The race for Los Angeles County Sheriff was decided by a margin of more than 400,000 votes. Former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna (right) pulled off rare feat by unseating incumbent Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
Luna unseats Alex Villanueva
in massive landslide victory
LOS ANGELES (CNS)—A defiant Sheriff Alex Villaneuva conceded defeat Tuesday in his re-election bid, but in doing so, he again lashed out at his critics for pushing what he called "false narratives" about his leadership of the department.
Villanueva has been consistently trailing former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna as results from last week's election continued to be tallied. Updated vote totals released Monday by the county Regis- trar-Recorder/County Clerk's Office showed Luna with a lead of 324,837 votes, up from 259,184 when the last update was released Nov. 13.
The results from last Tuesday's election currently stand at 987,730 votes for Luna, or 59.8 percent, and 662,893 for Villanueva, or 40.2 percent. There are an estimated 655,300 ballots left to be pro- cessed, according to the clerk's office.
"I want to wish the incoming sheriff well," Villanueva said during an afternoon news conference. "I want him to succeed for a simple reason—the safety of the community depends on him succeeding. The welfare of every single person on the department depends on him succeeding.
"... Again, we wish Mr. Luna well, and like I said before, the narrative of the political establishment and the media is not the narrative of the people who are struggling to survive day by day. ... That discon- nect is real."
He added, "One thing I've learned also is that speaking truth to power is not without risks. I remember a politician that I met early on, they told me you can be a reformer or you can be reelected. You've got to pick one. I'm proud to say I'm a reformer. I have no desire to abandon who I am, my principles, just to get elected.
"... I've faced adversity throughout my career in law enforcement because I've always spoke truth to power, never batted an eye. And in our meetings, our executive meetings, every meeting that we had when we had to make a decision the very first thing was, 'what's the right thing to do.' And the second thing was, OK, make it happen. ... Every adversity I've faced throughout my years in law enforcement has always propelled me to a bigger stage, a bigger audience and a bigger voice."
Villanueva's voice cracked slightly with emotion as he wrapped up his roughly 20-minute remarks, saying, "If there are people who think somehow we're defeated, quite the opposite. We're walking out of here with our heads high. We accomplished the mission we set out to be, we could have used probably four more years to solidify it, but we set a very high standard."
Following Villanueva's concession, Luna issued a statement, starting with "Thank you, L.A. County."
"I'm deeply honored and humbled that you have elected me as your next sheriff. With your vote, you have entrusted me with a clear man- date to bring new leadership and accountability to the sheriff's department. And that's exactly what I will do.
"I want to offer my best wishes to Sheriff Villanueva and his family. And I look forward to working with the talented and courageous sworn and professional staff of the sheriff's department who are dedi- cated to keeping our communities safe."
During his concession news conference, Villanueva blamed his loss on what he called a sweeping misinformation campaign and the use of "false narratives" focused on issues including alleged deputy gangs, his alleged resistance of oversight by the county and Civilian Oversight Commission and other allegations of internal harassment and retaliation against purported whistleblowers.
Villanueva said he was victimized by a "weaponized political machine" operated by the county, which he described as a "corrupt criminal enterprise."
He then rattled off a list of what he called major accomplishments during his tenure, including addres- sing homelessness, revising body-worn camera program, reinstating the issuance of concealed weapon permits and managing the jail system during the COVID-19 pandemic.
His defeat marks the second straight election in which an incumbent sheriff was unseated, something that hadn't occurred for roughly a century. Villaneuva ousted Sheriff Jim McDonnell four years ago.
The candidates ran a spirited campaign, with Luna attacking the incumbent over his torrid relationship with the county Board of Supervisors and accusing him of ignoring the issue of deputy gangs within the department. Villanueva has deflected such criticism, saying his battles with the board show he is a fierce defender of the department and its deputies, and insisting that he has gone to great lengths to attack and ban alleged deputy cliques in the agency.
Villanueva's victory four years ago came with strong backing from reform-minded community groups and Democrats. But over the past four years, Villanueva's support among those groups has waned as he repeatedly clashed with the Democrat-dominated Board of Supervisors over funding and policy matters.
Villanueva has also repeatedly defied subpoenas to appear before the Civilian Oversight Commission and refused to enforce the county's COVID-19 vaccination mandate among his deputies and depart- ment employees.
Luna has argued during the campaign that the sheriff's department is being "mismanaged" by Villan- ueva and said he will work to restore trust in the agency. He also touted his position as an outsider with no connections to the sheriff's department.
Luna said he will work to "modernize" the sheriff's department and its jail system and improve the mental well-being of deputies and employees.
Andrés Dae Keun Kwon, policy counsel and senior organizer with the ACLU of Southern California—which has been critical of Villanueva's leadership—issued a statement hailing the vote.
"The people of L.A. County have spoken," Kwon said. "Sheriff Villanueva's removal from office, coupled with the overwhelming approval of Measure A, is an indictment of the sheriff's abuse of authority and a clear mandate for real sheriff accountability"
Measure A, approved on last week's ballot, gives the county Board of Supervisors the authority to remove an elected sheriff from office "for cause."
Voters support process for firing of elected sheriff
LOS ANGELES (CNS)—The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has a critical new power, with voters approving a measure that gives the board the authority to fire a publicly elected sheriff from office for cause.
The Board of Supervisors voted in August to place Measure A on the ballot, calling it an effort to ensure accountability in the county's law enforcement agency. Incumbent Sheriff Alex Villanueva blasted the proposal as unconstitutional, calling it a blatant power grab by a board with which he has repeatedly clashed.
Measure A, which was approved overwhelmingly Nov. 8, gives the board the power to remove a sheriff "for cause" with a four-fifths vote of the five-member panel.
"Cause" is defined as "a violation of any law related to the performance of their duties as sheriff; flag- rant or repeated neglect of duties; a misappropriation of public funds or property; willful falsification of a relevant official statement or document; or obstruction of any investigation into the conduct of the sheriff by the Inspector General, Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, or any government agency with jurisdiction to conduct such an investigation."
Although board members support- ing the measure denied it was political in nature, the move was a clear response to its battles with Villanueva, who has accused board members of defunding his agency at the expense of public safety and has rebuffed subpoenas to appear bef- ore the county's Civilian Oversight Commission.
Speaking to media recently, Villanueva again reiterated his contention that the measure will not hold up in court.
"The board put it on the ballot. They know it's unconstitutional. They know it will not survive a legal challenge. But the whole idea of putting it on the ballot was to incentivize their voters to get to the polls. That's just manipulating the electoral system.''
Board Chair Holly Mitchell and Supervisor Hilda Solis introduced the motion calling for the ballot mea- sure. Mitchell said during a July 12 meeting that the issue goes beyond Villanueva.
"The issue of sheriff accountability before us is both urgent and systemic, having impacted past gener- ations of Angelenos, but also with important consequences for the future," Mitchell said.
"Unfortunately, the county has had long and troubling history with sheriff oversight and transparency."
The motion by Mitchell and Solis referred to previous sheriffs Lee Baca, who was sentenced to federal prison on corruption charges, and Peter Pitchess, who "resisted any involvement in the initial internal investigation of deputy gangs from outside the department."
Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the board's lone opponent of the measure, issued a statement saying, "Giving the Board of Supervisors authority to remove an elected sheriff unequivocally takes away power from the public."
"It's a move that has the potential to disenfranchise voters," she said. "It also overlooks the fact that a recall process already exists to remove elected officials who fail to perform their duties."
Villanueva sent a letter to the board saying the measure "would allow corrupt board members to intimidate sheriffs from carrying out their official duties to investigate crime."
"This motion is a recipe for public corruption, particularly when 'cause' remains so broad and undefined," the sheriff wrote.
"Allowing political appointees with an agenda to determine 'cause' is fundamentally flawed.
"... It appears you are making yourselves the judge, jury and executioner for the office of the sheriff, nullifying the will of the voters.
"This illegal motion seeks to under- mine the role of the sheriff and render the office subordinate to the Board of Supervisors. On its face, your proposed ordinance language is not a proper reading of the law and will be challenged on these multiple grounds."
He called the move an effort to derail his reelection bid. Villanueva faced a Tuesday runoff with former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna. All five members of the Board of Supervisors endorsed Luna.
According to the board's motion, despite efforts to provide oversight of the department, "the board has nevertheless been limited in its ability to serve as a sufficient check against the sheriff's flagrant disre- gard of lawful oversight and accountability."
The Republican National Committee issued a statement blasting the proposal as "another prime example of how Democrats like to change the rules when they don't get their way."
"Not only is Sheriff Villanueva an elected official, he's one of the few who has been willing to stand up to the board for reducing law enforce- ment funding and effectively endangering the lives of Angel- inos," according to the RNC.
"... This decision from the LA County Board of Supervisors would attempt to bully the elected sheriff into doing what they want and would be yet another blow to a free and fair democracy, thanks to California Democrats."
Villanueva is a registered Democrat.
US 988 Suicide Lifeline now live
ROCKVILLE, MD (MNS)—Effective July 16, the US transitions the 10-digit National Suicide Prevention Lifeline to 988—an easy-to-remember three-digit number for 24/7 crisis care.
The lifeline, which also links to the Veterans Crisis Line, follows a three-year joint effort by the US Depart- ment of Health and Human Services (HHS), Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and the US Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to put crisis care more in reach for people in need. This initiative is part of President Biden’s comprehensive strategy to address our nation’s mental health crisis, and is identified by US Health and Human Services Xavier Becerra as a top priority at HHS.
Since January 2021, the Biden-Harris Administration has made unprecedented investments to support the 988 transition, investing $432 million to scale crisis center capacity and ensure all Americans have access to help during mental health crises.
The National Suicide Hotline Designation Act, signed into law after the passage of bipartisan legislation in 2020, authorized 988 as a new three-digit number for suicide and mental health crisis. All telephone service and text providers in the US and the five major U.S. territories are required by the FCC to activate 988 no later than July 16.
"988 is more than a number, it is a message: we’re there for you. Through this and other actions, we are treating mental health as a priority and putting crisis care in reach for more Americans," said Secretary Becerra, who has been meeting with states across the country about the transition to 988 as part of HHS’ National Tour to Strengthen Mental Health. “There is still much work to do. But what matters is that we’re launching, 988 will be live. We are looking to every governor and every state in the nation to do their part to make this a long-term success."
The Biden-Harris Administration increased federal investments in the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline by 18-fold - from $24 million to $432 million—to scale up crisis centers and back-up center capacity, and to provide special services, including a sub-network for Spanish language speakers.
The $432 million included $105 million in grant funding to states and territories, provided by the American Rescue Plan, to improve response rates, increase capacity to meet future demand, and ensure calls initiated in their states or territories are first routed to local, regional, or state crisis call centers. Prior to this investment, the Lifeline, which has existed since 2005, had been unfunded and under-resourced.
The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline is a network of more than 200 state and local call centers supported by HHS through the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).
"Recent investments made in the Lifeline have already resulted in more calls, chats, and texts answered even as volume has increased, but we know that too many people are still experiencing suicidal crisis or mental health-related distress without the support they need," said Miriam E. Delphin-Rittmon, Ph.D., the HHS Assistant Secretary for Mental Health and Substance Use and leader of SAMHSA.
"Over time, the vision for 988 is to have additional crisis services available in communities across the country, much the way emergency medical services work." Delphin-Rittmon said. "The success of 988 depends on our continued partnership with states, as the federal government cannot do this alone. We urge states and territories to join us and invest further in answering the call to transform our crisis care response nationwide."
FCC staff first proposed 988 in a report to Congress in August 2019 as the nationwide, easy-to-remem-ber, 3-digit dialing code for individuals in crisis to connect to suicide prevention and mental health crisis counselors with the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. On July 16, 2020, the FCC adopted rules designating 988 for this purpose. Recognizing the need to better support at-risk communities in crisis, including youth and individuals with disabilities, the FCC adopted additional rules in November 2021 to expand access to this important service by establishing the ability to also text 988.
"All across our country, people are hurting. They need help. The good news is that getting that help just got a lot easier. The 988 hotline will be available nationwide for individuals in crisis, and their loved ones, to reach the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline more easily," said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel.
"This cross-government effort has been years in the making and comes at a crucial point to help address the mental health crisis in our country, especially for our young people."
VA administers the Veterans Crisis Line through the Lifeline’s national network. Because of VA’s partner- ship with the Lifeline, the Veterans Crisis Line is affected by this transition to a new number. Veterans and their loved ones can now Dial 988 then Press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
"988 has been a long time coming and will serve as a critical resource during a crisis when every second counts. The new, shorter number will help ensure Veterans have easier access to the Veterans Crisis Line," said VA Secretary Denis McDonough. "This launch is a whole-of-government approach in line with the president’s call to prioritize mental health by strengthening access to crisis services, and preventing Veteran suicide, our top clinical priority."
In 2021, the Lifeline received 3.6 million calls, chats, and texts. That number is expected to at least double within the first full year after the 988 transition.
The US had one death by suicide every 11 minutes in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suicide was the second leading cause of death for young people aged 10-14 and 25-34. From April 2020 to 2021, more than 100,000 people died from drug overdoses. Studies have shown that after speaking with a trained crisis counselor, most Lifeline callers are significantly more likely to feel less depressed, less suicidal, less overwhelmed, and more hopeful.
The 10-digit Lifeline number 1-800-273-TALK (8255) will continue to be operational after July 16 and will route calls to 988 indefinitely. Veterans, service members, and their families can also still reach the Veterans Crisis Line with the current phone number 1-800-273-8255 and Press 1, or by chat or text to 838255.
More information on 988 is available at www.samhsa.gov/988 and https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/988/faqs. B-roll and soundbites are available for download here: https://hhstv.orangedox.com /20220716988BitesandBroll
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