Sheriff accused of covering up, backtracks on possible investigation of journalist who broke the story

Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva appears to be backing down — and outright denying — his investigation into a Los Angeles Times journalist who broke a damning story about the agency’s brutal treatment of a handcuffed inmate and his potential involvement in a cover-up.

Villanueva held a press conference on Tuesday to criticize her detractors, including the LA Timesthe public and several press freedom organizations that condemned him for suggesting he would investigate LA Times journalist Alene Chekmedyian for revealing the story.

He originally accused the journalist of using information allegedly stolen from the department as the basis of her story. He claimed that six possible crimes took place, including robbery, larceny and conspiracy.

At her initial press conference on the matter, Villanueva held up a large poster with the faces of Tchekmedyian, as well as her opponent in the upcoming sheriff’s election, Eli Vera, and sheriff’s inspector, Matt Huntsman.

“The three individuals we want to know a lot about,” he said. “These three people have some important questions to answer.”

When asked if Chekmedyian was being investigated, he said that “all parts of the act are objects of investigation”.

However, after a flurry of convictions, Villanueva claimed – despite all evidence to the contrary – that she never said the journalist was under investigation.

“I must clarify at no point today did I declare a LA Times reporter was a suspect in a criminal investigation,” he said. “We have no interest in prosecuting, and are not prosecuting, criminal charges against any reporter.”

The LA Times’ lawyer threatened legal action if the sheriff’s office opened an investigation against the journalist, saying “LA Times will pursue all available remedies against you, the department and all employees involved in any illegal conduct.”

Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis issued a statement saying she would ask the state attorney general to investigate Villanueva for a “pattern of unscrupulous and dangerous actions like today.”

“The Last Attack LA Times Reporter Alene Tchekmedyian is another dangerous example of Sheriff Villanueva attacking the media and the First Amendment,” Solis said. “This is in line with her past harassment of other women, including KPCC reporter Josie Huang, as well as myself and other county officials.

“Showing Alene’s photo at today’s press conference and making her look like she’s committed a crime is not just an attack on Alene, but on the entire journalistic community. What is criminal is the sheriff’s cover-up of deputies using excessive force against an incarcerated person, including kneeling on their neck for three minutes. What is not criminal, however, is Alene and other journalists reporting this.”

The Independent got in touch to comment.

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