Wednesday, civil rights attorney, Alan Romero presented closing arguments in the whistleblower lawsuit brought by LASD Captain Angela Walton, against the County of Los Angeles, and former LA County sheriff Alex Villanueva.
In May of 2022, WitnessLA reported in detail about how Walton was retaliated against for her unwillingness to go along with the provably false story that then Sheriff Villanueva told regarding a notorious case involving a sheriff’s deputy who knelt for an extended period of time on the neck and head of a handcuffed man who was in jail awaiting trial.
Here, in brief, is what happened:
On August 16, 2021, Captain Walton first learned of the existence of the video of the potentially deadly incident that would become national news.
August 16, was Walton’s first day on the job after being transferred to the department’s Court Services Division, which meant that the deputy doing the kneeling was under her command.
Prior to her transfer to Court Services, Captain Walton had been the commanding officer of LA County’s trouble-haunted women’s jail, Century Regional Detention Center (CRDF), where she had been praised for cleaning up some of the jail’s most chronic problems, and installing new programs that benefited both residents and employees.
(In 2021 she won the Innovator’s Award from the American Jail Association for her innovative COVID protections at CRDF.)
Why Villanueva transferred Walton to Court Services from CRDF is its own whistleblower story for another day. Suffice it to say that one of Walton’s first tasks at her new Court Services position, was to sit down with her operations lieutenant to review all “open and outstanding cases.”
One of those cases was the case of Deputy Douglass Johnson, who knelt for more than three minutes on the head and neck of jail resident Enzo Escalante, when Escalante was handcuffed and no longer resisting.
And so it was that, in the course of getting up to speed, Walton encountered hard-and-fast evidence that was diametrically opposed to the story that Villanueva was telling the press about when he learned about the head kneeling incident, which was captured on video, and whether or not he tried to cover it up.
You can read more about Walton’s case here in WLA’s previous story.
In short, when Walton declined to back up Villanueva’s provably false statements about the rapidly expanding scandal, retaliation followed.
And Walton filed a whistleblower lawsuit, which she elected to take to trial.
Now we wait to hear what the jury decides.
Ex-sheriff Villanueva and present sheriff Robert Luna both interact with the issue of deputy gangs
In other recent LASD news, Alex Villanueva did, in fact, finally testify under oath last Friday morning, Jan 12, about the issue of the deputy gangs that still infect the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.
At last Friday’s special hearing on deputy gangs organized by the LA County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission (COC), which had repeatedly subpoenaed the former sheriff, much of what Villanueva said in answer to the questions sent his way by the commission’s special counsel, Bert Deixler, amounted to the former sheriff’s long held position that there were, in fact, no deputy gangs.
And just to make sure no one missed the point, Villanueva tweeted the following message on the social media outlet X at 8:45 p.m. on the day of his testimony:
“The @LACountyCOC can’t resist engaging in electioneering. 4 HOURS testifying under oath about a massive hoax pushed by people suing the @LASDHQ. Shout out to @BLMLA and @PplsCityCouncil for their priceless vulgarity! @latimes.”
By “electioneering,” presumably Villanueva is referring to the fact that he is running for a seat on the LA County Board of Supervisors, in the hope of defeating Supervisor Janice Hahn, who is up for reelection this year.
Meanwhile, when it comes to the matter of deputy gangs and the present sheriff, despite much prodding by the members of the Sheriff’s Civilian Oversight Commission, Sheriff Robert Luna has yet to create an official department policy regarding the issue of deputy clicks, a policy that is required by law in the state of California.
When asked about the subject at a recent meeting of the COC, Luna said that the department has been very busy doing “an extensive review of all our policies, which includes the gang policy and the use of force policy.”
Yet, amid all this policy reviewing, the sheriff has not found the time to deal with the state law-required policy on the topic of deputy gangs, a corrosive problem with which the nation’s largest sheriff’s department has been struggling for approximate half a century.
The commission members did not appear to warm to the sheriff’s excuse.
The powerful deputies union, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs—or ALADS—is going to argue about this issue, noted COC Commissioner Rob Bonner, a former federal judge who has himself headed several national law enforcement agencies.
But the sheriff can’t ignore the issue of deputy gangs, Bonner said, “because it’s enshrined in the state statute.”
(On September 30, 2021, Governor Gavin Newsom signed AB 958, which among other things, requires each of the state’s law enforcement agencies to create and maintain “a policy that prohibits participation in a law enforcement gang.” Specifically, according to the state, the required policy should make a violation of the prohibition “grounds for termination.”
According to COC Chairperson and Loyola law professor Sean Kennedy, meeting productively with ALADS on the deputy gang issue might be made more difficult by the fact that the newest member of the deputies union’s board of directors is himself reportedly a tattooed member of the deputy gang known as the Regulators.
(The Regulators, which is one of the LASD gangs that has a particularly notorious past, operates out of the department’s Century station.)
In any case, whether the new board member, whose name is Jason Zabala, is or isn’t presently active in the group, his membership is arguably not making it any easier for the sheriff to “meet and confer,” with ALADS about the LASD’s deputy gang policy.
We don’t know much about Zabala—who is a gang detective—except that he has two fatal shootings on his record, both of which were found to be in policy.
Despite being found in policy, however, each shooting resulted in a high ticket legal settlement. (The first shooting was settled for $1.5 million, the second for $2.5 million.)
According to Kennedy, during the litigation of these cases, Zabala was deposed at least three times about his gang membership. At one point during a deposition, Kennedy told us, Zabala was ordered to have his Regulators tattoo photographed after he declined to voluntarily show the markings.
During these depositions, Kennedy said, Zabala testified in ways that caused the outside counsel hired by County Counsel to make the unusual move of reporting the detective for possible perjury. The LA DA’s office subsequently investigated the perjury referral but declined to file charges.
(Kennedy also heads the Center for Juvenile Law & Policy (CJLP) at LMU Loyola Law School, which released the definitive report, “Fifty Years of ‘Deputy Gangs’ in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.)
A new deputy gang?
The need for an official policy on deputy gangs was further reinforced by an excellent story published last week by LA Times reporters Keri Blakinger and Alene Tchekmedyan, who wrote about LASD investigators’ discovery that a new deputy gang appears to have surfaced.
The new group is reportedly known as the Industry Indians and is based out of the City of Industry sheriff’s station. Blakinger and Tchekmedyan wrote that, in an recent interview with Sheriff Luna, they were able to confirm the group’s existence and the fact that two of two tattooed members of the group participated in an unsettling off-duty confrontation two years ago with a bunch of teenagers outside a Montclair bowling alley.
There’s more to this interesting story so we recommend you read the whole thing.
And…we’ll have more soon on the whistleblower trial. So watch this space.