Legal claim: Los Angeles sheriff delayed excessive force investigation

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — One of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s closest advisers, Alex Villanueva, said he was told to choose between retirement or demotion after raising questions about his handling of the investigation of a deputy kneeling on the head of a handcuffed inmate for several minutes.

The March 10, 2021, incident was captured on video and Robin Limon, who was a deputy sheriff, said he watched it five days later with Villanueva and two other sheriff officials, according to a lawsuit – a precursor to a lawsuit – filed Thursday by Limon’s attorney. She expected Villanueva to act quickly, but internal and criminal investigations into the deputy were delayed.

Limon grew frustrated with Villanueva’s handling of the case and the agency’s overall oversight of the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, which has about 10,000 deputies. Things came to a head last month when Villanueva asked him to choose “between two toxic options”: retirement or a four-step demotion to lieutenant, according to the claim. Instead, she took time off.

“The reasons for the Sheriff’s misconduct were two-fold, to retaliate against the Complainant for being a whistleblower in several instances of unlawful conduct and other wrongful conduct and to further his cover-up of an incident of excessive reliance on force,” the claim read, referring to the deputy kneeling on top of the inmate.

Villanueva has denied any wrongdoing in his handling of the case. He claims he only saw the video eight months after the incident.

A statement released Thursday by the department said there would be no comment on Limon’s request. “We look forward to presenting the facts in court,” the statement said.

Limon’s complaint is the second filed against the sheriff for the incident, which occurred at a county courthouse two days after jury selection began for the trial of Derek Chauvin, the former police officer. Minneapolis police who was convicted of murder for pressing his knee against George Floyd’s neck. up to 9 1/2 minutes.

The two accuse him of orchestrating a cover-up to limit any political damage from the video – Villanueva is seeking a second term – which fell into the public domain last month when the Los Angeles Times reported on the incident and released the video, which he obtained from an unidentified source.

The Times was first to report on Limon’s complaint, which came two days after Villanueva held a press conference and said a criminal investigation was underway to determine how the video was leaked. He said the Times reporter who broke the news last month was part of the investigation.

This claim was quickly condemned by the newspaper, First Amendment advocates and local politicians. Within hours, Villanueva backtracked and said the agency was not pursuing any charges against journalists.

The Associated Press and more than two dozen other media outlets and organizations sent Villanueva a letter Thursday saying her actions were “an affront to the First Amendment and a violation of your public trust in the people of Los Angeles.”

According to Limon, it was Villanueva’s desire “to avoid bad publicity” that led him to attempt to cover up the incident with the deputy.

In the video, Deputy Douglas Johnson orders inmate Enzo Escalante to move against a courthouse wall. Escalante punches Johnson and other deputies help knock Escalante to the ground and handcuff him.

Johnson then had his knee on Escalante’s head for more than three minutes, the Times reported, even after the inmate was handcuffed, placed face down and appeared to be unresponsive. Escalante – who was awaiting trial on murder and other charges – was taken to hospital for treatment of minor injuries.

Johnson was removed from his position months later and is the subject of a criminal investigation, Villanueva said on Tuesday. Prosecutors are reviewing Johnson’s case but no charges have yet been filed.

Escalante pleaded not guilty to two counts of resisting an officer. He filed a federal lawsuit against members of the sheriff’s department, including Villanueva, who alleges his civil rights were violated.

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