Villanueva’s defeat, big win for justice

By Raymond Nava

Incumbent Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s defeat is a big win for justice in the county. He was defeated in his bid for re-election on November 8. 

Villanueva lost to retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna. 

Villanueva’s loss comes after numerous controversies he’s been embroiled in after initially running in 2018 as a reformer.

Villanueva was first elected in 2018 after he defeated the then incumbent sheriff, Jim McDonnell.

Villanueva ran as someone who was going to fix the department. 

I was one of those who bought into his fake persona as a reformer. 

During the first round of the election, Villanueva and one of the other candidates attended a forum held at East Los Angeles College. McDonnell did not attend. 

I covered the forum for my political science class and I was drawn to how Villanueva touted himself as a progressive reformer.

The other candidate was more conservative, so I decided to vote for Villanueva because I liked his persona and the fact that McDonell didn’t bother showing up.

Villanueva’s tenure as sheriff has been marred with controversy, especially in the second half of his term. 

After the COVID-19 pandemic, Villanueva said that he would not enforce vaccine mandates on sheriff deputies. 

This not only put their lives at risk, but also the lives of the citizens they are supposed to protect. 

This wouldn’t be Villanueva’s sole controversy.

Toward the end of his term, Villanueva was embroiled in yet another controversy. 

In 2022, a Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department commander filed legal papers that accused Villanueva of interfering with a 2021 investigation into a deputy who kneeled on an inmate’s head while he was handcuffed. 

The commander also accused Villanueva of retaliating against whistleblowers within the department. 

In response to this, Villanueva held a press conference and put up graphics with arrows linking to a Los Angeles Times reporter, a political rival and the sheriffs inspector general. 

He said they were part of an investigation and implying they were all somehow connected. 

Villanueva claimed that the video the reporter had of the 2021 incident was “stolen property.”

While he later said the reporter was not being charged with a crime, the press conference was a brazen attempt to attack the press and shirk accountability.

LASD has had a long problem with deputy gangs in the department. 

Despite Villanueva promising to rid the department of gangs, a report from the think tank RAND Corporation reports that gangs still persist within the agency.

In February of 2020, LASD implemented a policy that aimed to ban deputies from forming gangs. 

However, the RAND report notes that the policy was very vague and that statements to the Civilian Oversight Commission contradicted the apparent firm message of prohibition of gangs.

Villanueva ran on the idea that he would be a reformer, only to abandon reformation once elected to office. 

Villanueva’s election and defeat should be a cautionary tale for people to hold elected officials to the platform they ran and were elected on. 

Voters should always publicly scrutinize elected officials when need be. 

Robert Luna, who defeated Villanueva in November, seems to be a better option. 

However, only time will tell if Luna is just another version of Villanueva. 

Voters also passed an amendment that gave the L.A. County Board of Supervisors the power to remove the sheriff for just cause. 

This means Luna and all the sheriffs after him will be held accountable to their duty.

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