Luna to become L.A. County sheriff as Villanueva concedes

Robert Luna, a little-known retired Long Beach Police Commissioner, will become Los Angeles County’s next sheriff after ousting incumbent Alex Villanueva, who left office after a single term marred by the upheaval and discord he sowed. hit hard.

With Luna holding a commanding 20 percentage point lead in the vote count and the number of ballots still to be counted shrinking by the day, Villanueva gave up the race on Tuesday.

“I want to wish the new sheriff well,” Villanueva said at the end of a rambling concession speech. “The safety of the community depends on its success.”

Luna said in a statement he was “deeply honored and humbled” that voters elected him, and said in a statement that his victory “signals a clear mandate to bring new leadership and accountability to the sheriff’s department.”

“I look forward to working with the talented and courageous sworn and professional employees of the Sheriff’s Department dedicated to keeping our communities safe,” he said.

Dislike of Villanueva and his antagonistic style of rule played elsewhere on the ballot: Measure A, which rewrites the county bylaws to give the board of directors the power to fire an incumbent sheriff, is likely to be passed overwhelmingly, with about 70% of voters agreeing with him so far. Bosses introduced the measure to voters after years of fighting with Villanueva.

The result was a vocal rebuke of Villanueva’s four chaotic years in office – a tenure that saw him morph from an aspiring candidate buoyed by the support of progressive voters into a conservative, combative advocate endlessly mingling with elected officials and others , who oversee him, and the department clashed.

Luna’s win marks another change in leadership for the Sheriff’s Department, which will see its fourth sheriff since Lee Baca resigned eight years ago amid a federal corruption investigation that eventually landed him in prison.

Luna is expected to be sworn in as the county’s 34th sheriff in a ceremony next month. He inherits a large, unwieldy law enforcement agency – one of the nation’s largest – that runs a network of jails and patrols swaths of the sprawling county with stations from Lancaster to Catalina Island.

It is an organization that has historically operated in the shadow of the Los Angeles Police Department, but is equal in both size and the role it plays in public safety. Luna will deal with longstanding issues and the aftermath of recent scandals that erupted during Villanueva’s watch.

After decades of neglect, Luna County’s prisons, like its predecessors, will cause plenty of trouble. Treatment for the thousands of mentally ill people housed in the facilities is woefully inadequate, while the facilities in general are grossly outdated.

Controversial shootings and other wrongdoing also remain an issue. The Board of Supervisors recently agreed to pay $47.6 million to resolve several lawsuits alleging excessive use of force or negligence by sheriff’s deputies. The payouts included $8 million for the family of Andres Guardado, whose 2020 killing by a MP sparked widespread protests.

Perhaps Luna’s most immediate challenge is to lead the department out of the turmoil caused by Villanueva’s combative approach.

He must rebuild the department’s ties with public authorities across the county and city of Los Angeles, which Villanueva has systematically broken by attacking other elected officials he said are part of an overly liberal “armed political machine.” which allowed homelessness and crime to thrive. At the top of that list were the county oversights, who control the sheriff’s budget and clashed violently with Villanueva, and the Civilian Oversight Commission, which appoints oversights to oversee the sheriff’s department.

There’s the criminal investigation the Sheriff’s Department has launched into some of Villanueva’s most ardent critics, which has led to widespread allegations that he abused the office’s powers to target opponents. The California Attorney General has taken over this investigation and is reviewing the allegations of misconduct.

And complaints from senior sheriff officials that Villanueva covered up an incident in which a deputy knelt on the head of a prison inmate remain unresolved.

The Oversight Commission, meanwhile, is holding public hearings against gang-like groups of MPs that have operated in the department for decades. Villanueva has come under fire for his handling of the issue, both downplaying its seriousness and claiming to have taken crucial steps to address it. He has also refused subpoenas from the commission to answer questions about the groups and other issues under oath.

Luna, who ran the Long Beach Police Department for seven years before retiring last year, touted a prudent alternative to Villanueva and pledged to work with county officials and the department’s watchdogs to make enemies of Villanueva.

But he’s remained largely unknown outside of Long Beach, and as an outsider in the sheriff’s department, he faces the challenge of winning over a base that has come to appreciate Villanueva’s brash style. During the pandemic, for example, Villanueva refused to enforce the county’s vaccination mandate — a move widely applauded by lawmakers.

Despite his relative obscurity to most LA County voters, Luna has long been considered the front-runner in the race. Villanueva’s performance in the June primary – he garnered 31% of the vote – was seen as a poor result in a race that has historically favored the incumbent. Luna finished second in the primary, receiving 26% of the vote.

At Luna’s election night party last week, Gregory Sanders, a senior pastor of the Rock Christian Fellowship in Long Beach, waded through the crowd of several hundred people. He said Luna would be a definite upgrade.

“His heart is in the right place to create a space where our community has faith in the sheriff,” he said.

Times contributor Libor Jany contributed to this report. Luna to become L.A. County sheriff as Villanueva concedes

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