Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced this week that he is banning Inspector General Max Huntsman from the department's facilities and databases, effectively blocking the county watchdog from doing his job overseeing the Sheriff's Department.
The extraordinary move ramps up a years-long power struggle that has been marked by Villanueva launching criminal investigations into Huntsman and leveling personal attacks, including an unfounded claim that Huntsman is a Holocaust denier. Huntsman has said repeatedly that Villanueva has routinely broken the law when trying to circumvent Huntsman's authority to oversee the sheriff and his department.
"Mr. Huntsman will be removed from all access to Department facilities, personnel, and databases effective immediately," Villanueva wrote in a letter Wednesday to the Board of Supervisors. "This standard is applied to all Department personnel who are named as a suspect in a criminal case involving felony crimes."
In an email reviewed by The Times, acting Capt. James Peterson of the Sheriff Department's Data Systems Bureau advised staffers Thursday morning that Huntsman's access to the department network was being disabled.
"I want to make sure I'm not missing any loopholes that might allow him access to something outside of our network that we have control over," Peterson wrote.
Huntsman declined to comment Thursday.
In a statement, Supervisor Janice Hahn said: “This is yet another attempt by the Sheriff to block effective oversight of his department."
The Sheriff's Department has been investigating Huntsman since at least 2019, alleging that he and members of his staff stole confidential files the department keeps on high-ranking officials. Huntsman has said his office accessed the files in the course of his normal job duties.
More than three years have gone by and Huntsman has not been charged with any crimes.
When asked at a news conference Wednesday why he was implementing the ban now, Villanueva said: "Because now he's a suspect in a second case. This is a second case he picked up."
The second case centers around the raids on the home and office of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl last month. In interviews with reporters outside her home that day, Kuehl said she had been alerted about the raid by county counsel, who she said had heard about it from Huntsman.
Sheriff's investigators seized Kuehl's phone and searched it for evidence of who, if anyone, told her about the raid, according to court papers filed by the Sheriff's Department.
According to the court filing, it was not Huntsman.
The night before the raid, Kuehl's chief of staff texted her that a county attorney relayed that the sheriff may have obtained a warrant to search the supervisor's home the next morning, according to the filing.
About an hour and a half later, the county attorney texted Kuehl about the impending raid, saying she found out about it from Huntsman, according to the filing.
The raids were part of the Sheriff's Department's long-running investigation into a series of contracts awarded by Metro to a domestic violence nonprofit, Peace Over Violence.
Deputies searched the homes of Kuehl and Patti Giggans, the head of the nonprofit who is a friend of Kuehl's and also serves on the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, as well as Metro’s headquarters and other county offices.
California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta took control of the controversial criminal investigation shortly after the raids, saying that sidelining the department was in the “public interest.”
The Board of Supervisors appointed Huntsman to oversee the Sheriff's Department, a job that includes monitoring conditions in the sprawling jail system run by the agency by conducting regular inspections as well as monitoring in-custody deaths and uses of force. His office also is authorized to inspect patrol activities, on-duty shootings and other significant events.
Huntsman has a team of attorneys and inspectors who conduct many of the inspections. It was not clear how the ban on Huntsman will affect them.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.