Sheriff Alex Villanueva

LA Sheriff threatens to bring criminal charges against whistleblower as multiple sources say Villanueva lied big time re: cover-up of case of deputy kneeling on inmate’s neck….and more.

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

The news about Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva keeps on coming.

So, before we get to the main topic of this story, a few updates:

On Monday, April 4, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey ruled that the head of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department must comply with a subpoena to answer questions under oath about the ongoing problem of deputy gangs in the LASD. 

“He should testify under oath, and I’m ordering him to do so,” said Judge Mackey, whose ruling denied a motion to quash the subpoena by Villanueva’s attorney, Linda C. Miller Savitt, to quash the subpoena.

The sheriff will answer the OIG’S questions, said Savitt to the judge. “He just doesn’t want to testify under oath.”

“He’s going to be forced to testify under oath.  Period.” snapped Mackey, a former U.S. Marine who has been on the bench since 1978.

Predictably, by Monday afternoon, Villanueva had churned out an email announcing his intention to appeal Judge Mackey’s ruling regarding the subpoena, which he designated a “political weapon.”

By Wednesday, April, 6, however, the sheriff had redirected his ire toward a different target. Specifically, Villanueva devoted much of his live address on Facebook (and Instagram), to a weird and counterfactual character assassination of Robert Greene, the widely respected member of LA Times editorial board who won the Pulitzer Prize last year for editorial writing.

Villanueva’s tirade was related to a sequence of events that began last Tuesday when the sheriff sent out a colorful email (see below) stating that the LA Times Editorial Board could “#$@!%” its “endorsement,” and that he respectfully declined to participate “in the board’s endorsement process for sheriff.” 

A few days later, Greene wrote an editorial pointing out that the board had received Villanueva’s letter saying he wouldn’t engage in the usual endorsement interviews while he was, in fact, being interviewed by the Times via Zoom, “as part of our endorsement process for the June election.”

Greene also noted that, the interview was made even odder due to the sheriff’s “out-of-nowhere, evidence-free assertion that LA County’s Inspector General Max Huntsman is a Holocaust denier.”

Bad optics

Meanwhile, WitnessLA has spent much of our time these past few days talking to LASD insiders who told us that the sheriff had provably lied at his press conference last week about his knowledge of and involvement with the investigation of a use-of-force incident involving an LASD deputy kneeling on the head of a jail resident for more than three minutes after the man was handcuffed and no longer resisting.

The incident in question occurred more than a year ago, but became news late last month when the Los Angeles Times published a story on what they described as a cover-up by unnamed LASD higher ups, accompanied by a video of the episode.

For those not following the matter closely, here’s the deal.

On mid-March 2021, an LA county jail resident named Enzo Escalante was in the holding area of the San Fernando courthouse, awaiting a court appearance for multiple charges, including murder.  

The incident began as Escalante was walking down the corridor following another jailed man named Roger Ortis, when Escalante evidently said something in passing to nearby deputies, in response to which Deputy Douglass Johnson attempted to push him, face first, to the wall. 

When pushed, Escalante turned back toward Deputy Johnson and swung at the deputy several times, appearing to hit him in the face at least once, maybe more.

Within seconds the jailed man was wrestled to the floor by multiple deputies including Johnson, and quickly subdued.

Simultaneously, Ortiz, the jailed man who was walking just ahead of Escalante, was also efficiently subdued and handcuffed by multiple deputies.

During the process of handcuffing Escalante, however, Johnson appeared to kneel first on the man’s neck, and then on his head for an extended period of time.  

The series of events, including the punching by Escalente, and the head kneeling by Deputy Johnson, was captured on a surveillance video that the Los Angeles Times later acquired, a part of which you can view here. 

According to Times reporter, Alene Tchekmedyian, in the full video one can observe Johnson keeping his knee on the jailed guy’s head for more than three minutes after Escalante was clearly handcuffed and appeared not to be struggling in any way.

As luck would have it, the incident occurred on March 10, 2021, the day after the first jurors were interviewed in the high profile and emotionally harrowing trial of former Minneapolis police officer Dereck Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

In other words, it was not the best of climates for law enforcement officers to be kneeling for any length of time on someone’s head or neck.

Worried about how Deputy Johnson’s actions would appear if made public, according to the Times’ story, unnamed LASD upper level officials buried the incident by not ordering an internal criminal investigation of Johnson’s use of force because they were worried about the “optics” of the three-minute plus neck and head kneeling, given its painful echo of the brutal actions that led to the violent death of George Floyd.

Furthermore, the optics problem would likely not be helped by the fact that the deputy who did the kneeling was one of the department members prominently named for taking highly invasive photos at the Kobe Bryant crash site.

So, who led the cover up?

After the LAT story came out, Villanueva called a press conference during which he vehemently denied the suggestion that he had participated in a cover upof the head-kneeling incident.

According to the sheriff, he didn’t see the video at all until November of 2021, approximately eight months after the incident with Escalante and deputy Johnson occurred.

Villanueva also said that, when he did finally learn of the matter in November 2021, he called for a criminal probe of the incident, and ordered the head-kneeling deputy to be relieved from duty.  Then he demoted two members of his command staff for their supposed part in the cover-up.

According to WitnessLA’s sources, however, the big problem with the sheriff’s description of what he knew and when he knew it, is that it simply isn’t true.

To the contrary, Sheriff Villanueva was reportedly given the surveillance video in mid-March 2021, within days of the so-called bad optics episode, and he watched the video in the company of multiple department higher-ups, including then Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon, and Undersheriff Tim Murakami.

“He definitely saw the video within a few days of when it occurred,” said one of our department sources.

Also present at the viewing, we learned, was Sheriff Villanueva’s aide Lt. Tony Blanchard.

“Blanchard was there because it was played at Blanchard’s desk,” a source explained. “And his office is not private. It’s in the open, which means there were several professional staff members present.”

Among the problems with the sheriff continuing to double down on this story of not being aware of the incident and the video until last November, is that the list of people who know is story is untruthful is a long one.

For example, the DVD itself was reportedly created at Court Services headquarters,” And those who were asked to create it, “knew they were creating the DVD for the sheriff to look at,” a department source told us.

The slo-mo charging of Enzo Escalante?

According to our  sources, nearly all of whom asked not to be named, another significant part of the reported cover-up has to do with the inexplicably delayed investigation into the actions of Enzo Escalante, the jail resident who swung on Deputy Johnson.

Normally, it seems. after an incident of this nature, in addition to a highly prescriptive use-of-force investigation that would have kicked in regarding Deputy Johnson’s actions (and that of other department members involved), a police report would have been generated regarding Escalante’s alleged deputy slugging behavior. 

The report on Escalante then would have then gone to a detective who, after further investigation, would have passed the case to the DA’s office, where prosecutors would have subsequently decided whether or not to charge Escalante, and if so, what kind of charge or charges ought to be filed.

This should not have been a lengthy process.  Yet, not only did the potentially high profile case of head-kneeing Deputy Douglass Johnson never make it to the DA’s office for their consideration, as of July 2021, four months after Sheriff Villanueva reportedly saw the video of the incident, Enzo Escalente’s comparatively run-of-the-mill case was not given to county prosecutors until January 2022, approximately ten months after Escalente’s actions occurred.

“When I heard last July that the force investigation hadn’t gone to the DA’s office, I was floored,” said, former LASD Commander, Eli Vera, who is running for sheriff hoping to unseat Villanueva, but who, up until last week, was the co-commander in the Court Services Division, which provides deputies for the county’s various courthouses, including the San Fernando Courthouse.

Although Vera wasn’t serving at that division when the incident occurred, after he arrived as the new co-commander a few months later, he was quickly dialed in.

WLA’s sources, including Vera, have suggested that, the only likely reason that Escalante’s very ordinary case was delayed from reaching the DA’s office was the fact that, once in the hands of the DA, the case—including the problematic video—was no longer within control of the LASD and its sheriff. This also meant that the head-kneeling incident, which occurred subsequent to Escalante’s actions, could also have become more publicly available, a development that the sheriff reportedly was determined to avoid.

When someone leaked the video to the LA Times anyway, Villanueva flat out denied any early knowledge of the incident, or the cover-up, claiming his first news of Deputy Johnson’s head kneeling occurred in November 2021. Then, to further make his point, the sheriff demoted two members of his command staff—namely Chief Lajuana Haselrig and Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon—in an attempt to blame the cover-up on them

Yesterday, Sheriff Villanueva further upped the anti regarding his refusal to admit having any knowledge of the bad optics cover-up by announcing he intends to seek criminal charges against the whistleblower who gave the head-kneeling video to the Times.

LASD Lieutenant Eric Strong who, along with Eli Vera and a list of others, hopes to make Villanueva a one term sheriff, had this to say about yesterday’s threat:

Villanueva, he said, “has set a tone for corruption and abusive behavior,” for the department that he leads.

“His latest move of intimidating personnel with a criminal investigation, after they exposed wrongdoing, shows that Alex is not above weaponizing law enforcement, even against his own staff.”

So it seems.

Watch this space.

28 Comments

  • And the next course of action…the COC blue panel hearing about deputy gang-like mentality/behavior. Good luck AV as I hear the investigations you squashed prior to this one, will be revealed by testimony from Department members subpoenaed by the COC. The public is about to know how executive management at Compton not only removed the management that held individuals accountable, but booted them out, retaliated against them, and it went to hell in a handbasket within a month of AV’s actions to empower those who behave so…better tell the truth or perjury is your next crime. Karma my child. AV, i actually feel bad for you …this job was just too foreign to you…but then again, your lack of values and ethics screams justice for your victims..insiders and the public…

  • This comes as no surprise. Alex can’t seem to stay out of his own way. His ego and penchant for stretching the boundaries of truth have created an atmosphere where he could very well be unseated this coming election cycle. If he is, he only needs to look in the mirror to see the reason why. If someone comes forward to corroborate the fact that he really did view the video as alleged, the upcoming election will be the least of his worries.

  • Well, well, well. If Mr. Villanueva did have actual knowledge of this incident and he deliberately, allegedly covered this up, it certainly does not fair well. However, I will wait to see how all this plays out. Nonetheless, it is rather interesting how the “sources” were Mr. Vera and “others.” I am inclined to believe that Mr. Vera along with the BOS and others are conspiring biggly, to oust Mr. Villanueva by any means necessary, before the upcoming elections.

  • @ LA Voter

    You must be a conspiracy theorist or you vying for promotion. A true Villlanueva solider, kisses up, takes it from the back, and does what he’s told. Good luck buddy. Buy Vivian a gift or take her out to lunch it helps.

    Alex is done.

  • Maybe the “Executives” that picked on poor AV during his career were onto something? Maybe they were protecting the Department from AV and protecting AV from himself. Again, he has proven that he has a much higher opinion of himself, than others do. That opinion was well earned!

  • I just hope Creepy Karl can help save the day for El Bandito. There may not be enough Vovos’ employees to save him this time around.

  • It’s funny to see all the political theater and push back against Villanueva. This Sheriff has dug his heels in against rising crime and has been committed to helping crime victims. Yet, here they are with hit pieces by the LA Times and other less significant publications. Just watched 3 suspects beat down and rob a victim on the street. It was caught on surveillance camera, Channel 5 just aired it

    Where is the outrage against these criminals? I foresee Sheriff Villanueva winning by a landslide this election. Hopefully more politicians follow his lead in making criminals the real enemy in our county.

    Stay strong Sheriff!

  • @Itiswhatitis- the haters will always hate. The filthy BOS spewing hate about the Sheriff aligned with EV.

  • The Sheriff is so mean He went to Venice Beach and kicked out the poor drug addicts camping on the beach and Venice boardwalk.

    Now Venice Beach has those annoying kids and families on the beach. There are also annoying tourists walking up and down Venice Boardwalk.

  • So a jail inmate is now either a “resident” or a “jailed man”? How soon until the left finds a way to replace words like “jail” or “prison”? And why was the INMATE’S assault on the deputy prefaced with the word “alleged” but the [alleged] kneeling deputy gets no such courtesy? Both “alleged” incidents were captured on the same video so it’s not a matter of hearsay.

    I will credit WLA for the revelation that the [alleged] kneeling deputy was at the center of the Kobe Bryant fiasco. I’ve never known this deputy but if true, this man lacks maturity and common sense. How could anyone in their right mind be placing knees on necks/heads right on the heels of George Floyd? Conversely, and to this deputy’s defense, if this use of force occurred three years ago–especially given the very minor injuries sustained–it wouldn’t have been even a trace blip on the cop-hating LA Times’ radar.

    I’ve been hot and cold with regards to AV over the years but I’ve come to respect quite a few things he’s done since taking office, i.e., his handling of the homelessness issue, his anti-vax mandate stance and his going strait to the people with respect to police defunding. If he was indeed lying about his knowledge of this incident, and he demoted underlings in furtherance of this lie, he’s lost all the goodwill he earned for the good he’s done as sheriff.

    On the other hand, if there were fair coverage of AV rather than conspicuously timed hit pieces coming out against him, I would put more stock in these allegations. The Times and WLA may be 100% accurate in their reporting of this story but they’ve blurred the line between facts and personal vendetta and their credibility has suffered because of it.

  • Editor’s note:

    Dear Eldon,

    The discussion about the rethought description of those in jail (jail inmates) or prison is a longer conversation for another time.

    But the use of “alleged slugging behavior”regarding Escalante taking multiple swings on Deputy Johnson, is because I could tell if he connected or not, and if so, how many times.. Obviously, his actions were an assault, whether he connected or not, which I made clear several times, using other descriptive words. Plus you can see him do it on the video.

    Weirdly, that’s not what Escalante was charged with, because the department appeared to be dialing everything back, including with Escalante, to avoid calling attention to the entire encounter for their own purposes.

  • And the hits to Charlatan Sheriff VILLANueva’s crumbling administration just keep on a comin. Are any of the recent scandals that have plagued the beleaguered Alex VILLANueva’s failed tenure as sheriff a surprise to anyone?

    I mean, what do you expect when your take a mediocre lieutenant (who had to sue to obtain that rank) and give him the keys to the largest sheriff’s department in the nation? Then in his great wisdom and insecurity, he decides to build his executive team with several other mediocre lieutenants and captains who had all plateaued long ago in their careers; and promote them over several crucial and important ranks to senior executive positions so that he can be surrounded by “Skippers” who all tell him he’s the smartest clown on the planet.

    Then when issues arise that should be professionally handled by seasoned executives, guess what? There are none to be found! So they all have to run to the once retired mediocre lieutenant who is now failing as Sheriff and ask him what they should do? Well, an insecure narcissist who possess zero professional executive crisis management experience, and lacks basic integrity necessary for making honest and wise decisions will almost always chose to do the wrong thing. Thus we have coverup after coverup being exposed and Vendido VILLANueva’s house of cards is crumbling before our eyes.

    The question now remains, who will be held accountable? Well, of course he’ll force the retirement of some of his sacrificial “Skippers” as we have all seen that Alex will always blame someone else for his ineptitude and failures. So how much will all of this mismanagement cost us LA County taxpayers now?

    At least this is all happening before the next election as the voters won’t be fooled again.

    Adios Alex & Sweatpee

  • Took the words out of my mouth. This man is so insecure that he surrounds himself with Yes men and women.

    How hypocritical that to promote to certain ranks you need to meet “his criteria”. But wait, that criteria doesn’t apply to the individuals he promoted 3 to 4 ranks, without having the experience of a previous rank???

    I find it surreal no one in the Dept sees this as what it is. His downfall is his insulation by inept individuals, afraid to tell him, or afraid of losing an opportunity, that he is unethical and just wrong Totally exemplified by his outrageous and unsupported allegation of Huntsman.

    He set the bar from day 2 or 4. In December of 2018 he held a meeting at Stars Center telling the managers that if they held deputies accountable they would face severe consequences..i.e. Lt. Bardon. sent to Palmdale for requesting an investigation based on a complaint that had merit.

    That meeting was a brainwashing session, akin to very insecure and totalitarian rulers throughout history.

    How’s that for looking out for the career of his deputies. If you don’t let them know (verbal counsel, etc) they are crossing boundaries, they will end up in a deeper hole one day, possibly losing their livelihoods.

    I can see his reasoning though as skewed as it is…i understand he has kids. I’ ve learned, if you have children, then you have to set the ground rules. Which he obviously didn’t. Didn’t his son have a warrant out for his arrest before he hired him as a deputy sheriff. AV is just a bad parent, just like the families who’s children don’t follow any rules. And thus, a horrible manager.

    He was his own downfall, and will go down as the lamest Sheriff of all time. Too bad the community suffers in so many ways..

  • Well, it now sounds like the state DOJ (Baby DOJ) and the federal DOJ (Big DOJ) are looking into the sheriff and his antics. It surprises me that so many of his apologists claim that every negative article about him is somehow tied to a “hit piece” conspiracy to sway the upcoming election. NEWS FLASH: anyone who cares to look can see that negative articles have been spitting out since virtually day one. This is no strategic attempt to oust the sheriff. This is the reality of what can happen when you have lost your moral compass and act as if you report to no one except yourself (and maybe your spouse).

    Most everyone is familiar with the saying that someone is a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” Our current sheriff is the exact opposite: he is a sheep (liberal/progressive) in wolves’ (conservative) clothing.

    What do I mean by that? Villanueva was swept into office largely by appealing to the liberal/democratic/progressive base in Los Angeles County. Over his past three-plus years in office, however, he has managed to alienate virtually all of his supporters through his seemingly endless list of self-inflicted wounds. From his outlandish accusations, to his pugnacious and mostly unnecessary dust-ups with practically anyone who dares to disagree with him, he has managed to turn people against him in astounding numbers.

    Desperate to continue his tenure in office, Villanueva has decided that he will now don the “clothing of the wolf” in an effort to fool the voting public into believing that he has somehow “seen the light” and is now a staunch conservative, someone who shoots from the hip, is tough on crime, and is the bane of every “woke” politician’s existence, all while wearing a Stetson cowboy hat (yee-haw!). Like everything else this sheriff has done, this move is both disingenuous and cynical. The thing that blows me away is that some people are actually buying into the facade.

    With the primary election only weeks away, I hope that people will take a hard look at this man who would be sheriff. Are those truly the steely eyes of the wolf, or is it just another imposter trying to pull the “wool” over everyone’s eyes?

  • @Adios Alex & Sweatpee

    You couldn’t of explained it better. Now some one needs to explain AV fascination with East Los cholo deputies.

  • I have to say, Sheriff Alex Villanueva is a breath of fresh air. I have never seen a Sheriff speak his mind (which is true) to the public. I’m so glad he is in office and I know he will be in office for many years to come. What is disturbing is the amount of elected officials who do not speak truth and decide to bury their heads in the sand and pretend nothing is going on.

    Newsflash: Crime is OUT OF CONTROL!! Some elected officials (Hilda Solis, Shelia Kuehl and Holly Mitchell) have opted for DEFUND as opposed to FUNDING the police. Sad state of affairs. People in LA, OC, Riverside and other counties are pissed off at what is going on. Although I don’t like that Villanueva is a Democrat and has many liberal views, I’m glad he is the Sheriff of LA County. We need MORe people like him to stand up for change. Hell, I don’t even care if they are Dems….

  • That’s what happens when you move/hide bad apples in Court services. There are barrels full of them at all the courthouses. The Deps who got their jobs back who should have been fired. And when you promote LTs to executive level positions. Lack of experience… as someone mentioned LACERA is done processing their paperwork. There is no Honor among thieves and Cops are as unethical criminal and corrupt as the next guy. This is nothing new just same bullshit with different players but AV was more brazen in your face about it. What an embarrassment to a once respected organization. Its not about how hard you work how many arrests or how ethical or accountable you are its all about who you know. Blind leading the blind and this job is not worth going over prison because of the stupidity of others below and above you.

  • @thankful
    Whatever you are smoking I want some! That stuff makes you delusional and I could use some delusion to escape the reality of the BS LASD has turned into.
    Every word seems scripted and rehearsed for a very clear dose of bootlicking. Did you print your comment and frame it in a very expensive frame and gifted it to Bibi to show your loyalty. I command you to knell and kiss the ring for your promotion. Next!!

  • @itiswhatitis
    Stop crying!!! You don’t even believe your own BS. You don’t believe a word you are saying but will say anything to keep getting paid. Sellout!!

  • Spell check

    @GhettoSlayer – there ain’t many out there who hold principle before self-interest…especially in the Dept. Cops just aint what they used to be. Now they’re soft and insecure and follow the mob. And then there are the sellouts. Those who drink the punch, hoping for another promotion or a cool spot. Tab was one of those. Until he realized AV surprisingly wasn’t falling for his bootlicking, and that his last shot was his old boss Eli. We’re all gonna end up in the same place one day, and I know I’ll at least have my head up high.

  • Why was deputy Johnson still working. He should have been fired for taking pictures of Kobe and his daughter. Villanueva should be fired for that. Big rookie mistake

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