Second lawsuit filed accusing LA Sheriff Villanueva of coverup in leaked jail video

Another lawsuit has been filed against Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in connection with the leaked use-of-force video that showed a LASD deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate's head.

In the lawsuit, former Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon claims that Villanueva lied about when he found out about the incident and ordered a coverup. Limon alleges she gave Villanueva a DVD of the incident and watched it with him in March 2021. Villanueva says he didn't see it until November.

Her account questions Villanueva’s claim that he learned of the incident eight months after it happened and took immediate action.

Limon also claims she was given an ultimatum - either retire or be demoted down four ranks, to lieutenant. 

The lawsuit alleges Limon was given this ultimatum in retaliation "for being a whistleblower on several instances of illegal and other wrongful conduct and to further his [Villanueva] cover up of an excessive use of force incident."

Leaked footage from the San Fernando Courthouse on March 10, 2021, appears to show Deputy Douglas Johnson pressing his knee on the head of handcuffed inmate Enzo Escalante for three minutes. The altercation began when Escalante allegedly punched Johnson in the face. Johnson and other deputies wrestled Escalante to the ground, with Johnson putting his knee on the inmate’s head.

At a news conference last month, Villanueva conceded a criminal investigation should have been started immediately, concurrent with an administrative probe. He has insisted he did not see the video until November 2021, when he immediately ordered a criminal probe and Johnson to be relieved of duty.

The lawsuit claims Limon took a copy of the video on DVD and played it for Villanueva, Undersheriff Timothy Murakami and Lt. Anthony Blanchard on or around March 15, 2021. Villanueva allegedly told Limon he would "handle the matter" and that "we (LASD) do not need bad media at this time." 

Limon's lawsuit also alleges retaliation and other misconduct within the sheriff's department, going as far as to name Villanueva's wife, Vivian, as part of the problem.

Limon alleges over the past three years she has urged Villanueva to allow the department executives to "develop mentor and promote members who are qualified for various positions with the department."

"The Sheriff stated that it is ‘His Department!’ and ‘He and Vivian’ (his wife, who is not employed by the department) will select people as they see fit because Vivian ‘is a very good judge of character,’" the claim alleges. "The Complainant and various department executives have witnessed the Sheriff take photos of promotional and transfer lists and send them to his wife for approval or disapproval. Complainant has also witnessed names removed from the promotional lists and denied earned promotions at the order of Vivian Villanueva. The sheriff has ignored Complainant reporting this is improper and illegal conduct."

Commander Allen Castello on Monday filed a separate lawsuit against Villanueva, claiming that he has routinely blocked or stalled investigations and covered up misconduct to avoid bad press in his re-election campaign.

In his lawsuit, Commander Allen Castellano claims he sent the video of the March 10, 2021 incident to Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon immediately afterward.

The suit says Limon watched the video with Villanueva and Undersheriff Tim Murakami on March 15.

Castellano claims the sheriff delayed an administrative investigation into the deputy’s actions for nearly a month and prevented the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau from reviewing the incident.

"Sheriff Villanueva blocked and stalled an investigation into an excessive Use of Force ("UOF") incident to obstruct justice and avoid bad publicity for his re-election campaign," the lawsuit claims.

Villanueva continues to deny any allegations. During a press conference Tuesday, Villanueva said the department had launched a criminal investigation into how the media obtained the video.

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He went on to address Castellano's lawsuit, saying "the foundation of this entire lawsuit is false."

City News Service contributed to this report.