LOS ANGELES – Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced on Tuesday that the department has launched a criminal investigation into how the media obtained a use-of-force video showing an LASD deputy kneeling on the head of a handcuffed inmate.
During press conference, Villanueva shared photos of the three people in the investigation – her political opponent Eli Vera, Inspector General Max Huntsman and Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tcheckmedyian.
A screenshot of a presentation given by LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva on April 26, 2022.
“The matter is being investigated. It involves stolen property that was illegally removed by people with criminal intent. This will be investigated,” Villanueva said, adding that other agencies are said to be involved in the case.
When asked if LA Times reporter Chekmedyian was under investigation, Villanueva replied: “The act is under investigation…so all parties to the act are under investigation. under investigation. That’s why we’re investigating.”
“She [Tchekmedyian] received information, then she used it for her own use. What she legally receives and uses for her own use and what she illegally receives or the LA Times uses…that’s a very complex part of the law…freedom of the press…but when it’s material stolen, at some point you actually become part of the story…so it’s up to the LA Times to decide that,” he added.
Villanueva declined to answer questions from LA Times reporters who attended the press conference.
LA Times editor Kevin Merida posted the following statement in response:
In a statement on her social media late Tuesday, Villanueva clarified that the department was not pursuing criminal charges against Chekmedyian herself. “We have no interest in pursuing, and we do not pursue, criminal charges against journalists,” the statement read in part.
Later in his press conference, Villanueva addressed a lawsuit brought by a “disgruntled employee” alleging he routinely blocked or obstructed investigations and covered up misconduct to avoid bad press during his re-election campaign.
“The foundation of this whole lawsuit is bogus. Everything about this lawsuit is bogus. When you put it all into context, you realize that there are a lot of people working in concert and in coordination. That includes the LA Times , which includes people who obviously to beat me electorally, that includes the inspector general appointed by the board of directors and the civil oversight commission,” Villanueva said. “A lot of people work overtime and they do it from best they can, so there will be more nonsense thrown at me until June 7, but that’s the way it is.”
In his trialCommander Allen Castellano claims to have sent the video of the incident of March 10, 2021 to Deputy Sheriff Robin Limon immediately afterwards.
The man in custody, Enzo Escalante, was slightly injured. Deputy Douglas Johnson held Escalante handcuffed with his knee after punching the deputy in the face.
Villanueva went on to say that the department was “more than happy to testify” regarding this lawsuit.
Castellano claims the sheriff delayed an administrative investigation into the deputy’s actions for nearly a month and prevented the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau from reviewing the incident.
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“We’ve got some serious issues to deal with there. We’ve got violent crime. We’ve got homelessness out of control…funding…and on top of that I have this whole orchestrated circus for the ends of policies only,” he added. “And too bad I don’t have people, journalists, the LA Times. Maybe you should start clarifying exactly what you did with it, who did you get it from and when did you get it? -you got… maybe that’s a question for you to answer,” Villanueva told the LA Times.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis released a statement on Tuesday saying she was calling on the state’s Attorney General to investigate Villanueva for an “unconscionable and dangerous series of actions like today’s,” referring to Villanueva summoning a press conference with county resources to go after political enemies.
“The latest attack on LA Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian is another dangerous example of Sheriff Villanueva attacking the media and the First Amendment,” Solis said. “This matches his past harassment of other women, including KPCC reporter Josie Huang as well as myself and other county officials.
“Putting Alene’s photo up at today’s press conference and making it look like she’s committed a crime is not just an attack on Alene but on the entire journalistic community. is criminal is the Sheriff’s cover-up of deputies using excessive force against an incarcerated person, including kneeling on their neck for three minutes What is not criminal, however, is that Alene and other journalists talk about it.
City News Service contributed to this report.