Candidates for sheriff say the incumbent isn’t the reformer he promised to be

By Gary Walker

Lt. Alex Villanueva, Sheriff Jim McDonnell, and Cmdr. Bob Lindsey

The two men challenging the reelection of Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell are staking out opposite positions on how they would lead the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, leaving the incumbent in the center with a target squarely on his back.

Retired L.A. County Sheriff’s Cmdr. Bob Lindsey promises to restore deputies’ trust in top brass by eliminating what he calls “unjust and retaliatory” disciplinary measures under McDonnell.

Current L.A. County Sheriff’s Lt. Alex Villanueva promises to clean out the remnants of “pay-to-play” high-ranking leadership from the days of Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka, the former sheriff and undersheriff convicted last year of obstruction of justice related to an FBI investigation into the abuse of jail inmates. Lindsey and Villanueva are slated to attend a candidate forum on Tuesday, Feb. 13, in Marina del Rey — the first and possibly only Westside sheriff’s candidate forum ahead of the June 5 primary. McDonnell has a previous engagement in Washington D.C. and will not attend, according to his office. He could not be reached for comments on the race.

According to February campaign finance reports, McDonnell has raised $326,300 in campaign contributions, compared to Lindsey’s $108,572 and Villanueva’s $14,484.

After defeating Tanaka by a landslide in the November 2014 election, McDonnell spoke to The Argonaut about “restoring the shine on the badge” and “restoring the trust of the public we serve and the pride and the morale of the men and women of the organization as well.”

But Villanueva and Lindsey dismiss McDonnell’s talk of reform as empty rhetoric. They say he’s allowed a culture of favoritism and incompetence to persist in ways similar to how others in the department have described the Baca-Tanaka years.

“Seeing how to reform the department with fresh eyes did not pan out for the incumbent. Deputies are angry and confused, there’s a lack of leadership, and morale is extremely low,” asserts Villanueva, a 32- year department veteran. “I didn’t think that it could get any lower than it was with Baca and Tanaka, but McDonnell has done it.”

Lindsey, who currently supervises security for the state superior courts, says his long history within the department — also 32 years — gives him the insight to know how to motivate the department’s nearly 1,000 sworn deputies.

“I know exactly what’s happening inside of the department, and it’s in crisis right now,” Lindsey said. “The current sheriff has changed rules of discipline to take deputies and make them victims. They can’t do proactive policing anymore. Deputies don’t want to engage anymore because this sheriff leads by fear. Most deputies don’t fear discipline. … They fear unfair discipline.”

Villanueva said that in addition to implementing merit-based management policies and higher education requirements for aspiring deputies, he’d fix low morale in the department by cleaning house at the top.

“I expect a wholesale turnover of the executive staff if I assume office,” said Villanueva, who initially gave McDonnell the benefit of the doubt. But, “By 2016 I realized that this guy is no different than the preceding sheriffs. He failed to read the terrain when he entered office and never ventured outside his own cadre of people and talked to his line staff.”

Lindsey said he would “always be available to the community, and deputies will know that they have my support.”

The forum is at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday (Feb. 13) in the Burton Chace Park Community Room, 13650 Mindanao Way, Marina del Rey. RSVP Required. Call (310) 569-6333 or email