Monday, November 21, 2022







Los Angeles County voters have just sent a powerful and threatening message to scofflaw sheriffs all around California: enforce the laws, even ones you don’t like, or you may not hold your office much longer.


They did this in two emphatic ways: First, they defeated the state’s leading scofflaw sheriff, Alex Villanueva, by more than 18 percentage points, over 320,000 votes. Then, a short distance down their ballots, they voted by an overwhelming 69 percent majority to allow firing of future sheriffs if 80 percent of their county’s supervisors vote for an ouster.


That local proposition, known as Measure A, specified that sheriffs can only be canned if they break laws, flagrantly neglect their duties, misappropriate funds, falsity documents or obstruct an investigation. Villanueva has been informally charged with almost all of these.


        Villanueva may have been the most obviously egregious of California’s scofflaw lawmen and women, with his well publicized refusals to enforce COVID-19 quarantines and masking, trying to obstruct the work of the county’s oversight commission, condoning deputy gangs and more, but he was far from the only sheriff exposed during the height of the pandemic.


        Refusal by sheriffs and police chiefs to enforce state law was most common during the height of Covid infections, which so far have killed more than 93,000 Californians. At the end of 2020, before Covid vaccines began cutting down cases and hospitalizations, at least two dozen law enforcement agencies were refusing to observe or enforce emergency stay-at-home, crowd size and masking orders from state and local public health officers.


        Of the five counties with the highest seven-day average Covid caseload in the week leading up to Christmas 2020, only one had taken strong enforcement measures to protect its people.


        Wherever those measures were enforced, they proved effective. Statistics show that if this state had pursued the laissez faire, everything-stays-open approach used in Florida and some other states, more than 40,000 more Californians would be dead today.


        But the scofflaw sheriffs didn’t care. Villanueva was not moved to act, nor were sheriffs in nearby Orange, San Bernardino and Riverside counties, among others ranging as far north as Del Norte County on the Oregon border.



        But nothing happened to Villanueva or the other refusing sheriffs until it was time for Villanueva to seek reelection this fall. That’s when his political house came crashing down.


        There is little doubt former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, Villanueva’s successor, will be far more circumspect, making sure to enforce even laws that are unpopular or inconvenient, like the anti-Covid tactics. But it’s uncertain what might happen elsewhere. For example, Riverside County Sheriff Chad Bianco was reelected outright in the June 7 primary, and so has another four years in office.


        But Measure A provides an example showing elected supervisors in other counties, who have never had much authority over sheriffs, that they, too, can bring recalcitrant law enforcement kingpins to heel. That applies to reluctant law enforcers in counties from Sacramento to Imperial near the Mexican border.


        Villanueva opposed Measure A as “an illegal motion that would allow corrupt supervisors to intimidate sheriffs from carrying out their official duties to investigate crime.” Of course, just after the November vote, he faced an investigation of his own, the local district attorney now looking into allegations that he tried to dun his deputies for campaign donations once he realized his reelection was in doubt.


        In any case, the vast majority of Los Angeles County voters did not heed Villanueva’s protestations, and he will soon be gone. Whether he is prosecuted for corruption over allegedly seeking campaign money from deputies, with the implicit threat of punishment if they did not donate, remains uncertain.


        But county supervisors who voted 4-1 to place Measure A on the ballot said they believed he was guilty of at least three of the shortcomings listed in the proposition as grounds for dismissal.


        If  Villanueva’s loss and the easy passage of Measure A doesn’t tell other sheriffs they must enforce even laws they don’t like, it’s hard to see what might.


    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It" is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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