‘LA Goonery’: Sheriff ripped for ‘absolutely extraordinary overstep of power’ in targeting local reporter

At a press conference, Los Angeles Sheriff Alex Villanueva received harsh criticism on Tuesday after announcing that LA Times correspondent Alene Tchekmedyian is facing an investigation after she reported on the department covering up a case where video showed a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate's head for 3 minutes.

"Los Angeles County sheriff’s officials attempted to cover up an incident in which a deputy knelt on the head of a handcuffed inmate for three minutes because they feared the 'negative light' it could shed on the department, according to internal records reviewed by The Times. Department officials were worried about the optics of the kneeling, 'given its nature and its similarities to widely publicized George Floyd use of force,' a commander who was critical of the coverup wrote in an internal force review," Tchekmedyian reported in March.

On Monday, she reported on an update in the scandal.

"A Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander who was critical of efforts to cover up an incident in which a deputy kneeled on a handcuffed inmate’s head has filed legal papers accusing Sheriff Alex Villanueva of obstructing justice and retaliating against those who blew the whistle. In the legal claim against L.A. County, which is a required precursor to a lawsuit, Allen Castellano offered new details about Villanueva’s alleged role in keeping the March 2021 incident under wraps that contradict the sheriff’s claim that he learned of the incident several months after it happened," Tchekmedyian reported.

On Tuesday, Villanueva announced the investigation at a press conference. Spectrum New 1 reporter Kate Cagle posted video of his statements to Twitter:

Emily Baumgarertner, a national correspondent at the newspaper, said the investigation was an "absolutely extraordinary overstep of power.

"Absolutely extraordinary overstep of power. Proud to be a colleague of [Tchekmedyian], whose accountability reporting is vital to the public," she added.

Kevin Merida, the newspaper's executive editor, described the investigation as "outrageous."

"His attempt to criminalize news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law. We will vigorously defend Tchekmedyian's and the Los Angeles Times' rights in any proceeding or investigation brought by authorities," he vowed.

The Freedom of the Press Foundation said that it is actually Villanueva who should be under investigation.

"This is appalling and wrong. The sheriff should be investigated himself for potentially violating the Constitution," the First Amendment group said.

Local public radio correspondent Frank Stoltze posted a photo of Villanueva displaying and pointing to a photo of Tchekmedyian at the press conference.

Charles Stile, a columnist in New Jersey, described the move as "LA Goonery."

Here is here latest report on the scandal: