On Tuesday he alarmed press freedom advocates by lashing out at a press conference and indicating that 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 background, including Villanueva’s highly controversial behavior and his attacks against the media.
At Tuesday’s press conference, Villanueva displayed and pointed to a photo of Tchekmedyian, plus one of his political rivals and the sheriff’s inspector general. Arrows implied a connection between all three. Villanueva referred to video of the incident that Tchekmedyian had obtained as “stolen property.” And he declared that he was investigating “all parties” involved in the matter. When repeatedly asked whether Tchekmedyian was specifically under investigation, Villanueva responded that “all parties to the act” were being probed.
Notably, Villanueva appears to have set up a straw man here. There is a difference between being the subject of an investigation and a suspect in an investigation where criminal charges can be brought against the person. The former was reported by news organizations, not the latter…
“An abuse of your official position”
Hours before the department’s tweet, LA Times general counsel Jeff Glasser wrote the sheriff a scathing note. Glasser described Villanueva’s remarks as a “thinly veiled attempt to intimidate” to intimidate Tchekmedyian “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 history of going after the press
>> LA Times exec editor Kevin Merida said Villanueva’s “attempt to criminalize news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law…”
>> The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press described Villanueva’s move as “beyond the pale” and a violation of the First Amendment, condemning it in the “strongest terms…”