As elected officials, Sheriffs have a unique role in American law enforcement as defined by the Constitution. They are buffers against unconstitutional laws and ordinances to protect the liberties of constituents from government overreach.
So, it should raise concern when another political branch wants the authority to remove a Sheriff from their position. That is exactly what the Los Angeles Board of Supervisors would like the power to do, and they are asking voters to give them this power through a proposed charter amendment.
“If passed by voters, the charter amendment would grant the Board of Supervisors the authority to remove a Sheriff for unlawful actions or a violation of statutory duties by a four-fifths vote of the Board,” reported Random Lengths News in August.
While this measure would not remove the citizens’ right to elect a Sheriff, nor interfere with the constitutional powers given to a Sheriff, the move would codify a framework under which the board could remove the Sheriff with a four-fifths majority vote.
The actionable “causes” outlined are:
(1) Violation of any law related to the performance of a Sheriff’s duties;
(2) Flagrant or repeated neglect of a Sheriff’s duties as defined by law;
(3) Misappropriation of public funds or property as defined in California law;
(4) Willful falsification of a relevant official statement or document; or (5) Obstruction, as defined in federal, State, or local law applicable to a Sheriff, of any investigation into the conduct of a Sheriff and/or the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department by any government agency, office, or commission with jurisdiction to conduct such an investigation.
While this proposal is being lauded by activist groups who insist on accountability, it was possibly crafted to go after one man in particular, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
“Villanueva has repeatedly clashed with oversight agencies. In 2021, the California Department of Justice launched a civil rights investigation against the department to determine whether it engaged in a ‘pattern or practice of unconstitutional policing’ after numerous reports of misconduct,” reports The San Fernando Sun.
A statement from the ACLU further implies the political nature of the proposed ordinance, which read in part:
“The undersigned stakeholders urge the Board to propose to the voters an amendment to the LA County Charter that will create an impeachment and removal process to provide common sense checks and balances over the sheriff, reinforce its policy-making authority over LASD, and strengthen civilian oversight.”
For his part, Villanueva has opposed the efforts of the groups, tweeting, “Beware of coalitions masquerading as ‘reform’ groups… Their legislative efforts are largely unconstitutional…”
The battle between activist groups, the LA County Board of Supervisors, and the Sheriffs Department will be decided in November during the midterm election. While proponents of the measure argue it is about “checks & balances” and “accountability,” it is also a naked power grab. The Sheriff is indeed already accountable through the democratic process. The elected position of the Sheriff is in fact a “check” on the other elected legislative officials who may act unconstitutionally in the judgment of a Sheriff. Giving these officials power to remove an elected Sheriff will nullify the will of voters and potentially lead to a Sheriff’s judgment being subverted by political pressure, and ultimately remove the potential for dissent within the county’s political system.
Image Credit: Photo by Alina Rubo on Unsplash