A second official claims the Los Angeles County Sheriff tried to cover up the deputy’s excessive use of force

Limon alleged in a lawsuit filed Thursday that Villanueva retaliated against her “for being a whistleblower in several instances of unlawful conduct and other wrongful conduct and for furthering her cover-up of a recourse incident. excessive force”.

This incident happened on March 10, 2021 at the San Fernando Courthouse. An inmate punched a deputy who then knelt on the inmate’s head and “restricted his breathing long after” the inmate had stopped resisting, according to Limon’s claim.

The deputy’s actions, captured on video, are reminiscent of those of former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin against George Floyd, according to the legal complaint. Jury selection in Chauvin’s murder trial had begun the day before.

But instead of following proper procedures, Villanueva sought to block further actions related to the incident to avoid “bad media”, Limon claims.

In a statement to CNN, the Sheriff’s Department said, “Due to multiple active investigations and two civil lawsuits, we are unable to comment further at this time. We look forward to presenting the facts in court. ”

Villanueva, who heads the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, is eligible for re-election in June.

The official has a habit of ‘reporting and raising concerns’

Limon’s claim alleges that she brought a DVD with video of the incident from the courthouse to Villanueva around March 15, 2021, after hearing about it from other officers.

After watching the video, Villanueva told him the sheriff’s department “don’t need bad media right now” and said he would “handle the matter,” the statement said.

The sheriff then blocked an internal investigation and the filing of assault charges against the inmate involved in the incident because “Villanueva knew that if assault charges were filed against the inmate, his defense attorney would have had access to the video and the public could see it. “, alleges the claim.

Limon also accused the sheriff of later lying about when he originally watched the video to “fit into a false timeline.”

The complaint says Limon has a history of “reporting and raising concerns” about the sheriff’s misconduct beyond the 2021 incident.

This conduct includes “the sheriff’s habit of retaliating against dissenters and whistleblowers”, using department resources to “pursue his political campaign for re-election”, and promoting people who do not were unqualified or had engaged in wrongdoing or were under investigation, the claim alleges.

Limon is asking the county to pay $5 million in damages for what she claims is the sheriff’s retaliatory scheme against her, including a four-rank demotion.

Another official makes similar allegations

The Los Angeles Times originally reported allegations of a cover-up and published an excerpt from surveillance video of the courthouse incident on March 25.

Video obtained by The Times shows an inmate punching a deputy before being held to the ground. While on the ground, the deputy places his knee on the inmate’s head, holding it even after the inmate ceases to resist, is restrained by multiple officers and handcuffed, according to video obtained by the Times .

The deputy kept his knee on the inmate’s head for three minutes, according to the Times.

In its initial story, the newspaper reported on an internal review by Commander Allen Castellano, who was critical of the way the matter had been handled.

Department officials were concerned about the optics of the case “given its nature and similarities to George Floyd’s widely publicized use of force,” Castellano wrote in the review, adding that those officials had decided not to pursue criminal charges against the detainee to avoid drawing attention to the incident, according to the Times.

A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department said earlier that the sheriff discovered the incident in October and immediately ordered an investigation into the deputy, who was relieved of his duties, the Times reported. At a news conference on Tuesday, the sheriff said he originally saw video of the incident in November and that the October date his officer gave earlier was an estimate.
Castellano was the first official to file a complaint this week, accusing Villanueva of obstruction of justice, The Times reported. Like Limon, he alleged the sheriff watched the video just days after the incident, according to the Times.

Sheriff goes after reporter over cover-up story

At his press conference, Villanueva erupted and said the journalist who reported on the affair and the cover-up allegations, Alene Tchekmedyian, was under investigation.
The sheriff attempted to walk back those comments later in the day, saying in a tweet from the department that at “no time today did I say that an LA Times reporter was a suspect in a criminal investigation. We have no interest in pursuing, and we do not pursue, criminal charges against journalists .”
Villanueva claimed without evidence that the media strategically timed the publication of negative stories to harm his re-election bid.

His statements on Tuesday alarmed press freedom advocates. Katherine Jacobsen, U.S. and Canadian program coordinator for the Committee to Protect Journalists, told CNN that her “implication that Alene Tchekmedyian did something wrong by reporting on the conduct of law enforcement shows a lack of fundamental to understanding the workings of journalists”.

“Journalists should not be vilified or threatened with investigation for simply doing their job and covering matters of public interest,” Jacobsen added.

At a press conference late last month, the sheriff also accused the Los Angeles County inspector general of deliberately leaking negative information about the department just before the campaign kicked off. Villanueva.

In a letter sent to the sheriff last month, Los Angeles County Inspector General Max Huntsman asked for documents that had still not been turned over to investigators as part of an investigation into ‘deputy gangs’ at the sheriff’s office. In the letter, Huntsman said at least 41 deputies have so far been identified as gang members.

In a previous statement, Villanueva called the law enforcement gang investigation a “fishing expedition and political theater.”

CNN’s Taylor Romine and Jason Kravarik contributed to this report.


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