Retired Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna is projected to win the Los Angeles Sheriff election, ousting a scandal-plagued incumbent who has repeatedly covered up deputy misconduct and retaliated against public officials who tried to hold the department accountable.
Just four years ago, Alex Villanueva made history, becoming the first Democratic sheriff and the first candidate to defeat an incumbent sheriff in more than 100 years. But by the time Villanueva was up for reelection, his support had evaporated. The Los Angeles County Democratic Party called on him to resign in 2021 and ultimately endorsed Luna earlier this year. The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors also moved to ask voters to give the board the authority to remove an elected sheriff. During the June primary election, Villanueva received just 30.66% of the vote, which prompted a runoff with Luna, who came in second with 25.85% of the vote.
Villanueva conceded the race Tuesday as it became clear that the remaining uncounted ballots could not close the nearly 20-percentage-point gap between him and Luna. County Measure A, which would give the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors the authority, by a supermajority vote, to remove an elected sheriff for cause, is also expected to pass, an additional rebuke of Villanueva. As of Tuesday, the yes votes were ahead by more than 40 percentage points.
Despite running as a Democrat with vague promises of reform, Villanueva quickly pivoted to open contempt of the people who voted him into office. He called for putting “wokeism” “out of its misery in 2022” and refused to enforce COVID vaccine mandates among his staff. He has consistently denied the existence of a well-documented gang crisis within the department, where according to whistleblowers, groups of deputies operate a shadow branch of government. He has defied subpoenas from the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission related to his handling of COVID-19 in the county’s jails and allegations that he tried to cover up his deputies sharing photos from Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash.
Those who worked to hold the sheriff’s department accountable have faced personal attacks from Villanueva. For years, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) investigated LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, an outspoken critic of Villanueva, for taking bribes. After prosecutors declined to file charges, citing a lack of evidence, armed LASD deputies showed up at Kuehl’s home and seized phones, iPads and laptops, a move a Los Angeles Times columnist described as a “vindictive political stunt.” Under Villanueva, LASD has also launched a criminal investigation into Inspector General Max Huntsman and eventually banned the county’s top watchdog from entering LASD facilities and databases.
After the Los Angeles Times reported on LASD officials’ attempt to cover up an incident in which a deputy knelt on the head of a handcuffed incarcerated man for three minutes, Villanueva threatened to go after the journalist who broke the news as part of a criminal leak investigation.
As sheriff, Villanueva presides over the largest jail system in the country, which incarcerates nearly 15,000 people — most of whom have not been convicted of a crime. In September, the American Civil Liberties Union accused officials of running a “barbaric” system where incarcerated people are chained to chairs for days, left to sleep on the floor without blankets, and denied access to toilets and medicine to treat mental illness.
Luna has made vague promises to “reform and modernize” the sheriff’s department and “eradicate” deputy gangs, but progressives have expressed skepticism about his interest in meaningful change. Voting for Luna is “about harm reduction,” Knock LA, a progressive independent media outlet, wrote in its voter guide.
“Luna meets the bare minimum requirements for a viable alternative to Villanueva as sheriff — he has demonstrated that he is capable of interacting with other elected officials in a functional, constructive fashion; he sees the role of sheriff as existing to fulfill a public purpose beyond the pursuit of personal grievances and political witch hunts; and he is not dedicated to using his platform to amplify the most disgusting right-wing conspiracy theories and extremist positions,” Knock LA wrote. “It’s an embarrassingly low bar, but he clears it.”