LA Sheriff Threatens To 'Subject' City Council To 'Defamation Law' If They Won't Stop Calling His Deputies 'Gang Members'

from the pretty-much-the-legal-competence-you-would-expect-from-a-gang-leader dept

The man presiding over a law enforcement agency filled with gangs and cliques would prefer city officials stop referring to his employees as gang members.

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has stated that there are no gangs within the Sheriff’s Department, a claim he is obviously unable to back up with facts, because the facts make it clear that the LASD has been (and apparently still is) home to multiple gangs composed of deputies. There’s even a Wikipedia page dedicated to the gangs infesting the Sheriff’s Department.

If you distrust the info on the anyone-can-edit Wikipedia page, there’s also this comprehensive database compiled by journalist Cerise Castle for Knock LA — one that pulls info from public records and court documents to list suspected and verified members of LASD gangs.

Sheriff Villanueva continues to claim there are no gangs within his department. He has also instituted a policy to address the problem he says doesn’t exist, forbidding deputies from “joining any group that commits misconduct.” You’d think this policy would forbid any deputy from being employed by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, but I guess that’s not how Villanueva reads his edict.

As for Villanueva’s claim gangs and cliques don’t exist within his department? Well, let’s take a look at what his employees say:

Hundreds of Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies said they have been recruited to join secretive, sometimes gang-like cliques that operate within department stations, according to the findings of a survey by independent researchers.

The anticipated study into the problematic fraternities — which L.A. County officials commissioned the Rand Corp. to conduct in 2019 — found 16% of the 1,608 deputies and supervisors who anonymously answered survey questions had been invited to join a clique, with some invitations having come in the last five years.

Well, all evidence to the contrary aside, Sheriff Villanueva is no longer going to stand idly by while city officials continue to make accurate statements about his problematic agency. He’s issued a… well, not really a “cease and desist” letter [PDF] to the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors demanding (but not really) they stop saying his department has a gang problem. (h/t Adam Steinbaugh)

The letter is a fun read, even more so because Sheriff Villanueva definitely did not want his vaguely threatening fluff to be considered enjoyable for all the wrong reasons. Behold the semi-coherent wrath of a pissed off public servant.

As the elected Sheriff of Los Angeles County, I demand you and other elected leaders, as well as your appointees, immediately cease and desist from using the derogatory term “deputy gangs” when referring to members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (Department). This willful defamation of character has injured both individuals and the organization. It also serves no purpose other than to fuel hatred and increase the probability of assault and negative confrontations against our people.

So, it looks like a cease-and-desist (it even uses the words!), but the Sheriff has no power to make this demand. And Villanueva is hopefully using the phrase “defamation of character” in the colloquial, no-relation-to-the-legal-meaning sense of the words, because there’s plenty of evidence out there that would make any accusations about LASD gangs “substantially true” and, therefore, not defamation at all. I know we (and by “we,” I mostly mean courts) don’t expect law enforcement officers to be legal experts, which is good, I guess, because they clearly fucking aren’t.

The letter continues in the same vein: Villanueva bitching, mostly ineffectively, that it’s unfair to his department when city officials say bad things about him and his employees. The next paragraph of the letter basically says the Sheriff’s Department has all the heroes and the Board of Supervisors has all the hypocritical assholes.

My personnel routinely place themselves in harm’s way while serving our community and ask nothing in return, other than a paycheck and maybe a little respect for the tough job they perform. Elected officials have no problem attending the funeral of a peace officer killed in the line of duty and often fight for the opportunity to speak at the podium, but the manner in which some have enthusiastically branded my personnel as “gang members” every opportunity they get is disgusting.

It is completely possible for officials to show their respect for an officer killed in the line of duty while still suspecting the law enforcement agency they work for is home to groups of officers who commit serious misconduct while engaging in gang-like behavior: violent acts, tattoos/clothing/insignias/etc., codes of silence, et al. You know, just like it’s possible for officers of the law to recognize the War on Drugs harms more than it helps.

According to the sheriff’s letter, the only reason board members might refer to deputies as gang members stems from a dismissed lawsuit brought by a former LASD deputy. The letter claims this is the only “evidence” anyone has ever had and that other research arriving at the same conclusions is completely undermined because a single source of information was declared to be untrustworthy by a court decision. That willfully ignores the years of data that shows deputies have formed cliques/gangs within the department. And while that may not be the sole contributing factor to large amounts of misconduct, it certainly hasn’t helped neutralize the “us vs. them” mentality that is the root of so many casual abuses of rights.

From there it gets truly laughable, with Sheriff Villanueva again demonstrating his inability to understand speech-related laws before claiming that referring to LASD gangs is actually a form of bigotry.

Those who want to further undermine the perception of law enforcement use it as hate speech to promote their own agendas, such as defunding law enforcement and redirecting those funds to their own non-profit organizations, many of which are nothing more than sham corporations who operate with virtually zero accountability. Further use of the term will be evidence of your actual underlying intent, which appears to be a campaign to inflict harm upon the reputation of the Department and myself.

First off, calling someone a gang member or implying there are gangs in the LASD isn’t hate speech. It’s not even hate speech in the most ignorant sense of the word. Speech someone doesn’t like is not hate speech, and that’s all that’s really happening here. The Sheriff and his deputies aren’t a protected class, nor is being employed by the LASD an immutable characteristic that can trigger hate crime laws when derogatory language is used. The rest of this is no less stupid. “Further use… will be evidence of your actual underlying intent” to harm the Department. Whatever. This isn’t legally binding and further use will be evidence of nothing.

So very stupid.

As the first fluently Spanish speaking Latino Sheriff in over a hundred years, who supervises a majority Latino workforce, I hope you can see the blatant racial inferences your conscious bias displays every time you choose to attack our Department with this derogatory term.

Um, people were saying the LASD was gang-infested long before you took office, Sheriff. That they’re still saying it doesn’t reflect on you or your multilingual skills. All it says is that the problem persists and it’s now your problem, Sheriff.

Finally, the Sheriff appears to believe this somehow is a valid legal threat, despite the fact he’s unlikely to prevail in a defamation lawsuit against city council members. Here’s how the letter wraps up:

I openly challenge every elected leader, or their appointees, to provide facts to me and name individuals who they can prove are “gang members,” as defined by California Penal Code Section 13670, and subject yourself to defamation laws if wrong.

LOL. Well, this shouldn’t be too hard. Here’s the relevant part of the California Code:

“Law enforcement gang” means a group of peace officers within a law enforcement agency who may identify themselves by a name and may be associated with an identifying symbol, including, but not limited to, matching tattoos, and who engage in a pattern of on-duty behavior that intentionally violates the law or fundamental principles of professional policing, including, but not limited to, excluding, harassing, or discriminating against any individual based on a protected category under federal or state antidiscrimination laws, engaging in or promoting conduct that violates the rights of other employees or members of the public, violating agency policy, the persistent practice of unlawful detention or use of excessive force in circumstances where it is known to be unjustified, falsifying police reports, fabricating or destroying evidence, targeting persons for enforcement based solely on protected characteristics of those persons, theft, unauthorized use of alcohol or drugs on duty, unlawful or unauthorized protection of other members from disciplinary actions, and retaliation against other officers who threaten or interfere with the activities of the group.

To sum up: the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department is a gang associated with an identifying symbol that engages in all of the listed behavior. Therefore, it should be declared illegal under state law and disbanded.

There are few things more enjoyable than sternly-worded letters that are 50% bluster, 50% unintentionally hilarious. Recipients of this letter should take the Sheriff up on his dare and let him know just how many bad apples he’s overseeing. If nothing else, council members should send Villanueva a “Thanks for the laugh. I really needed that.” in response to his declaration of keyboard war.

Filed Under: , , , , , , ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “LA Sheriff Threatens To 'Subject' City Council To 'Defamation Law' If They Won't Stop Calling His Deputies 'Gang Members'”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

That'll teach 'em

City and anyone else watching: ‘The LA sherrif department is filled with a bunch of gang members.’

LA county sheriff Alex Villanueva: ‘How dare you, just for that I’m going to send a blustery ‘retract that or things will go badly for you’ letter, a threat will clearly demonstrate that we are not a bunch of criminals in uniforms!’

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
This comment has been deemed funny by the community.
Anonymous Coward says:

You heard it here, folks!

My personnel routinely place themselves in harm’s way while serving our community and ask nothing in return, other than a paycheck and maybe a little respect for the tough job they perform.

Sheriff Villanueva has made it clear: they only need a paycheck and a ‘little respect.’ Therefore, they no longer need:

  • Qualified Immunity
  • Special treatment in misconduct investigations.
  • Military-grade weapons and equipment.

Your honesty, sir, is a credit to your profession.

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Bergman (profile) says:

Re: So what the Sheriff is saying

Oh, it’s BETTER than that. Not only is it defamation to falsely claim something like that about people in a way that can cause actual harm (physical, financial and reputational), the fact that it’s TRUE is an absolute defense. And court records are public records.

If he takes this to court he risks creating an official declaration in public records that his deputies are in fact members of criminal gangs. Because the best defense in a defamation case is the fact the statements were true, and the discovery phase would be BRUTAL for him.

jvbattlewood (profile) says:

Barking Dogs

Blowing hot air on an ember is an excellent way of building a fire.
This is nothing but theater. Sheriff Villanueva knows full well what manner of conflagration a lawsuit would generate.
Particularly, in the unlikely event of it’s making it as far as an actual trial.
That sort of attention and interest brings a level of microscopic scrutiny he and his department can ill afford.

DeComposer (profile) says:

Maybe we should try the corporate solution

These are the raw-meat capitalist bunch, right? So subject them to raw-meat capitalist rules: use the methods that corporations routinely employ to rid themselves of dead wood and other undesirables.

Slightly reduce the LASD budget (or reprioritize how it’s allocated), and then eliminate the positions occupied by Sheriff Villanueva and the most obvious gang members as a cost-cutting move.

You can always reorg later and add those positions back, but not without a formal interview process that will pre-emptively weed out the undesirables.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...