Sheriff Alex Villanueva

Why the Board of Supervisors are Determined to Get Subpoena Power for the LASD Civilian Oversight Commission

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

The Los Angeles County Board Supervisors want subpoena power for the  Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s Civilian Oversight Commission, a concept that the board discussed four or five years ago, and repeatedly decided against.

But things have changed.

On Oct. 1, the LA County Board of Supervisors committed to making sure the soon-to-be-formed Probation Oversight Commission would have the “power to compel,” meaning subpoena power.  Practically speaking, the POC will have this power through the Office of the Inspector General, which is to act as the probation oversight body’s investigative arm.

Then yesterday, at the Oct 15, board meeting, the supervisors again voted unanimously and energetically, to take whatever steps are necessary to get this same power for the Civilian Oversight Commission or COC.  Like the POC,  the COC is slated to make use of the Inspector General as its investigative arm.

Specifically, Tuesday’s motion directs County Counsel, in consultation with the Inspector General, and the Civilian Oversight Commission (which has former judges, defense attorneys, and prosecutors among its membership) to recommend options for modifying the county ordinances in order to grant the COC access to LA County Sheriff’s Department data, documents and direct testimony in order to “fulfill their oversight function.”

With subpoena power, they will have the authority to compel the forking over of said data, docs, and testimony—within the bounds of state law— through the issuance of subpoenas by the IG, when deemed necessary by a majority of the COC.

“The county cannot afford to erase the progress that has been achieved under recent reform efforts,” said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas who, together with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, authored Tuesday’s motion. The county, he said “must learn from recent examples, the lack of cooperation, and be open to enhancing its current structures.”

The motion also directs coordination and alignment with a previous “report-back,” motion passed in July to expand the Inspector General’s authority in order to better be able investigate secret deputy cliques.

After all, Ridley-Thomas said,  This is about public safety.  It’s about community trust.  It’s about effective 21st Century, Constitutional law enforcement.”

The rest of the board agreed, each expressing how they’d come to the conclusion—some earlier than others—that subpoena power was called for if there was to be effective oversight on behalf of the communities they served.

LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, according to his representative at Tuesday’s meeting, is less than thrilled at the notion, however.

A quickie backstory

To put all this in context it helps to glance a little at the back story.   For this who may have forgotten, the Inspector General’s post was created in 2014, in response to the corruption, brutality, and dysfunction that plagued the administration of former LA County Sheriff Lee Baca, and his notorious second-in-command, former undersheriff Paul Tanaka, which finally resulted in the appointment of the Citizens Commission on Jail Violence, followed by the CCJV’s scathing, 194-page report in September 2012, with its list of recommendations.  Oh and there was the FBI investigation, followed by all those federal indictments, and eventually nearly two dozen criminal convictions.

Still, when, the IG alone didn’t seem like enough, two years later, in January, 12, 2016, the LA County Supervisors voted to implement the COC, with the mission “to improve public transparency and accountability with respect to the county’s sheriff’s department” on behalf of the residents of the county.

The problem with the COC, however, was the fact that, to get any information, et al, from the department, it had to ask politely and hope that the sheriff would comply.

In the prior administration of former sheriff Jim McDonnell,  sometimes he complied and sometimes he didn’t.  But, during the last part of his time in office, cooperation between the IG and the COC, and the department, had reportedly grown reasonably good.

More recently, however, Ridley-Thomas told the crowd on Tuesday, “there were some amazing gaps in  the information we were able to receive…”

Board members seemed to have viewed these “gaps” and refusals as particularly troubling as they asked the IG to investigate the issue of secret societies inside the sheriff’s department.

The COC and the IG’s “recent lack of access to sheriff’s department data, documents, and testimony has impeded their ability to perform their core oversight functions,” Ridley-Thomas said.  So, given this situation, the board “had to re-think – and must be open to re-configuring – their authority, including granting subpoena power, in the name of stronger reform.”

Patti Giggans, L.A. County Civilian Oversight Commission Chair and Executive Director of Peace Over Violence, expressed similar sentiments.

“The Commission is nearing our third year of existence,” Giggins said, “and one important lesson we have learned is that as an advisory commission, our power really goes only so far. The power of the subpoena is a critical tool to be an effective oversight body. We must have the ability to sometimes make the Sheriff’s Department do what they don’t want to do—shine a light where one must be shone.”

In her statement, Giggins pointed to a couple of letters to the sheriff that illustrate instances of noncooperation.  In one instance, the COC had requested information, and in another letter in May,  the COC requested the presence of several department members as speakers at their meeting in order to answer some pressing questions, but the COC’s requests were evidently blown off.

Forcing the issue

At the board meeting, Inspector General Max Huntsman described subpoena power as tool that gives the COC the “ability to force the issue,” when their requests  are met with refusal.

“That does not mean we would have to do it repeatedly,” Huntsman said, regarding the use of subpoenas.  And maybe they wouldn’t have to use it once everyone knows they have it, he said.  Once the IG’s office and the COC have explained to the department, “This is the law.  Please follow it.”

If the LASD says no, everyone goes to court, Huntsman told the board, and the varying points-of-view are litigated.

“It’s a fine process,” Huntsman told the board. “You can do it in a non-hostile way, or a hostile way, but it gets done either way.”

To put this further in context, in helps to know that, this past summer, access to information by the OIG and/or the COC was further withdrawn by the the sheriff.  Then when Huntsman didn’t respond to the sheriff’s threat that there would be “consequences” if he released a deeply researched report that the sheriff found distasteful, matters grew worse.  All at once, Huntsman himself became the target of a criminal investigation claiming he and his office had departmental information that he shouldn’t have, never mind that it was reportedly all information that the OIG  had been given by the previous sheriff, appropriately and legally.

With subpoena power most such conflicts would be pushed into the sunlight of open court.

On behalf of the people

Although invited, the Sheriff did not attend Tuesday’s board meeting, but instead sent his Chief of Staff, Dennis Kneer.

(Kneer replaced Sheriff Villanueva’s previous Chief of Staff, Lawrence Del Mese, who was transferred elsewhere in the department a few months ago after the sheriff reportedly became disenchanted with him.)

Kneer told the board that Sheriff Villanueva “does have some concerns” about subpoena power,  “specifically as it pertains to employee rights.”  What does it mean, he asked the board,  “when there is a subpoena, for example, of medical records regarding an employee or regarding an applicant?  Are we abiding by the law?  And so that’s why the sheriff’s very concerned. was concerned about the privacy of employees.”  As a consequence, Villanueva would like to run the whole thing by an outside counsel, said Kneer.

Since Ridley-Thomas was the motion’s author, he  answered Kneer by quoting from the motion, which “says explicitly,” he said,  that any and all uses of subpoenas would be done “in compliance with all laws and confidentiality protections.”

County Counsel Mary Wickham confirmed what the supervisor had read, but in far greater detail.

After that, Kneer gave a short recitation about the sheriff’s department’s desire to be transparent, mentioning a recent instance when the COC requested to see copies of the department’s “logos” at each of their patrol stations.  “And we decided to take it a step further and provide, not only logos at our patrol station, but department wide because, again, we want to be transparent.”

With those points made, he seemed to be finished.

Brian Williams, the Executive Director of the COC,  who is also a former prosecutor, a former deputy mayor of Los Angeles, and lots more, was one of the last county officials to speak to the board on the matter.

“I spent fourteen years as a prosecutor here in LA,” Williams said. And every time I went to court, I would say, ‘Brian Williams on behalf of the people.’

“Well it’s still Brian Williams and Patti Giggins and Max Huntsman on behalf of the community.”

Having a subpoena power, “does not mean always using it,” said Williams.

The LAPD’s Inspector General’s Office, both he and Huntsman pointed out, almost never uses their subpoena power.

“But having the threat of the tool…” he said, ” is usually enough to do the trick.  We have to have that tool.”

The report-back from Tuesday’s motion, due in 30 days, will also include the impact this directive for subpoena power will have on a March 2020 ballot measure, which also aims to give the COC subpoena power.

So, as usual…..stay tuned.


Top photo by Bryan Chan / Board of Supervisors, shows Patti Giggans, COC Chair, testifying, with Brian Williams, COC Executive Director, and Inspector General, Max Huntsman 

 

26 Comments

  • AV may still have some learning to do about politics but Huntsman-he’s a hack, a liar, a failed prosecutor and man without loyalty to those who work for him.
    I would be surprised if anyone that works for him, who isn’t a sycophant, enjoys doing so.
    His appreciation for others is nil.

    • Let’s be honest, someone has to police the Police.
      All one has to do is look at the ridiculous payouts by the county because of “some” corrupt deputies.

      • Agreed…even “the nations top cop”, the FBI showed it was/is not without implicit bias, free of scandal, personal agendas and subject to political pressures. Who can you ever really put your trust in to be fair, moral and honest? This is why I look at everything our “political leaders” impose upon the masses with a cocked eyebrow and through a magnifying glass of skepticism.

      • @L.A. County Taxpayer….let’s be honest, The payouts are not always due to your so called “corrupt deputies.” Sometimes (if not most of the time), it is easier to “pay out” rather than proceed with litigation.

        Apparently, you buy into the MSM Kool Aid.

        Nonetheless, this is about a power grab by the POS BOS. Especially, from the carpet munching goblin.

    • I have no insight into Huntsman, but his field investigators are nothing but pleasant and professional to deal with. They were always open to our input when they visited the jails, but they did their own digging to verify the information we provided them. At least one was a deputy DA who prosecuted hardcore gang crimes, possibly on loan to Huntsman’s office. She was sharp as a tack, and so were the others. Nothing bad to say about them.

  • The BOS has no LEGAL STANDING to enact on the commission subpoena power! Why didn’t the same BOS enact this when Baca and the other rubber stamp, McDonnell, were sheriff? Would it not be easier to vote the man out and get another rubber stamp? I would be more in favor of this if the sheriff was an appointed position. THE MAN GOT ELECTED BY THE PEOPLE OF LA COUNTY!!
    If the BOS and their hand sock (Huntsman) get their way, this is what will happen. Anytime the hand-sock can misdirect any information it will be amazingly leaked to the press totally out of context. The BOS who hates the sheriff will also leak to the press only to use this info against Sheriff AV in the next election. Should this same commission also have subpoena power to look into graft by the same BOS? And there’s lots of corruption, isn’t there Mr. Thomas? The Sheriff is correct as to employee rights. Unless ALADS and PPOA just gives up. At this point, if no agreement can be made, time to go to court all the way up to the SCOTUS. I urge all parties, BOS, Sheriff, POPA, ALADS etc to meet and try to come to a compromise. Consensus appears impossible now. If this gets enacted by the force of the courts no sheriff or any other elected official (are you listening BOS?) will be safe from the lies and innuendo of social media. Be careful what you ask for with the hand sock. And we owe this all to Lee Baca, William Stonich, Larry Waldie and last but not least Paul Tanaka. How about a round of applause!?

    C: Come on now whatever happen to that threatening call made to the lying county counsel? Maybe it was the Russians!!

  • Who monitors I.C.I.B and I.A when at the direction of the brass do as they please with an investigation? The last time two I.C.I.B Sergeants threatened an F.B.I agent at the direction of Paul Tanaka, they ended up in federal prison. They consider themselves the loyal folks “in the car” and when they feel the pinch forget the meaning of loyalty.

    Hypocrisy: The practice of having moral standards or beliefs to which one’s own behavior does not conform.

    • This was due in large part to having a Professional Standards captain (Carey) with little or no experience in IA/ICIB. He, along with the rest of the command staff, knew that the FBI investigation was not some rogue operation, but he sent his ICIB sergeants on a fool’s mission anyway. His answer to Tall Paul when he was directed to do so should have been, “Paul, I’m going to have to say no to that order to save you from a world of hurt. The supremacy clause of the Constitution allows them to investigate us. We can offer them help, and that’s about it.”

      This is less of a criticism of Captain Carey than it is of the ladder-climbing mentality of the department. Once a person has a wealth of experience in an area, they should be allowed to gravitate to that specialty. Jumping from spot to spot at the higher ranks doesn’t mean they understood or appreciated the units they were commanding. They’re just notches on their belts to justify further promotions. That isn’t to say they have to be pigeon-holed for the rest of their careers, as there is a lot to be said about well-rounded experience. Lieutenants should probably know a bit more that how to run a shift at a jail or patrol station before they think they can run a $3.5 billion department. Oops, said to much…

      • Dose – I wish you would submit a guest editorial on an LASD related issue to Celeste. Your comments are always spot on. Not that I would wish you some of the inevitable crackpot comments – but you communicate well and clearly and could share some information and a perspective that some of these articles lack.

      • Dose of Reality,
        You win the grand prize for correctness as you openly state what others fail to.
        One cannot blame Huntsman for doing his job nor can they turn a blind eye towards the political downward direction of LASD.
        Your comment spoke volumes and I doubt that any argument can legitimately counter it.

        • That lieutenant that Dose of Reality is casting dispersions on, and which you subsequently hail, is doing a remarkable job of reviving an enormous organization that his predecessor almost succeeded in destroying. Of course that is a matter of perspective, as those who spent their careers in ivory towers must be alarmed at how the “barbarian” doesn’t care about the pedigrees, just results.

          Huntsman is in hot water, and he’s going down. Yes we can blame him for breaking the law while pretending to do his job, which in the final analysis turns out to be doing the BOS dirty work of sullying the reputation of AV.

          • KD – I assure you – no ivory and no tower here. I do feel that some of Villanueva’s actions as a new Sheriff have set off predictable bombs that could easily have been avoided, leading to controversy and division. He has not helped himself much – some poorly thought out personnel actions, publicly fighting with the Board members, the issues with Huntsman, the hiring of his son – who just got off probation in 2015 (that he was placed on after failing to follow court orders), the response re the Bandidos, etc. At Board hearings, he looks like he’d rather be any place else. He ran for Sheriff. He’s a politician now and he has to learn to work in that world. The Board manages the County and the budget of all agencies – it is a bad tactic to repeatedly and publicly fight with them. That does not mean that he should simply acquiesce to them but he could and should have sought advice on how to better handle disagreement. I don’t have a personal ax to grind with the Sheriff but there is value in gaining rank to lead an agency of this size. I think he is in deep water and that he does not have the skill to swim out. I frankly hope to be proven wrong.

          • Take a Breath, I do apologize for missing your idea about the value in gaining rank in order to lead an agency the size of LASD. Maybe you were living under a rock the last two decades and all is forgiven. Twenty years of corruption and raw patronage, exactly how did you think people “gained” rank? And exactly what value do you think they have in reforming the organization? They were singularly responsible for destroying it.

  • Celeste, your journalistic integrity is diminishing by the day. In your own words, from this article:

    To put this further in context, in helps to know that, this past summer, access to information by the OIG and/or the COC was further withdrawn by the the sheriff. Then when Huntsman didn’t respond to the sheriff’s threat that there would be “consequences” if he released a deeply researched report that the sheriff found distasteful, matters grew worse. All at once, Huntsman himself became the target of a criminal investigation claiming he and his office had departmental information that he shouldn’t have, never mind that it was reportedly all information that the OIG had been given by the previous sheriff, appropriately and legally.

    Please tell your readers how you determined that the sheriff said there would be “consequences?” Did little Maxie Poo tell you that the mean sheriff turned his illegal requests down? And how did YOU determine that whatever the OIG may have was given “by the previous sheriff, appropriately and legally?” Please share with all Celeste your source of information.

    Bottom line Celeste is you don’t have a clue what is going on between the independently elected sheriff and the cabal of idiots known as the BOS, OIG, and COC, and working in conjunction to delegitimize our duly elected sheriff. His entire career is speaking truth to power, from lowly deputy to now sheriff, and that scares the bejesus out of the political establishment. Max Huntsman made a lot of accusations with no evidence, and now he desperately is searching for it. He illegally demanded the medical records and polygraph results of the entire recruit class that the sheriff’s son is currently in, and his “gotcha” plan went nowhere.

    The sheriff, on the other hand, was alerted to a crime that had been committed by current and former department members, and a proper investigation is under way. You see Celeste, that is how it’s supposed to work.

    By the way Celeste, since your such a champion of transparency and accountability, care to do a PRA request for all the communications between the BOS, the OIG, and the COC? Thrown in the emails with Sachi Hamai’s, office, I wonder what those look like? Just admit it Celeste, your just another washed out establishment flunky, carrying Sheila’s water. And to think you showed promise.

    • @ K.D. – Not to nitpick, but your comment diminishes quite rapidly when you attempt to write “you’re” and you actually write “your”.

      I suggest that before critiquing or criticizing anyone, your spelling should correctly match your words.

      Example – fir/fur, son/sun, there/their, bear/bare,hare/hair, hell/hail.

      I think you get the message.

      • Some folks who post on this site aren’t “paper tigers” and do not have the luxury of sitting behind a desk all day, spending hours on the computer. They have not devoted their entire life to “word smithing.” Some folks have to multi-task and balance being a “real warrior”, aka physically stressful and taxing work followed by periods of downtime when they write it all up. Hell, I submit articles from my phone when I have down time on the move. My job doesn’t afford me a nice, comfy air conditioned office and computer from which to keyboard away and avail myself of the MS Office suite.

        Let’s not criticize punctuation, word usage and grammar when the content is there and clear as day. It’s a weak ploy and way to divert the attention away from what matters.

        If I have grammatical errors….deal with it.

      • @Just Saying…

        …You do know that “hell” and “hail” are pronounced differently right? You were doing so good with your examples though…until that last example. Just saying.

  • Boy, Keep Dreaming, I think you’ve been dreaming you are a journalist. I love it when washed out flunkies try to tell others how to do their jobs. We have a lot of whiners on this site, people with thin skin, and probably missing teeth, who know everything. Keep Dreaming, keep dreaming that you are above average and a hero, like your colleagues on this site. Let me know when you do a PRA request and write a piece of investigative journalism.

    • CF…your self-congratulatory comments and last statement is so telling. Your ego and belief that only you are worthy of praise within your profession is laughable and pretentious.

      Speak to me when you’ve done a year long, multi-agency criminal organization investigation that results in warrants being issued, multiple arrests, thousands of pages of support documents being produced and submitted to the DA, lengthy court trials and ultimately twenty to thirty people going to prison. Oh..and these people had guns and didn’t want to go to jail or prison. This was not a one off either or exception to the rule. All in a days work.

      If you want to pat yourself on the back for “investigative journalism and PRA request” so be it, but let’s not kid ourselves into thinking “your exploits” are all that.

  • CF…you describe yourself to a tee…..”a lot of whiners on this site, people with thin skin, and probably missing teeth, who know everything.”

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