Alex Villanueva

LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva & the matter of threatening journalists

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

As most readers likely know by now, yesterday, Tuesday April 26, the ever more beleaguered (and beleaguering) Los Angeles County Sheriff held a press conference in which he announced that he was criminally investigating Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian, along with LA County’s inspector general, Max Huntsman, and former LASD Commander turned candidate for sheriff, Eli Vera.

When Villanueva threatened Tchekmedyian at yesterday’s press conference, he mostly accused her of…well… reporting.

Along with Alene’s skilled reporting and writing, and her knack for digging up important stories, the sheriff also appeared to object to the fact that Alene has sources who give her information, which recently included a video of a deputy kneeling on a jail resident’s head in what may or may not turn out to be an illegal act on the part of Deputy Johnson.

The fact that an unknown whistleblower inside the department may have seen fit to give the video to Tchekmedyian, or to someone who then passed it along to her, is something the sheriff appears also to incorrectly believe is a criminal act on the part of the whistleblower source.

Post press conference, news of Villanueva’s threat spread quickly among journalists and others. By yesterday evening, more than two dozen journalism and legal organizations in California alone had condemned the sheriff in the strongest possible terms.

They also gave the sheriff a short course in the applicable law and legal precedents.

“For over 50 years, the Supreme Court has upheld the First Amendment right to publish information of public concern received by members of the press or public,” wrote the LA Press Club and 21 other cosigning organizations. “For the Sheriff to suggest otherwise is an unconscionable attempt to deter the press from exercising its long-established right to report on abuses of power.”

Short form: If you’re going to try to bully and threaten someone, you might want to do your research first.

The response by reporters and First Amendment experts was not limited to California.

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow and her staff also took note of the sheriff’s on camera threat, which Maddow then reported near the end of her 6 p.m. Pacific/9 p.m. Eastern broadcast.

Maddow, who presented the story with grim fury, also showed the now infamous video of LASD Deputy Douglass Johnson kneeling on the head of jail resident Enzo Escalante, the leakage of which was one of the issues that had so infuriated the sheriff. 

Others who commented yesterday included such First Amendment experts as Katie Townsend, deputy executive director and legal director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who put out a statement that read, “​​The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department’s announcement that it has launched a criminal investigation into a journalist because of her reporting is appalling.

“This blatantly retaliatory conduct aimed at the Los Angeles Times and its reporter Alene Tchekmedyian is beyond the pale, and violates the First Amendment. Publishing newsworthy information about an alleged law enforcement cover up that sought to block an investigation into the use of excessive force is constitutionally protected activity…”

And there were many other voices that chimed in during the day, such as New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman who tweeted, “Have never seen something like this, no matter how many times officials have tried to drag and/or demonize reporters.”

Evidently the barrage of angry blow-back had its effect.

A little before 7 p.m. yesterday, the sheriff tweeted that he really, really never ever said that “an LA Times reporter was a suspect in a criminal investigation.” As for how such a mistaken view could have arisen, the sheriff credited an “incredible frenzy of misinformation being circulated.”


One more thing.

It’s likely worth mentioning that members of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department’s habit of threatening reporters didn’t begin with Alex Villanueva.

In 2011 when WitnessLA began reporting on the leadership of the LASD, with much of that reporting focused on former undersheriff Paul Tanaka in particular, we began getting threats.

Yet they weren’t public threats.

They came primarily in the form of personal contact, such as threatening phone calls.

It got to the point that several of our department sources became worried for our safety, and advised me, in particular, to buy a gun.

I thanked the source for his genuinely kind concern, but declined the advice.

Instead we kept reporting.

On Thursday, Oct. 28, 2022, that’s exactly what Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian did.


  • Well, we all know by now the press army and LA Times lawyer scared Alejandro into doing a hasty moonwalk and an about face with his crooked tail tucked firmly between his cheeks.

    Come day 2, Poor Allie is getting “pencil @#%$’d” by little Gustavo now. This is absolutely hilarious.

    Basically, the LA Times is answering Vendido VILLANueva’s failed attempt to pull a “Mandoyan” on the petit, yet scary, female LA Times reporter, by assigning a much smarter, slick writing, attack chihuahua wordsmith columnist on the bow-legged, cowboy hat wearing, scooter riding, failed wonder sheriff.

    Mr. Arellano, Triumph the Insult Comic Dog has got nutin on you.

    LAT Column: Sheriff Villanueva just showed the world the petty emptiness behind his bluster

  • The news conference was shameful. A public skeptical of incompetence.

    Alex advisors are either WEAK yes men or idiot THUGS who are using him for their own benefit. Either way Alex deserves it.

    The under sheriff and his aide fall in the WEAK yes men category.

    Waiting to hear from the thugs who are riding the gravy train defend Alex in the comments.


    It’s not a conspiracy Alex you are just an incompetent egotistic clown.

  • This is exactly why AV never promoted above the rank of lieutenant. When a room full of executives continually shoot a guys promotion down, without one person advocating for you, there is something wrong. He use to complain it was because he was vocal , Hispanic, Etc. The real reason was he was and is incompetent. It just took a while for the outside world to see.
    He will still tell you he is the smartest guy in the room. That has been his problem from the day he got elected, and it will probably be his problem the day he is run out on a rail. He will probably still win reelection, but that may be the worst thing for him. It is too late to mend any fences, not that he is capable of that.
    He was not experienced in the executive responsibilities of the Sheriff’s Department and certainly over estimated his level of expertise in the political arena. These people play for keeps and he is outmatched at every turn.

  • How bout this one?

    Editorial: Villanueva’s attempt to intimidate a Times reporter is a gaslighting assault on the press

    Called him what he is. A Coward! – “Claiming there is such an investigation and then later denying it is the act of a coward who seeks to intimidate his critics without having to stand behind his words.”

    Villavieja is soon old news. He hopefully hasn’t seen nothing yet.

    Release the Kraken!

  • Holding irresponsible journalism accountable is refreshing. If a crime was committed, they should investigate it. If journalist are breaking the law under the guise of “freedom of the press”, shame on them! Just the same, any cop who believes in the “gray area” to accomplish justice is way off track. Put corrupt cops and corrupt journalist in prison. I’m so thankful someone is holding these rogue journalist and other corrupt people accountable. Refreshing to see someone call out the LA Times and many others.

  • Media stories basically break down as good guys vs bad guys. The only question is who’s selected to play which part. Clearly Celeste has identified the Sheriff as a bad guy, so every “story” she writes must reflect this. In this story, the sheriff holding a press conference complaining something was stolen from within his department, makes him a very bad guy, basically a combination of Bull Conner and Hitler.

    The fact that the Federal Government has thrown lots of people in Federal gulags for doing the same thing (Julian Assange for example) isn’t the same to Celeste. Because the feds are the good guys. Perhaps her idol Rachel Maddow helps her determine the good from the bad.

    I did enjoy the humble brag at the end of the story. Celeste needs us to know the times reporter isn’t the only hero walking the mean streets of LA.

  • @Ethics101 I’m assuming you fall into the category of one who took a promotion despite being incompetent and now your ignorantly against the first amendment freedom of the press. I bet you were in the room egging the sheriff on, “Yes do it! You are the best boss! You are so smart! You know it all” PATHETIC.

    Your comment is shameful.

  • It’s not “unknown” who the whistleblower is. Eli Vera’s campaign said he gave it to Max Huntsman a long while ago.

  • Rhambo Vera will be no different than Alex. pass the hot potato game laying blame. What did they do while as executives on the Department? What will change? Just the players there are no ethics or morals with politicians they all talk out of both sides of their necks. Castellanos and Lemon are saving their hides from another Pandoras Box. Lemon has been through this before with the MCJ incident. So she knows whats up. As the saying goes. the stuff rolls down hill…and everyone mentioned will hit the LACERA ground running…Haselrig bounced out…See Ya. What cracks me up is the hypocrisy of the promotion complaints… seriously? And thats coming from someone who skipped 4 ranks! I aint buying this Im ethical i tried to do the right thing advise the Sheriff…blah blah blah. Aren’t you paid to make decisions? Robin had the authority to handle the issue to conclusion. Castellanos was calculating but committed political suicide for sure!

  • Cecil “I can hold a video camera with one hand”Rhambo and Eli”too many shootings to count”Vera had a front row seat for Baca/Tanaka. Eli “what tattoo?”Vera climbed the ranks on the Alex express elevator. Never stopping at commander. Well maybe he stopped there long enough to sign his name on Carl’s rehire paperwork. So this is one of our top candidates? What a joke. Limón gets a retirement after spilling the beans on Alex. I’m good with that. But Eli gets to be sheriff after holding on to the video? Is that not obstruction?

  • Ms. Fremon, I may not be the sharpest tool in the shed, however I do know that your article is a tad bit slanted. Further, it is understandable for you to come to the aid of one of your fellow journalists. Furthermore, you obtain commentaries from Katie Townsend, Rachel Maddow and Maggie Haberman. These three women are the most liberal, progressive minded women who will obviously side with your opinions. As the cliche goes, “birds of a feather….”

    If I recall correctly, was it Ms. Maddow who was pushing the Trump Russia collusion story and other falsehoods? Even when the story was debunked, she was still pushing this false narrative.

    Ms. Haberman was pushing favorable articles for HRC during the 2016 POTUS campaign, so as to prop up HRC. Moreover, she also pushed the false Trump Russia collusion narrative and other falsehoods.

    I am not defending Mr. Villanueva, however he did state that there was a crime and it was being investigated. He further stated that those who may have been involved in the theft of LASD property will be investigated. Furthermore, he stated that there will be other “agencies” involved in this investigation. Now I do not know who those “other” agencies may be, but it does sound like there will be some impartiality. I do not recall Mr. Villanueva threatening Ms. Tchekmedyian. I could be mistaken. In my old age I may have missed it.

    As of late, We the People are fed up with the false narratives, conjecture, projection and downright mendaciousness of the media. There is no integrity, objective reporting as of late and the journalists who do try to provide honest reporting, are cancelled, shut down and or ridiculed.

    I am quite certain that you would agree with me? If not, well I do not know what to say.

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