Former Sheriff Alex Villanueva has agreed to testify before the Civilian Oversight Commission regarding deputy gangs, according to the Los Angeles Times.
This decision, communicated through his lawyer in a December letter, marks a significant shift from his previous stance of resisting subpoenas.
Villanueva’s attorney, Linda Savitt, confirmed his intention to appear in January and respond to questions under oath. This turnaround follows a county judge’s move to schedule a hearing to determine if Villanueva, now running for county supervisor against Janice Hahn, should be compelled to adhere to the commission’s subpoenas.
Sean Kennedy, chair of the oversight commission, remains cautious about this commitment, recalling a previous instance where Villanueva reneged on a similar promise.
The context involves a 70-page report by the commission’s special counsel earlier this year, condemning deputy gangs as a “cancer” and calling for a stricter policy against these groups by Sheriff Robert Luna. Despite subpoenas, Villanueva and former Deputy Sheriff Tim Murakami did not testify in the public hearings that informed this report.
The controversy traces back to 2020 when the Board of Supervisors endowed the commission with subpoena power, later confirmed by voters through Measure R. Subsequently, California Governor Gavin Newsom enacted legislation granting similar powers to oversight bodies nationwide.
Initially, Villanueva questioned the legality of a subpoena regarding his handling of COVID-19 in jails, branding it a “public shaming effort.” This led to a court battle, which he circumvented by voluntarily responding to the commission.
Despite facing multiple court cases due to further subpoenas, Villanueva managed to avoid a contempt hearing when his lawyers appealed for higher court intervention. An appeals court later ruled in his favor, requiring a judge to first mandate compliance with the subpoena before declaring contempt.
In a recent move, county lawyers initiated this two-step legal process. In response, Villanueva’s lawyer informed the commission of his client’s readiness to testify, a contrast to Murakami, who continues to show no such inclination. Murakami’s refusal, previously attributed to a medical condition, remains unchanged, and his lawyer has not responded to recent inquiries for comment.