The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s office says it’s probing an LA Times journalist over a leaked video of a deputy kneeling on a jail inmates head for three minutes.
LA sheriff Alex Villenueva accused reporter Alene Tcheckmedyian of illegally obtaining the footage of inmate Enzo Escalante being restrained in March 2021, then writing false claims about his department.
Escalante survived the encounter, with charges against him later dropped.
He even flashed up her professional headshot during a Tuesday press conference detailing his office’s probe into the leaked video.
Tcheckmedyian’s report had suggested the sheriff’s office had tried to cover up the clip over fears it would make cops look bad after the May 2020 murder of George Floyd.
‘This is stolen property that was removed illegally by people who had some criminal intent. It’ll be subject to investigation,’ Billanueva said.
Villanueva launched his campaign against Tcheckmedyian after she published an article Monday detailing a legal claim from an officer alleging the sheriff covered up the kneeling incident out of fear of ‘negative publicity’ given the ‘similarities to widely publicized George Floyd use of force.’
Tchekmedyian also published security footage of the deputy handcuffing an inmate, who had punched him in the face. Once the inmate was on the floor, the officer knelt on his head for three minutes.
‘”Fearing bad publicity, LASD covered a case of deputy who knelt on inmates head.” Wow, this is a false headline right there,’ Villanueva stated. ‘No, there was an individual within a division who did engage in something of concern, but they were not definitely acting on behalf of the department.’
Announcement of the probe has sparked new accusations against Villanueva, including that he violated the reporter’s First Amendment rights.
He refused to say whether he was personally investigating Tcheckmedyian herself, and the LA Times has furiously defended its reporter.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva has launched an investigation into how the media obtained leaked video of a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate’s head. He is pictured during a press conference Tuesday in which he announced the probe
Villanueva said his office will be investigating ‘all parties’ connected to the incident, including those pictured above
The sheriff has accused Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tcheckmedyian of illegally obtaining the footage and writing false claims about his department. The journalist is pictured at Tuesday’s press conference
During Tuesday’s press conference Villanueva shared photographs of three individuals, including Tcheckmedyian, that he believes are connected to the ‘illegal’ obtaining of the surveillance footage.
The other individuals pictured were LA County Inspector General Max Huntsman and retired Los Angeles County Sheriff Department (LASD) commander Eli Vera, who is running against Villanueva in the upcoming sheriff’s race.
Villanueva said his office will be investigating ‘all parties’ connected to the incident.
‘The act is under investigation… so all parties to the act are subjects of the investigation. That’s why we do investigations,’ he said when asked if Tcheckmedyian was a subject of the probe.
‘She [Tchekmedyian] received information and then she put it to her own use,’ Villanueva said. ‘What she receives illegally and The LA Times uses it, I’m pretty sure that’s a huge, complex area of law and freedom of the press and all that.’
‘However, when it’s stolen material, at some point you actually become part of the story,’ he said.
Villanueva alleged that his department will ‘not be the only party investigating this’ and claims other agencies will be ‘thoroughly investigating and monitoring what we are doing.’
‘And it will be handed over to the appropriate prosecutorial agencies so they make a determination,’ the sheriff added.
Villanueva launched his campaign against Tcheckmedyian after she wrote an article Monday detailing a legal claim from an officer alleging the sheriff covered up the kneeling incident out of fear of ‘negative publicity’. He is pictured criticizing her article during Tuesday’s presser
Tchekmedyian also published security footage of the deputy handcuffing an inmate, who had punched him in the face. Once the inmate was on the floor, the officer knelt on his head for three minutes
Villanueva also addressed the lawsuit filed by a ‘disgruntled employee’ that served as the basis for Tchekmedyian’s article.
‘The foundation of this entire lawsuit is false. Everything in this lawsuit is false,’ Villanueva said Tuesday.
The suit, filed by Commander Allen Castellano, alleges Deputy Douglas Johnson held handcuffed Enzo Escalante down with his knee on March 10, 2021 after the inmate had punched him in the face.
Escalante suffered minor injuries during the incident.
Castellano claims Villanueva, along with Undersheriff Tim Murakami and Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon, were presented with the footage within five days of the incident but failed to take action.
‘We do not need bad media at this time,’ Villanueva allegedly said after viewing the video. He then told Limon that he would ‘handle the matter,’ according to the complaint which was obtained by the LA Times.
‘Villanueva really meant that he would proceed to obstruct justice and direct a cover-up of the incident,’ the suit states.
The filing then goes on to allege that Villanueva blocked a criminal investigation into whether Johnson used excessive force against Escalante and stopped assault charges from by filed against the inmate in an attempt to keep the incident secret.
‘Villanueva knew that if assault charges were filed against the inmate, his defense attorney would have gotten access to the video and the public could see it,’ Castellano’s suit claims.
The sheriff, when discussing the complaint, claimed the it was a collaborative effort to prevent him from being re-elected in June.
‘When you take this entire thing into context, you realize that there’s a lot of people working in concert and coordination. That includes the LA Times, that includes people that obviously to defeat me electorally, that includes the board-appointed inspector general, and the civilian oversight commission,’ he said during the presser.
‘A lot of people are working overtime and they’re doing it as best as they can so there will be more of this nonsense thrown at me until June 7, but it is what it is.’
Villanueva added: ‘We have serious issues to handle out there. We have violent crime. We got homelessness out of control… defunding… and on top of that I have this circus entirely orchestrated for political purposes only.
‘And too bad I don’t have people, reporters, from the LA Times. Maybe you need to start clarifying exactly what you did with this, who did you get it from, and when did you get it… maybe that’s a question for you to answer.’
A lawsuit filed against LASD alleges Deputy Douglas Johnson held handcuffed Enzo Escalante down with his knee on March 10, 2021 after the inmate had punched him in the face multiple times
Johnson and other deputies then took Escalante to the ground, positioning him facedown
Escalante suffered minor injuries during the incident. Johnson (circled) is seen standing nearby while other officers tend to Escalante
The LA County Board of Supervisors has called on the California attorney general to investigate Villanueva for a ‘pattern of unconscionable and dangerous actions like the one today,’ LA County Supervisor Hilda Solis said Tuesday in a statement issued to FOX 11. She was likely referring to Villanueva using a public news conference to lash out against his ‘political foes’.
‘The latest attack on LA Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian is another dangerous example of Sheriff Villanueva attacking the media and the First Amendment,’ Solis said. ‘This is in keeping with his past harassment of other women, including KPCC reporter Josie Huang as well as myself and other county officials.
LOS ANGELES TIMES’ FULL STATEMENT ON LASD INVESTIGATION OF REPORTER
Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s attack on Alene Tchekmedyian’s First Amendment rights for doing newsworthy reporting on a video that showed a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate’s head is 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.
– Los Angeles Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida
‘Displaying Alene’s photo at today’s press conference and making her appear as if she committed a crime is not just an attack on Alene but the entire journalistic community.
‘What’s criminal is the sheriff’s cover-up of deputies using excessive force against an incarcerated person, including kneeling on his neck for three minutes. What’s not criminal, however, is Alene and other journalists reporting on it.’
Kevin Merida, LA Times executive editor, also issued a statement Tuesday defending his reporter ‘for doing newsworthy reporting’ and said the sheriff’s ‘attack on Tchekmedyian’s First Amendment rights’ was ‘outrageous’.
‘His attempt to criminalize news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law,’ Merida added. ‘We will vigorously defend Tchekmedyian’s and The Los Angeles Times’s rights in any proceeding or investigation brought by authorities.’
Merida’s remarks were echoed by Katie Townsend, deputy executive director for the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, who argued an investigation of a journalist because of her reporting is a violation of the First Amendment.
‘Publishing newsworthy information about an alleged law enforcement cover-up that sought to block an investigation into the use of excessive force is constitutionally protected activity, and is clearly in the public interest,’ Townsend told The New York Times.
‘We condemn the department’s actions in the strongest terms, and urge it to immediately drop this purported investigation.’
LASD did not immediately respond to DailyMail.com’s request for comment, however the agency issued a statement to the NY Times Tuesday claiming it was ‘unable to comment any further due to several active ongoing investigations, pending litigation, including a criminal investigation.’
‘What we can say is Sheriff Alex Villanueva is committed to transparency and accountability,’ the department told the newspaper.
The lawsuit against Villanueva alleged he tried to cover up Johnson kneeling on Escalante ‘given its nature’ and the similarities to the use-of-force incident that killed George Floyd
According to Tchekmedyian’s article, the lawsuit against Villanueva alleged he tried to cover up Johnson kneeling on Escalante ‘given its nature’ and the similarities to the use-of-force incident that killed George Floyd.
Floyd was killed on May 25, 2020, having been arrested for allegedly attempting to use a counterfeit $20 bill to buy cigarettes at a grocery store.
Shortly after the incident, video emerged of Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he lay on the ground for nine minutes.
Floyd cried out, ‘I can’t breathe!’ over and over. His words became a rallying cry for demonstrators the world over.
Chauvin was found guilty of second-degree murder, third-degree murder, and second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death. Three other officers, Tou Thao, Thomas Lane, and J Alexander Kueng, were fired from the police department who did nothing to intervene while witnessing Floyd’s death.
Source: Daily Mail