Inspector General LA Probation Oversight Commission LASD Sheriff Alex Villanueva

Subpoena Power for Oversight of LA County Sheriff & LA County Probation Is a Done Deal: So What Does That Mean?

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

It’s a done deal.

The civilian bodies overseeing the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and LA County Probation will each have the ability to subpoena documents or compel testimony.

After an occasionally fractious discussion on Tuesday, January 28, the LA County Board of Supervisors approved the necessary amended county statutes by a unanimous vote.

In the case of the Civilian Oversight Commission (COC), which oversees the sheriff’s department, that new legal tool will go live thirty days from Tuesday.

The Probation Oversight Commission (POC) is still in the process of getting up and running. Yet, the board’s vote means that when the POC is finally fully created and ready to begin its work, it will have subpoena power in its tool chest.

At Tuesday’s meeting, however, the focus was primarily and understandably on the COC and the LASD.

Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, via Fred Mariscal

“The county has made great strides in reforming the Sheriff’s Department, through the work of the Citizen’s Commission on Jail Violence, the Inspector General, and the Civilian Oversight Commission,” Supervisor Mark Ridley Thomas told WitnessLA after the vote via email. “But oversight is impeded without the ability to shine sunlight.”

Ridley-Thomas was the co-author together with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, of the motion that set in motion Tuesday’s vote to give subpoena power to the COC. Supervisor Hilda Solis joined him in co-authoring the October motion that led to making it possible for probation oversight to have the same power.

“The Board has been thoughtful and deliberate about how to best remedy this and ensure greater, and more timely, access to information,” he said. “I hope the Sheriff – who represents a county department and is part of the county family – embraces the type of transparency we need.”


Avoiding “oversight theater”

Attorney Brian Williams, who is the executive director for COC, was one of those whom the board asked to speak about why subpoena power was called for.

“Truth never damages a cause that is just,” Williams said, opening with a quote from Mahatma Gandhi. And the COC’s just cause “is comprehensive and fair oversight on the sheriff’s department.”

Williams made the point that the COC doesn’t intend to overuse the new tool. “Subpoena power is not a weapon,” he said. “It’s a tool for justice — for the commission, for the community, and for all involved.”

Brian Williams, Sean Kennedy, and Sheriff Alex Villanueva/via Fred Mariscal

Loyola Law Professor Sean Kennedy, the former head federal public defender for the Central District, who is also a member of the COC, described subpoena power as “one of the most important parts of any professional investigation.”

Yet when subpoena power is talked about, he said, “it is often framed as a negative issue. A power struggle. A way to weaponize a position or to browbeat the sheriff.”

All kinds of institutions “have to investigate things,” said Kennedy. In doing so, one starts by trying to “solicit cooperation and build relationships” to get the information you need.

But if that doesn’t work, you need to compel information.

Using subpoena power doesn’t necessitate a divisive standoff, Kennedy told the board.

“But without it, there are so many times I fear our goal degenerates into oversight theater.


Not in the business of secrecy

Last week, when the board went through the first round of approvals necessary to amend the relevant county statutes, Sheriff Alex Villanueva did not attend the meeting.

It may not have helped that last week’s board meeting was held in the wake of an unusually quarrel-filled COC meeting the Thursday before, which featured a series of tense exchanges between sheriff’s department representatives and Inspector General Huntsman, and was followed the next day, by an angry post-meeting letter from Sheriff Villanueva.

This time, however, the sheriff did attend and spoke at length about the department’s goals for transparency, and where he stands in relationship to Tuesday’s vote.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Undersheriff Tim Murakami, via Fred Mariscal

He had released as much information publically as he was able, Villanueva told the board. “The question is, what is left that the people are going to seek a subpoena for? There is nothing left.” He was already being as transparent as was possible, he said.

In fact, said the sheriff, the department had even started the process of putting every request from the Office of the Inspector General online.

“We’re not in the business of secrecy as some people like to believe, erroneously.”

According to Villanueva, the OIG only generated seven reports in the entire calendar year of 2017. In 2018, the OIG generated ten reports. Whereas in 2019, Villanueva’s first year in office, the inspector general generated 21 reports.

The point, he said, was that the OIG and the COC “have been receiving reams and reams of data from the department,” and had no need for subpoenas.


The power of the court

When it was Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s turn to speak she said that the point of subpoena power was about a neutral body, namely the courts, having the last word.

“The sheriff has appropriately indicated he can resist a subpoena,” Kuehl said, adding that the board hoped that the new power wouldn’t be used all that much. Ideally, it wouldn’t need to be, because they would be “getting cooperation.”

Nevertheless, Kuehl said, “we have heard from our inspector general that there have been a number of incidents where he has felt that he has not received the information he needs to do the job we have asked him to do.”

So, when there’s a disagreement about who should have what, “this is where the court can come in,” she said.

Sean Kennedy followed in the same vein, pointing to the value of the court as the impartial arbiter when he was asked to chime in again.

“Real oversight is going to involve respectful disagreements,” he said. “Subpoena power allows us to depersonalize those conflicts and have a neutral and detached magistrate consider the good faith arguments of both sides when you have a standoff over information.”

Kennedy is arguably the COC’s main point person when it comes to looking into the issue of deputy gangs, so he mentioned his struggles in that regard as an example of when a subpoena would have been useful.

For the past few years, he said, he’d “pursued information” about what efforts LASD management had made to address the deputy cliques.  But he didn’t get “any information” in return.

But if the COC was able to issue a subpoena, matters would be different.  “The sheriff’s department, if they thought [the subpoena] violated confidentiality could tender its legal arguments, and the COC could make its legal arguments. And then – as Supervisor Kuehl said – the court would decide one way or the other.”


Freezing Kids

On Tuesday, most of the discussion, and the disagreements regarding the motions pertaining to subpoena power, had to do with the COC and the sheriff’s department.

The POC, which is on the edge of finally being formed, is not drawing much fire at the moment. Probation Chief Terri McDonald has just retired. And, Interim Probation Chief Ray Levya seems to be wisely spending his time getting the lay of the land.

Nevertheless, Cyn Yamashiro had some things to add when he was asked to speak.  Yamashiro is the Directing Attorney for the county’s Independent Juvenile Defender Program, a member of the PRIT, the temporary body that devised the plan for the formation of the new POC, and a member of the existing probation commission.

First, he reminded the board it was worth remembering that the POC will be the first probation oversight body in the U.S., thus it can serve as a national model.

And second, he emphasized that, while having subpoena power was important, sometimes the pressing problems at the probation department aren’t the sort of issues that require the involvement of the Office of the Inspector General.

He told of an experience he had around Christmas, when he started hearing from various juvenile attorneys that their clients at the county’s two juvenile halls — Central Juvenile Hall and Barry J. Nidorf Juvenile Hall — needed blankets because “they were freezing.”

In this case, Yamashiro and the attorneys in his firm were able to gather around 80 blankets and bring them to the kids.  (He told WLA later, that the group also gathered and brought a bunch of books to the kids, which was also an excellent idea.)

“But that’s the kind of thing that community engagement and the independent review process has the ability to discover” and then bring to the probation department in an official capacity, he said.

This is why the POC needed adequate staffing, he added.

When Yamashiro finished, Supervisor Kathryn Barger, who is the board’s chair, thanked him then, after a pause, blurted how appalled she was by his story.

“The fact that probation didn’t have blankets for the kids … Shame on us!”

And sometime after that, the board cast its unanimous vote.

Top photo courtesy of Fred Mariscal/Office of Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas

26 Comments

  • Once again, the great and powerful Oz (Kuehl), has spoken. She stated, “that the board hoped that the new power wouldn’t be used all that much. Ideally, it wouldn’t need to be, “because we are getting cooperation.”

    If the BOS is getting the cooperation they need from AV, then why was it necessary to continue to emphatically, push for this subpoena request power? Was their, or should I say the Oz’s intention for subpoena power solely based on the other puppet’s (Kennedy) whining and snivling?

    Evidently, the BOS has been investigating this “gang clique” since the days of Baca and McD. However, during McD’s tenure, I do not recall Oz and her merry band of OOM PA LOOMPAS cry foul. Why is that so? Why wasn’t this “gang clique” a priority during the previous administrations? Why didn’t McD get hassled about this ever so important issue?

    Could it be that Oz, specifically, is continually creating a false narrative, to sway her constituents and her “gang” of idiots to, which in effect is a personal vendetta against AV? Since AV told Oz that Mandoyan’s alleged victim was a complainant? Or could it be because AV did not bow down to kiss that curmudgeon Oz? Whatever the case may be, this whole chain of events has been a bunch of sh*t!!

    Since there has been forehand knowledge of these “gang cliques” for quite some time now, why hasn’t the BOS stepped up their game and dealt with this when this ugly serpent began to rear its ugly head? Why continually kick the can down the road and then make a spectacle of it, to shed more unneeded attention on the department? Thus, tarnishing the image of those who are trying to do the right thing,a s well as tarnishing the department, again.

    In my opinion, this is nothing more than a personal vendetta against AV because of the Mandoyan fiasco, coupled with a power grab. By no means am I defending AV, he can do that himself. What pisses me off is the arrogant, self serving, condescending, elitist attitude that these POS on the BOS are displaying.

  • Yes Kennedy, make no mistake about it. This is all about weaponizing oversight to browbeat the sheriff and the one department they can’t control in their power grab. Case in point, why on earth does the BOS want subpoena power for a newly created probation commission when the agency is led by an appointed head, and they can compel any document internally? The BOS runs Probation, and just like DCFS, they are running it into the ground. Thank God the LASD is in the hands of voters, who apparently understand accountability and transparency far better than the fools on the BOS and their political hacks on the COC.

    • The BOS has every right to want subpoena power on the Sheriff’s Department. Do you want the BOS to write a blank check to the Sheriff’s Department without holding it accountable. I think the BOS have learned from the painful years that, the person at the top ( no matter who it may be ) and yes they should have done it when McDonnell was Sheriff has to be kept in check. Subpoena power is one of the most fundamental ways they can accomplish that goal. Unless the next time the Department gets sued – Villanueva wants to pay for the lawsuit from his own pocket. As long as the BOS signs that check for the lawsuit, it has every right to keep the Department honest.

      • Hogwash. The BOS didn’t give a rat’s ass about subpoena power when McDonnell was in charge. In fact, county counsel wrote an opinion OPPOSING subpoena power, claiming the current model made in unnecessary. I guess having your boy trounced out of office gives them a new tune to sing, LOL. Remember it was the feds that ran Baca and company out of office, not the BOS who were busy sucking their thumbs and looking the other way.

        Exactly how is subpoena power going to accomplish anything other than weaponize oversight? The power is on paper only, they still have to go to court to get it enforced, and they are still stuck with state laws that limit what is eligible for subpoena. Who keeps the BOS honest? Any idea, or are they beyond reproach in your eyes? The department will get sued with or without subpoena, and when there is a lawsuit then there is a platform to use the power of subpoena for discovery pursuant to a lawsuit. By the nature of what we do, we will always be sued by someone. You must be one of those who slurps up everything MRT drivels about.

        BTW, it’s the voters who have the power to hold sheriff’s accountable, it’s not the job of the board of supervisors. Just ask McDonnell.

        • Yes, the voters are the one’s (partially) who hold the power, but they don’t know half of the bullshit going on behind the scenes.
          LASD is not untouchable, ask Tall Paul and Leroy.

          Commenter “Constitutionalist” nailed it as he was on point.

      • What makes the decision disingenuous is that they did not make that decision under the Baca or McDonnell despite full knowledge of withholding information. Let’s not forget that the Los Angeles Times sued McDonnell for withholding information.

        • @ Ronda Hampton – Do not sell your soul to the devil. Honor the life of Mitrice Richardson. She would have wanted you to get to the truth, and not selfishly enrich yourself over her tragedy.

      • @Constitutionalist….I agree with being held accountable. However, Oz specifically stated, ” that the board hoped that the new power wouldn’t be used all that much…” There yo uhave it, straight from the horse’s mouth.

        Further, having subpoena power will not eliminate being sued. Whether, you are a public or private agency, the aspect of being sued will always be there. Especially, nowadays, since we live in a litigious society.

        The BOS will use the terms accountability, responsibility to come across as caring and sensitive. However, who does the BOS report to? Who holds them accountable and responsible for their action / inactions?

        The BOS, particularly Oz is looking to obtain more power, under the guise of oversight. They have done it with Probation, Juvy and now the LASD. This is what happens when certain individuals, with a certain ideology, who have no clue on how to run a business are under the influence of the drug of power.

  • Max Huntsman (OIG) worked hard to get rid of Michael Gennaco (OIR) stating the OIR was in bed with the LASD and therefore not acting independently. Huntsman needs to go as he is clearly snuggled up nice and tightly with the BOS.

    • The difference between Michael Gennaco and Merrick Bobb is that Gennaco made his annual reports to

      The Sheriff (Lee Baca)

      while Merrick Bobb made his Semi-Annual reports to the

      BOS.

      A point to ponder: Gennaco was an attorney in the Civil Rights section of the L.A. U.S. Attorney’s office and in a week or two Lee Baca must begin serving time in a U.S. prison for malfeasance in office.

      A point to ponder.

  • The Department now seems to be like it was prior to 1953 when the feds put PJP in as under sheriff. As U.S. he ran the the LASD with an iron hand and made it one of the finest law enforcement agencies around. I recall Leroy as a worthless new Sgt. At Temple, No wonder he screwed the Dept. up.

  • Just the latest lawsuit taxpayers will shell out for, thanks to our “progressive” Sheriff.

    https://www.wehoville.com/2020/01/28/lieutenant-at-west-hollywood-sheriffs-station-files-lawsuit-alleging-bias-from-headquarters/

    Jennifer Seetoo has TWO flaws in AV’s eyes….she’s a woman (2 of the 23 patrol station captains are women) and she’s SO white. One thing few people are (openly) talking about is the “browning” of the Department as AV moves Latinos into key positions, regardless of whether they’re qualified, have degrees (or are “working on them”), have ANY knowledge of the bureaus they’re put in charge of or have the AV-mandated (and stupid) requisite time as a watch commander.

    Contract Law Enforcement Bureau is one example where a highly respected (but white), UC-educated lieutenant, who has worked there for many years and knows the bureau inside and out, was passed over for promotion. His qualifications weren’t enough and a Latino (who never worked the bureau) was promoted into the captain’s spot in one of the Department’s most important bureaus. The lieutenant is retiring and taking his considerable knowledge base with him.

    Promotions based solely on nationality or race is a mistake and I’ve talked to people who say the Department is suffering as a result. The hypocrisy is astounding when you consider it was AV who posted a memo (on his election site, then quickly removed) he wrote to the Department’s command staff as a lieutenant, implying he wasn’t getting promoted BECAUSE of his race. “Restore, Rebuild, Revenge.”

    And it’s not just the executive level. I’m seeing mid and lower level positions being filled with less qualified (but Latino) applicants for jobs. People aren’t stupid, they know what the boss wants and act accordingly.

    • Thank you for so succinctly showing your racist core. You had no problem with Latinos occupying the lower rungs of the organization, but heaven forbid they aspire to join the lofty positions formerly occupied only by whites, LOL. Maybe you didn’t get the memo, but Sheriff V inherited an organization run by cronyism on steroids. He’s breaking that system apart, and hundreds of lieutenants have now had the chance to compete (oh the horrors!) for station commander jobs, ones that were formerly only for those inside the car.

      To net a coveted interview, lieutenants need a cumulative ten years of line experience at the deputy, sergeant, and lieutenant rank. That line time is hard time, in uniform, on the line, not the fluff admin jobs you probably spent most of your life working. Yes, there is no Title 7 protections for glorified desk jockeys and suck asses. You can always lobby Congress to add that to the list of protected groups!

      Don’t know this Seetoo character, but I do know that three female candidates succeeded in this process, beating out all the guys. I do know Sheriff V has promoted a record number of females at all ranks. A lot of favorite sons and daughters, including acting captains and ops lieutenants, didn’t even make the cut to get the interview because they lacked EXPERIENCE on the line. The smart and humble ones know its a brave new world where merit counts, and they have returned to the line to finish out their experience level. God bless them for that. Others will sue, kick the sand in the box, and lament the good ol boy system is dead.

      Sheriff V did campaign on this, calling it flipping the pyramid, and I’d say that is exactly what was needed. I read that memo too, and it was on his website until they shut it down after the elections. Not quite the nefarious communique you’re trying to paint it out to be, but rather a ballsy manifesto of truth speaking to power. That’s why he’s the sheriff.

      • Keep Dreaming;

        “…Don’t know this Seetoo character….”

        Her “Linkedin” page says that she has a Master’s Degree from the Naval Postgraduate School.

        Smart lady.

        Gotta watch this court case & see what happens; lotsa sparks will fly, methinks.

    • LASD Apostle – There are plenty more lawsuits coming down the pipe. Welcome to AV’s leadership style. There is no doubt AV is promoting all his buddies. It is all about loyalty- loyalty to AV, and not LASD or the County of LA.

    • Come on….what do you think African American and Latino (which is not a race by the way) have been saying and feeling over the years? Sheriff Leroy Baca (Hispanic?) ran the Department and there were many whites in positions they were either grandfathered into by familial connections or because they were in the good ole’ boy club. To say Sheriff AV is putting more Latinos in high positions is natural when you consider the demographic changes of the state, county and Department.

      There are other special interest groups on the Department that are such as the LGBTQx, what about them? Are they “alternative lifestyling up” the Department too? Maybe these two Lieutenants just weren’t chosen to be Captains for a myriad of reasons and didn’t do well on the popularity contest scale. It happens to many good qualified people all the time. Its life. Good or Bad.

  • Such vitriol, Keep Dreaming! I suppose I COULD be racist, but being a Latino myself, I might be advantaged by an insider’s perspective. I know, I know….I MUST be disgruntled and bitter for not being in AV’s car, but, believe me, I’ve had a GREAT career and am retiring at the age and rank I always aimed for.

    Ten years of line experience? I think we all know that, up until now, if you worked the line for that amount of time, it was because you weren’t being sought after for the specialized jobs and units. So those who HAVE worked hard to get OFF the line and into specialized units are now being told to start over….go back…for YEARS….to get that oh-so-valuable “hard time on the line.” Of course, some (particularly if they’re Latino) are exempt.

    Regarding the memo, I was so blown away by the manifesto, that I tried to show it to other people and, like I said, found it had been removed long before the site went dead. I could, however, be wrong in the way I read it. I don’t know if you’re close to AV, but if you are, could you ask him to post the memo in it’s entirety again….so I (and others) can see exactly what he meant?

    • Not that this proves anything but it is interesting.
      A friend shared the intent to retire list with me. Another friend pointed out that of the 8 commanders who intend to retire, 7 are male whites.
      While the diversity concerns may or may not be valid, it seems some, including folks with great leadership qualities and potential, see the writing on the wall and are getting out of the way, allowing AV to impose his agenda. This might not bode well in the future.

  • Wow, Keep Dreaming, subtlety not your strong point, is it? Very first sentence you jump straight to one of the favorite Villanueva apologist attack lines. These consist of some variation of: You don’t like what he’s doing? You’re a racist. And/or, you don’t like what he’s doing? Where was your outrage when McDonnell did the same or worse? And/or, you don’t like what he’s doing? You must be one of those passed over by the new regime.
    Villanueva, and his apologists who frequent the comments on this site, like to throw around “cronyism” as a favorite accusation against the old regime – you wait until your third sentence before referring to it.
    Here’s the thing, though. If you’re going to go on a rant about the sheriff not rewarding “glorified desk jockeys and suck asses”, perhaps you want to take a look at the sheriff’s own glass house before throwing that particular stone? Before you start crowing about how “the good ol boy system is dead.”
    Case in point, and one I’m sure will be a very interesting sub plot of this lawsuit – the sheriff recently made a promotion to captain. The individual promoted had a whole TWO years experience as a lieutenant. Half of that time was spent at a patrol station, and the other half was spent as a “desk jockey.” This individual’s last assignment as a sergeant before promoting for a cup of coffee as a lieutenant before the bump to captain? Working as a “glorified desk jockey” in the courts, in an operations spot. For who? The sheriff’s former chief of staff.
    Yes, that’s right. The sheriff promoted to captain someone who was a sergeant two years earlier, who did a whole ONE year “on the line” before working one of those “suck ass” positions you make fun of. Oh, and which position was it? That’s right, the sheriff’s aide.
    Now, before you jump on here to say he’s the sheriff, he can do what he wants (and to suggest if I don’t like it, I run for sheriff in 2 years – damn, there’s one I forgot), yes, he can do what he wants. He can promote old friends three ranks if he wants. He can give super-promotions to campaign donors, he can even bring them back from being fired (well, pump the brakes on that one). Here’s what he can’t do, though. He can’t promote under-qualified people over those who are much more qualified and experienced, and then casually throw the word “cronyism” and try to claim the moral high ground. All the sheriff has done with this behavior is prove that he is the one who deserves the phrase “cronyism on steroids.” Thanks for that, it’s catchy. Hope you don’t mind if I borrow it.
    So, let’s not get too caught up in celebrating that “the good ol boy system is dead.” Not when the sheriff promotes his aide to captain not based on any actual qualification, but simply because of who that person knows. Unless there was some other qualification for his light-speed promotion? Ahh, no worries, I’m sure this and other questions can handle the scrutiny this lawsuit will bring to bear. Break out the popcorn…

  • Thanks for that, Ironic. There’s another executive who had a meteoric rise from sergeant to captain in one year! That was Baca’s doing and he languished for years as a captain until he saw his chance with AV. He “sucked ass,” as Keep Dreaming puts it, and got a Super-Latino promotion to JEFE (chief)! He quickly fell out of favor with AV and is now IOD (shocker) pending his retirement.

    EXCELLENT selection by AV. I’m sure it was based on that individual’s 10 years of “hard time on the line.”

    And Hmmm, is it POSSIBLE those whites in power positions may have earned those promotions? If they didn’t, are you saying two wrongs actually DO make a right?

  • Talk about “sucking ass”……. wonder how right after AV became Sheriff a certain LT promoted to Captain at Metro . Oh no!!!!

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