Friday, June 14, 2024

Villanueva claims Gascón withheld announcing decision on deputies to hurt him in election

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With less than a week to go before the Nov. 8 election, embattled Sheriff Alex Villanueva on Thursday, Nov. 3, accused District Attorney George Gascón of refusing to announce that he declined to prosecute the deputies involved in three controversial shootings and an in-custody use-of-force.

The sheriff, who faces difficult re-election prospects after his rocky first term — and who has engaged in political battles with the D.A. over the last two years — claimed Gascón and two of his subordinates earlier this year made the decision not to prosecute the deputies who killed Andres Guardado and Dijon Kizee in 2020, and Anthony Weber in 2018.

He also said Gascón declined to prosecute the deputies seen kneeling on the head of Enzo Escalante, an inmate who was transported to the San Fernando Courthouse for a hearing in March 2021.

“The outcome of many cases assigned to the D.A.’s Justice System Integrity Division were intentionally withheld from public release in order to avoid criticism from supporters during the recall effort of George Gascón, as well as to affect the outcome of the sheriff’s election,” Villanueva said.

“Many of these cases were also cited as contributing factors of calls for my resignation.”

Villanueva said a whistleblower came forward to the Sheriff’s Department about Gascon’s alleged decisions in the cases. But the sheriff did not present evidence of any of those decisions. A spokeswoman for the Sheriff’s Department also refused to answer a request for any documents that would show Gascón had made the decisions.

The DA’s office on Thursday refused to say whether Gascón had indeed made decisions in any of the cases.

Villanueva claimed one of Gascón’s deputies in January recommended ruling Guardado’s killing as justified. He said another subordinate recommended the same in February for Weber’s killing.

The sheriff said Gascón himself ruled Kizzee’s killing as justified in May. And Villanueva said Gascón in October refused to file charges against the deputies who knelt on Escalante.

The video of the deputies pinning Escalante to the ground led to claims that the Sheriff’s Department covered up that incident.

All of the incidents have brought protests and lawsuits. On Monday, the Board of Supervisors settled the lawsuit brought by Guardado’s family for $8 million.

In a statement, the D.A.’s office said Villanueva’s press conference on Thursday was full of “lies.”

“Sadly, there were many lies told in today’s press conference… after a final decision is made, out of respect for the family we make every effort to contact them before that information is disseminated to the press,” said Tiffiny Blackwell, a spokeswoman for the D.A.’s office.

“I would also add that the families of those who have been killed or injured by law enforcement deserve better than to have their loved ones’ cases be made into a media stunt on the eve of an election.”

It’s not clear how refusing to announce those decisions would have buoyed the recall attempt, which garnered support mostly from L.A. County residents incensed over Gascón’s sentencing reforms. The recall was also supported by Villanueva himself.

The recall attempt floundered earlier this year after the L.A. County registrar-recorder found tens of thousands of signatures organizers submitted to be invalid. Though they got closer, this was the second failed recall attempt against Gascón since he was elected in 2020.

Villnueva faces difficult odds against retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in the Nov. 8 election for sheriff, with polls showing him running behind his challenger.

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