by Bob Olmsted
Bob Olmsted, the respected former assistant sheriff of the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, became alarmed a few weeks ago when he heard that Alex Villanueva intended to run Janice Hahn’s seat on the LA County of Supervisors.
(Hahn represents the county’s 4th District, which covers more than 400 square miles in the southern and southeastern portions of the county.)
He first got the news, Olmsted told us, from Ron Hernandez, the longtime president of the LASD’s deputies union, the Association of Assistant Deputy Sheriffs or ALADS.
Hernandez is now retired, but he is still involved with the organization he led for many years. So, when he heard rumors of Villanueva’s newest ambition, he reportedly called his friend Olmsted and expressed his concerns.
“He didn’t feel that Alex was the best person for that position. And I agreed.”
Hernandez’ main concern had to do with ALAD’s considerable pile of cash (made up of deputy dues), that is often used to help finance local political campaigns, including Villanueva’s original long-shot candidacy for sheriff in 2018.
“I think Ron wanted to make sure that ALADS didn’t support a bad leader,” Olmsted told us. “I felt the same way.”
With all of the above and more in mind, Olmsted agreed to write an op-ed for WitnessLA, laying out his thoughts on Alex Villanueva’s recently-announced intentions to persuade voters to install him as a member of the five-member board that runs the nation’s most populous county.
So read on.
An informed view of the former sheriff’s intention to join the LA County Board of Supervisors
Eight years after I retired from the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, Alex Villanueva invited me to rejoin the department in the role of assistant sheriff in charge of the Custody Division. His offer was unsolicited and came following his unexpected victory over then Sheriff Jim McDonnell
I had only the briefest interaction with Alex before my retirement. I’d spoken to him a few times when, in 2014, I ran for sheriff after the department’s longtime leader, Lee Baca, resigned in the midst of a growing scandal that would eventually result in federal convictions for him and his former undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
When Villanueava reached out to me, I agreed to come on board with the understanding that I would only stay for two years, then return to retirement.
Those two years shrank to one year, and during that 12 month period, I had a front-row seat to witness the antics of the most vindictive, retaliatory person I have ever met, before or after: Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
After Villanueva was sworn in on December 3, 2018, one of the first concerns that emerged for me was the new sheriff’s troubling quest to even the score with deputies he didn’t like, or deputies who were friends with people he didn’t like, or were relatives of deputies no longer in the department, but whom he had not liked prior to their departure.
One of the strongest triggers of his pattern of disliking this or that department member seemed to get tripped if the person in question had been in a position of power over Villanueva during past years when Villanueva sought a promotion but hadn’t gotten it.
Prior to being elected, Sheriff Alex Villanueva never rose past the position of lieutenant. Now that he was sheriff, the extent to which his personal bias drove the promotion process under his regime became particularly visible during the weekly Wednesday staff meetings.
During these meetings, the new sheriff would hold up a promotional jacket, which contains the individual history of each candidate, and pronounce the person being considered not ready for a step up the ladder. The reasons he gave often amounted to nothing more than his own personal prejudice.
On the flip side, it was common to see a candidate’s extravagant and unquestioning support of the insecure sheriff being the basis for a promotion. This resulted in people being pushed several ranks up the ladder when they were not qualified for the position that they had just been given.
As the months passed, the fact that there was no consistent set of standards meant the deputy promotional process existed in a state of continual turmoil.
First Villanueva announced that two years in custody working in the jails, and two years in a radio car on patrol, was required in order to be eligible for promotion to a higher rank. So far so good. But he quickly sabotaged his own new system, by promptly ignoring it.
During his first year in office, I watched Sheriff Villanueva promote more than a dozen people who were not promotable under the rules he himself had laid down. Not only were the rules not fairly administered, but there was great confusion among deputies with years on the force, about how to reasonably meet these new conditions working a “line position” in custody and patrol, in order to be considered for promotion. The confusion was exacerbated by the promotion of people who were clearly not qualified.
Villanueva’s vindictiveness was not confined to the promotion process. It was also a factor when it came to investigating wrongdoing by department members.
I witnessed this early on when he caused cases to be filed in the department’s Internal Criminal Investigation Bureau (ICIB) on two command staff members working for me, purely because they had supported the previous sheriff, Jim McDonnell.
Villanueva claimed there were internal criminal complaints against the two, a chief and a commander, and demanded that they be relieved of duty without telling me the nature of the complaints, although I was their commanding officer.
In response, I demanded an immediate investigation into the allegations against the two. Six days later, the investigation was finished. Both people were cleared and reinstated.
This wasn’t an isolated incident. I watched as other baseless accusations and investigations of a similar nature unraveled throughout the department.
Another of Villanueva’s irrational goals seemed to be the desire to make Jim McDonnell look bad. This caused Alex to arbitrarily change processes and systems, solely because McDonnell had instituted them, even when those systems were clearly useful to the department.
In general, Villanueva lacked any vision for the department or solutions to its problems.
This was starkly demonstrated during his first press conference, where he identified to reporters a series of problems facing the department that he said were caused by the former sheriff. When reporters asked logical follow-up questions about the problems he cited, the source of his numbers, and what he was going to do to solve the issues he had flagged, the new sheriff could not provide any answers.
Villanueva’s ineffectiveness as a leader was also exemplified by his refusal to work cooperatively with the county’s Board of Supervisors and the Chief Administrative Officer. Instead he repeatedly picked fights with members of the board, to the point that he became convinced that they had recruited spies against him within his department.
His unwillingness to find a way to work with the board, resulted in measurable negative consequences for rank-and-file deputies, including causing the board to cut chunks out of the department’s funding, because he never bothered to credibly explain why that funding was needed.
When asked to attend critically important board meetings, such as those involving jail closures, he often failed to attend for reasons that seemed more like tantrums than scheduling conflicts.
As that first year wore on, it became clear the sheriff and I were not on the same wavelength.
My year in Villanueva’s administration ended when he sent an underling to ask me to leave. As with so many things, he lacked the integrity and personal character to do this himself, in person.
Unfortunately for the LA County Sheriff’s Department, the department’s hard-working deputies dedicated to public service, and the communities of Los Angeles County that those deputies serve, Sheriff Villanueva remained in office for three more years.
During that time, he made enemies of everyone. the Board of Supervisors, the department’s Civilian Oversight Commission, the press.
If he becomes one of the five members of the board of supervisors, he won’t make the county better. He’ll create havoc.