Attorneys for Los Angeles County filed court papers Thursday asking a court to consider holding Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his undersheriff in contempt for allegedly ignoring subpoenas to appear before the Civilian Oversight Commission and testify about alleged deputy cliques.
Subpoenas to Villanueva and Undersheriff Timothy Murakami required each of them to appear and testify at the commission’s July 1 public hearing on whether so-called deputy gangs exist in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and their alleged refusal to comply subjects them to the contempt procedures, according to the Los Angeles Superior Court petition.
A sheriff’s department representative did not immediately reply to a request for comment. Villanueva’s failure to appear was the sixth straight time he has disobeyed a commission subpoena, according to the petition.
The commission subpoenaed Villanueva because in 2018 his then-Division Chief Matthew Burson issued an order barring sheriff’s department internal investigators from questioning witnesses about what role a suspected deputy gang known as the “Banditos” played in assaults by some deputies upon others at a department party, the petition states.
“Burson thus robbed criminal investigators before the investigation started of their best chance of exposing the Banditos, even though the evidence strongly suggested their direct involvement in the attacks and deputy gangs have reportedly plagued the department for decades,” the petition states.
Villanueva’s testimony is now even more critical because Burson, who is now retired, testified under oath on July 1 that Villanueva, through his then-chief of staff, directed him to issue the order to the internal sheriff’s department investigators to not look into the activities of the Banditos, the petition states.
“The COC naturally wants to ask Sheriff Villanueva what reason he had for directing Burson to foreclose questioning regarding the Banditos,” the petition states.
Murakami’s failure to appear on July 1 was his fourth alleged consecutive disregard of a subpoena from the commission, according to the petition, which further states the commission wants to question the sheriff’s department veteran of more than three decades about gangs as well.
Burson testified that he believes Murakami has a “suspected deputy clique Caveman tattoo,” the petition states. In addition, Murakami once worked patrol at the East Los Angeles station, where the Banditos are allegedly active, the petition states.