On Sunday an interesting Twitter war occurred between Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva about the issue of body cams, and why the LASD still doesn’t have them.
The tweet war was followed by other developments.
One of those was the sheriff’s startling announcement on Tuesday afternoon about the formation of a new task force to investigate officer-involved shootings. Weirdly, however, the task force would be made up of other law enforcement people and entities, notably including LAPD Chief Michel Moore, LA County District Attorney Jackie Lacey, and Sheriff Villanueva — plus investigators from all three agencies.
We’ll come back to the task force idea. First the body cams and the Twitter skirmishes.
This past week, the fact that the nation’s third-largest law enforcement agency still doesn’t have body-worn cameras has landed in the news again because of the fatal shootings of two young men that have caused LA County residents to wish there was an independent witness — namely a camera.
First, there was the fatal shooting on June 17, of Terron Boone, who allegedly assaulted his girlfriend and held her captive for days, after the death the half-brother of Robert Fuller, the Black young man who was found hanging from a tree outside Palmdale City Hall. A woman who was traveling in the car with Boone was injured by the shooting. A 7-year-old girl who was also in the car was unharmed.
Then, the day after Terron Boone was killed, on June 18, Andres Guardado, an 18-year-old security guard, was shot six or seven times by sheriff’s deputies under circumstances that have disturbed a great many people, and stimulated a new series of marches and demonstrations.
On Saturday, June 20, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva held a press conference regarding the department’s investigation into the death of Andres Guardado. In the course of the virtual press event (which, as of this writing can still be viewed on Facebook), a reporter asked the sheriff when the sheriff’s department might be getting body cams.
After all, the approximately 4000 members of the Los Angeles Police Department have had body-worn cameras since the summer of 2017, with the rest of the front line officers getting their BWCs by early 2018.
But the LASD still has zero body cams.
In response, Villanueva complained that he had been completely ready to go on the body cams in early 2019, and it was only the members of the board of supervisors who’d stood in his way — a claim that, according to the most recent reports on the matter by the Office of the Inspector General, and the county CEO, does not appear to be accurate.
The day after Villanueva’s claim, Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who had evidently had enough of the It’s All The Evil Board’s Fault thing, posted this:
Reporters should ask the Sheriff why he continues to blame the the Board of Supervisors for his dereliction. Read the Inspector General’s report https://t.co/HGDPp4VrTb on body warm cameras for the truth. @brittny_mejia @newsterrier https://t.co/n9fJyXyW5A
— Mark Ridley-Thomas (@mridleythomas) June 22, 2020
The sheriff replied as follows:
MRT countered with this:
On Tuesday, Ridley-Thomas followed up with a motion that he “read in” during this week’s board meeting. The motion directs County Counsel, the Inspector General, the Civilian Oversight Commission, the Public Defender, and the Coroner/Medical-Examiner, to report back to the board with alternative plans to ensure an independent investigation into the death of Guardado.
(WLA has more on the motion in a separate story.)
Interestingly, during the board meeting, the sheriff was live broadcasting on his Instagram feed in order to provide his own commentary as a counterpoint to the board’s live discussion of the MRT motion, a motion the sheriff dismissed as campaign grandstanding.
Okay, so about those body cams
As of this summer, the LA County Sheriff’s Department and the board of supervisors will have been working on getting body-worn cameras for the LASD for approximately six years.
When WitnessLA last reported on the topic in August 2018, the LASD and the board were already into well over four years of researching the issue of buying and implementing body-worn cameras for the nation’s largest sheriff’s department.
It seemed not to help that, during those same four years, two-thirds of the major law enforcement agencies in the U.S. had managed to fund, implement, or started the process of implementing, BWCs for their patrol officers.
In September 2014, the county and the LA Sheriff’s Department made an initial investment with an eight-month volunteer pilot program to test the concept of body-worn cameras at four LASD stations, namely Carson, Century, Lancaster, and Temple.
Yet, although nearly all of the deputies who participated in the pilot program’s focus groups said that the body cams “would be a huge asset,” the previous sheriff, Jim McDonnell, continued to drag his feet on the matter.
And, while the Los Angeles Police Department got cameras for approximately 4000 LAPD officers at a cost of around $60 million, McDonnell maintained it would cost the LASD closer to $100 million.
Meanwhile, Inspector General Max Huntsman continued to put out reports saying why the LASD needed to have body cams ASAP.
When, in early December of 2018, Sheriff Villanueva was sworn in to be McDonnell’s successor, he did, as he said, bring up body-worn cameras right at the beginning. Moreover, the $35 million price tag he proposed, sounded almost unbelievably reasonable, compared to the $100 million the previous sheriff deemed necessary.
It first appeared that Villanueva was proposing a larger pilot with more stations involved, yet still not all. But the sheriff has since told WitnessLA that this is not the case. **
In any case, both then and now, Sheriff Villanueva’s BWC proposal has been very promising — and a relief.
A September 2019 motion authored by Supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas and Hilda Solis authorized the necessary funds to get things going.
Now, in the Inspector General’s June 16, report on the matter of body cams, the OIG concluded that, although there were, and still are, a few policy disagreements about the way the resulting “footage” from the cameras should be handled — such as who can see it, and when — these issues shouldn’t hold up the acquisition and deployment of the cameras forthwith.
IG Max Huntsman did suggest in his report, however, that if the sheriff didn’t repeatedly blow off invitations — along with a couple of subpoenas — to show up at a Civilian Oversight Commission meeting in order to discuss the COC’s body cam policy concerns and other matters, things might get resolved more quickly.
Nevertheless, according to the report, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is scheduled to “begin deployment” of body cameras “by the end of the third quarter of this year contingent upon on the successful execution of an agreement with the vendor.”
Bottom line: what remains is for the LASD to follow through and take the project to completion.
On Tuesday, County CEO Sachi Hamai put it plainly.
“Over the past three years, the Board has proactively set aside $34.78 million in a dedicated account to support this program, and on September 24, 2019, unanimously approved a motion to authorize the Sheriff’s Department to implement this project,” she wrote in a statement. “The Sheriff’s Department has sole responsibility for the implementation timetable to roll out body-worn cameras, including the procurement and implementation process.”
Brian Williams, Executive Director of the Civilian Oversight Commission, was equally firm on the topic.
“Body-worn cameras are critical tools that directly address the issues of accountability and transparency,” he said. “Our community has waited long enough.”
Okay, so that’s the deal with body cameras, which brings us to the “task force.”
Henhouse meet foxes
As mentioned earlier, a few hours after the sheriff expressed his displeasure over Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas’s read-in board motion calling for a “robust and independent investigation” into the fatal shooting of Andres Guardado “to ensure the truth is uncovered and justice is served,” Villanueva sent out his notice of a 10 a.m. press conference on Wednesday, at which time, along with District Attorney Jackie Lacey, and Chief Michel Moore, he would announce “proposed efforts to coordinate a county-wide regional taskforce, aimed at investigating deputy and officer-involved shootings, and uses of force which result in fatalities.”
It is an announcement that has startled quite a few people — even those of us who knew it was coming.
To put it as kindly as is possible, the idea of a new task force that seeks to have local law enforcement investigating local law enforcement does not exactly seem like what this historic moment requires.
At 8:52 am, the LASD sent out the following email:
**DUE TO UNFORESEEN CIRCUMSTANCES, THE PRESS CONFERENCE HAS BEEN CANCELED**
On Thursday afternoon, June 26, however, Sheriff Villanueva sent out this message:
“As a progressive, I am constantly exploring new avenues to move us forward in policing. Recent events have led community-based groups to highlight the issue of law enforcement agencies investigating their own shootings. I hear you. Other law enforcement leaders and I met early this week to discuss the creation of a Multiagency Officer-Involved Shooting Taskforce. The main goal of this taskforce will be for Los Angeles County agencies to form a joint taskforce of investigators from multiple agencies to conduct investigations for use of force incidents which result in death. I have complete confidence in our homicide detectives, and the other detectives throughout our County, but we want to continue building trust, increasing transparency and making the process more reassuring for our communities. Moving forward, we are forming a steering group with stakeholders from across the county, which also includes the Office of the District Attorney and State Office of the Attorney General. In the coming weeks, we will access the resources needed to develop a definitive plan and make this concept a reality.
The community wants change and we will usher in that change, together.”
More as we know it.
**Correction, June 26, 2020, 4:30 p.m. It was originally our understanding that the $35 million body cam program about to be rolled out was a large pilot that did not include all stations. Sheriff Villanueva explained to us that it was not a pilot, hence the correction marked in the story.
Bottom photo via Youth Justice Coalition/Twitter