Seventy-four organizations want to give the Board of Supervisors the power to impeach the sheriff and create more robust civilian oversight of the LASD.
On February 7, 2022, the Check the Sheriff coalition released a letter to the LA County Board of Supervisors calling for a proposed LA County Charter amendment that would give the board the power to impeach and remove the sheriff by a four-fifths vote. The proposed amendment would also strengthen the board’s legal ability to craft and implement policy for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD). Finally, it would codify the Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) and the Office of Inspector General into the charter itself, providing funding and independent legal counsel to those civilian offices and increasing their power to oversee the LASD.
Over 70 organizations co-signed the letter, including ACLU SoCal, Black Lives Matter – Los Angeles (BLM-LA), UNITE HERE Local 11, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California. [Disclosure: Ground Game LA, the parent organization of Knock LA, also co-signed the letter].
The language of the proposed charter amendment has not yet been written, but Andrés Kwon, an attorney and senior organizer with ACLU SoCal, doesn’t think it will be difficult. “The details can be worked out. What we’re asking for right now is simple: we do not have a system of checks and balances right now and we sorely need one.”
Kwon is not alone in his opinion. Dozens attended a press conference outside the Hall of Justice to announce the release of the letter. Many were there to support speakers whose family members have been murdered by deputy gang members in the LASD. A number of the speakers were driven to tears as they revisited the tragic murders of their loved ones and the impact of subsequent LASD harassment on their family’s lives for those assembled.
Current Sheriff Alex Villanueva has come under increased scrutiny in the past several years for his handling of the deputy gang crisis, leading to a call from the LA County Democratic Party for his resignation and calls from a congressional subcommittee that the Department of Justice investigate allegations of systemic abuses.
The Board of Supervisors cannot amend the charter directly. Instead, they vote on potential amendments to put on the ballot in upcoming elections. Then, LA county voters decide whether to amend the charter or not.
With the passing of Measure J in the 2020 general election, which allocated 10% of LA County’s unrestricted fund away from incarceration and toward community investment (at least in theory), it appears LA voters have a desire to see more criminal justice reform.
The supervisors themselves may see things differently. Both Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn told Knock LA they would not support a ballot measure that would allow the Board to impeach the sheriff. Hilda Solis, Holly Mitchell, and Sheila Kuehl did not respond to requests for comment at time of publication.
Sheriff Villanueva took to Instagram to oppose the abstract concept of “coalitions masquerading as ‘reform’ groups” and claimed that their efforts are unconstitutional. In the reality the rest of us live in, there is in fact well-established constitutional precedent for a Board of Supervisors to impeach and remove a sheriff in California. In 2002, San Bernardino County passed an ordinance that empowered its Board of Supervisors to remove the sheriff by a four-fifths vote.
When their sheriff challenged the ordinance, the Court of Appeal found it was “specifically authorized by article XI, section 4 of the Constitution, subdivision (c).” Kwon says, “We at the ACLU are proud of our legal research and analysis. We’ve done thorough analysis and research on this and we believe we are on solid legal ground.”
Dr. Melina Abdullah, co-founder of BLM-LA, ended the press conference saying, “[The charter amendment] is not even revolutionary, [it’s] common sense. We have to provide a mechanism, we have to stop these killings. We have to do something to hold the sheriff’s department, which is the most corrupt in the nation, and the sheriff, who is the most corrupt in LA county history, accountable.”