On Tuesday, he alarmed press freedom advocates by lashing out at a press conference and saying a Los Angeles Times reporter was under criminal investigation. Later in the day he attempted to walk back his alarming comments, but it’s important to understand the context, including Villanueva’s highly controversial behavior and attacks on the media.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Villanueva displayed and pointed to a photo of Chekmedyian, plus one of his political rivals and the sheriff’s inspector general. The arrows implied a connection between the three. Villanueva called the video of the incident that Chekmedyian had obtained “well stolen”. And he said he was investigating “all parties” involved in the case. When repeatedly asked if Chekmedyian was specifically under investigation, Villanueva replied that “all parties to the act” were being probed.
Notably, Villanueva seems to have set up a straw man here. There is a difference between being under investigation and being a suspect in an investigation where criminal charges may be laid against the person. The first was reported by news agencies, the second was not…
“An abuse of your official position”
Hours before the department’s tweet, LA Times General Counsel Jeff Glasser wrote the sheriff a scathing memo. Glasser described Villanueva’s remarks as a “thinly veiled attempt to intimidate ‘to intimidate Chekmedyian’ for reporting unflattering (but entirely accurate) information about the conduct of individuals in your department and allegations of a cover-up by you and other officials”.
A story of going after the press
>> Kevin Merida, editor of the LA Times, said “Villanueva’s attempt to criminalize reporting goes against well-established constitutional law…”
>> The Reporters’ Committee for Freedom of the Press called Villanueva’s decision “out of reach” and a violation of the First Amendment, condemning it in the “strongest terms…”