit, and that it did not involve bad media.
The altercation, which was first reported by the Los Angeles Times, sparked at the San Fernando Courthouse, where a 24-year-old aide-cop allegedly punched the city's deputy, according to Johnson and other deputies. Escalante was wrestled to the ground, with Johnson putting his knee on the suspect's head.
Johnson remained on Escalante's head for three minutes after being handcuffed and did not appear to be holding his hands in a security video.
According to internal records, Los Angeles County Sheriff's officers tried to conceal an incident in which a deputy snelt on the head of a handcuffed convict for three minutes.
Los Angeles Times (@latimes)
After the incident, Castellano wrote an internal report claiming that officials within the department tried to suppress details and video of the altercation, "given its nature and its ties to widely publicized George Floyd's use of force."
Castellano claims that Villanueva conducted an attempt to cover up the footage and then filed a retaliatory action against individuals involved in the department who raised questions about the effort or challenged what the commander described as an attempt to alter the timeline of when he first watched the footage.
Villanueva denied last month that he was involved in any type of coverup, stating that he did not see the video until November, when he immediately ordered that the deputy involved be relieved of duty and that a criminal investigation be initiated.
The sheriff has admitted that an internal criminal investigation should have been begun immediately following the incident, as did an administrative investigation, but it didn't happen, he said, owing to shortcomings in judgment by others in the department.
Villanueva reiterated that timeline Tuesday, once more negating any kind of cover-up or retaliation.
"When it comes to cover-ups or whistleblowers, I don't see what was covered up or what whistle was blown, because that's a mystery," he said.
The accused undersheriff's lawyer, Tim Murakami, is a prominent figure in the claim to have seen the video days after the incident in March 2021.
Castellano is described as a "disgruntled employee," according to Villanueva.
Despite Castellano's damages statement, the sheriff's claim that the deputy involved was relieved of duty in November, but that it actually didn't happen until December 7th, according to Castellano. He also claims that he was subjected to an internal investigation following concerns about the handling of the case, and that he was reprimanded for shortcomings in the prosecution, despite his insistence that the prosecution be brought to the authorities within days.
Vera, a 33-year veteran of the Sheriff's Department, issued a statement on Monday backing Castellano's events.
"I'm divisive to see Villanueva double-down on his lies in order to disseminate his criminal activities," Vera said.
This report was contributed by the City News Service.