Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva lost his race for a seat on the LA County Board of Supervisors, falsely denying the validity of the election results.

Villanueva ran to represent the LA County’s 4th District, which covers much of South and Southeast LA. During his time as sheriff, Villanueva publicly expressed disagreement with members of the LA County Board of Supervisors when it came to handling certain issues within the Sheriff’s Department, including eliminating deputy gangs. His time in the public eye has been marked by using his office to target journalists, raid the homes of other elected officials, and falsely deny the validity of election results.

Villanueva announced his run last September and largely campaigned on addressing public safety and homelessness (ironically, he ran for the same Board that tried to remove him from power when he was LA County Sheriff but ultimately he lost his title to current Sheriff Robert Luna in 2022). Villanueva criticized the “Care First, Jails Last” model championed by the county supervisors, a holistic approach to helping people struggling with homelessness, poverty, and mental illness by providing community-centered solutions and not incarceration, calling it an “utter disaster.” However, his judgment might be misconstrued since many recommendations made in the final report have yet to be implemented.

Villanueva also advocated repealing Proposition 47, a ballot measure that California voters approved in 2014 that reduced non-violent property crimes to misdemeanors. He would often go on X, previously Twitter, to reshare viral videos of “smash-and-grabs” and target elected officials and community leaders such as Youth Justice Coalition (YJC), a nonprofit working to empower families impacted by the criminal justice system, to further his agenda. 

“Sheriff Villanueva consistently protected and denied the existence of Sheriff gangs [and] allowed countless in-custody deaths inside Men’s Central [Jail] and county facilities under his watch…,” said Emilio Zapién, director of media and communications for YJC, to LA Public Press. “Then [he] has the audacity to blame public safety issues on petty retail theft.” 

Villanueva also called out the Hahn’s family legacy in local politics. Hahn is the daughter of Kenneth Hahn who also served on the LA County Board of Supervisors for 40 years before term limits were established. Her brother, James Hahn, served as the 40th mayor of the City of LA. Villanueva called his opponent and incumbent a “nepotism baby.” 

Hahn has represented District 4 since 2016, this will be her third and final term. The 4th Supervisorial District stretches from the Palos Verdes Peninsula through Long Beach and the Southeast LA cities. It includes 32 cities, 18 unincorporated communities, and four neighborhoods in the City of LA.    

Hahn proclaimed victory and responded to Villanueva’s loss by calling him a “two-time loser.” 

“For the second time in two years, voters have rejected his lies, lawlessness, and failures,” she said in a statement. “They also repudiated his unethical and deceitful attacks on the Hahn family name. It’s clear that voters across the 4th District agree with L.A. County’s designation of keeping Alex Villanueva on the do-not-hire-list.”

Villanueva went live on his Instagram account Thursday afternoon to reflect on the election and his loss, giving his views on state and national politics, and answering questions from viewers. “If she’s expecting some kind of concession or a phone call, she’s never going to get it,” said Villanueva on live.

Villanueva has also explicitly repeated a lie that the LA County election results are illegitimate. When asked if his campaign had anything to share about the election, Villanueva shared a message he sent to his campaign team with LA Public Press insinuating the election results might not be legitimate (The LA County election results are thoroughly vetted by the LA County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk and, ironically, secured and transported by sheriff’s deputies).

“There is no correlation between the results reported by the registrar/recorder and the numbers we collected as we knocked on doors, phone banked, and spoke with thousands of residents of the 4th District,” Villanueva said in a statement.

“We will use the resources we have at our disposal to ensure the election was legitimate and the results reflect the will of the electorate. After dealing with county government, both as sheriff and as a candidate, something is amiss and we will figure it out. Thank you for all the time and energy you spent on the campaign trail. Vivian and I can never repay you, and your dedication to the cause inspires us to keep pushing forward.”

His time as Sheriff

Villanueva assumed his role as LA County Sheriff in 2018, beating incumbent Sheriff Jim McDonnell, making him the first person to unseat an incumbent in that seat for over 100 years. Villanueva joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1986 where he also served as lieutenant in the department for seven years. Before joining the department, he was enlisted in the United States Air Force.  

Villanueva only served one term: he lost his seat to former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in 2022, who won with 61% of the vote. Since then, he’s been critical of his successor by name-calling him and suggesting he’s the Board’s “puppet.”  

Throughout his time as Sheriff, Villanueva was dismissive that there are gangs in the sheriff’s department. (Insurmountable evidence shows that deputy gangs have a long history in the LA County Sheriff’s Department, as reported on by Cerise Castle for KnockLA). Dozens of cliques have been present in stations throughout the county, predominantly in Latino and Black communities, with identifiers such as tattoos and hand gestures. They partake in violent activities in communities and within their own department. Last year, the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission released a report addressing the issue of secret deputy subgrounds and 27 recommendations for the Sheriff to adopt.

Villanueva finally agreed to testify before the commission in January after ignoring subpoenas to testify and repeatedly denying the existence of gangs in the department. During a debate with now Sheriff Robert Luna, Villanueva compared deputy gangs to unicorns and challenged Luna to name a deputy gang member. Luna responded by naming Villanueva’s own chief of staff at the time, Larry Del Mese, who has a tattoo indicating he was part of the “Grim Reapers,” which Del Mese later confirmed during a testimony. More recently, during his testimony, Villanueva said that gangs are just “subgroups.”

In 2020, two previous supervisors Mark Ridley-Thomas (who was recently convicted on corruption charges) and Sheila Kuehl sponsored a motion to explore options to remove Villanueva from office. A press release from Ridley-Thomas’s office announcing the motion called Villanueva “the worst Sheriff in recent history.” The report cited that Villanueva attempted to block oversight of investigations into fatal deputy shootings and the inability to reform the department. 

The report ultimately led to Measure A, which proposed amending the county charter giving the supervisors the authority to remove an elected sheriff from office. 72% of voters voted in favor of the measure.

Villanueva has repeatedly criticized the media that called out his antics, including the Los Angeles Times. In 2022, he targeted LA Times journalist Alene Tchekmedyian after she broke a story about a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate for three minutes and accusing Villanueva of attempting to cover up the crime and retaliating against those who blew the whistle. Villanueva placed a blown-up picture of Tchekmedyian on display at a press conference alongside his election challenger Eli Vera and county Inspector General Max Huntsman. Villanueva responded to journalist’s questions that the “matter is under investigation,” insinuating that Tchekmedyian was also part of that investigation.

More than a dozen organizations representing journalists and First Amendment advocates condemned Villanueva’s history of targeting journalists, including the Media Guild of the West and the LA Times Guild.

The election results will not be certified for a few weeks, but Hahn’s lead looks insurmountable.

If Hahn maintains over 50% of the vote, the election will end now, instead of a top-two election between Villanueva and Hahn in November. 

Ashley Orona is a journalist and community organizer from South Central Los Angeles. She loves spending time with her family, supporting local businesses, and finding new scenic views around LA.