Sunday on Last Week Tonight, John Oliver tore into Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who is facing an election this year amid allegations of secret deputy gangs, abuse of power and cover-ups in his department — all of which Villanueva denies.
“His re-election bid this year has been overshadowed by claims in the L.A. Times that he directed a cover-up of an incident where one of his deputies knelt on a detainee’s head for three minutes,” Oliver on his HBO show. “It is a damning story about abuse of power and lack of transparency, and Villanueva took swift action against those responsible … for everyone finding out about it.”
Oliver is referring to a news conference Villanueva held last week to blast a variety of his opponents both political and perceived, including election challenger Eli Vera; county Inspector General Max Huntsman; and Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian, who broke an explosive story of an altercation involving deputies’ mistreatment of a handcuffed inmate. Villanueva alleged at the news conference that the Times piece potentially was based on information stolen from the department. He listed six potential crimes involved, including burglary, theft and conspiracy.
Oliver didn’t think the focus on potentially leaked documents was a good look for Villanueva.
“OK, when you’re accused of being complicit in a terrible act, being more concerned about who said it than the accusation doesn’t exactly convey innocence,” said Oliver.
Today, Villanueva doubled down on his assessment when asked if he thought the leak was worse than the conduct on display in the video.
After at first calling the comparison “apples and oranges,” the L.A. Sheriff said, “one’s at the deputy line level (the video) and the other is a higher level (the leak), and it’s probably more serious.” Villanueva called deputies kneeling on an inmate’s head “a split-second decision,” whereas he said, “The decision to do a leak, that’s a calculated, deliberate decision. That’s the difference between mistakes of the mind and mistakes of the heart.”
Asked to clarify if he was saying the decision to kneel on a man’s neck was a “mistake of the heart,” Villanueva replied, “No…” before his communications team cut off Spectrum News SoCal reporter Kate Cagle’s line of questioning.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva says the leak of the use of force video is more serious than the incident.
“The decision to do a leak, that’s a calculated, deliberate decision. That’s the difference between mistakes of the mind and mistakes of the heart.”
— Kate Cagle (@KateCagle) May 2, 2022
As Oliver observed Sunday night: “Sweeping things under the carpet seems to be Villanueva’s style, because, despite campaigning four years ago as a reformer in an infamously corrupt department, his record since then has not been great. A 2019 IG report found that over just a two-month period, officials working under him canceled 45 administrative investigations into his employees, some of which involved domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual misconduct with an inmate.”
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