California’s attorney general on Tuesday took over the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department investigation of a county supervisor who had called the corruption probe an act of political retaliation.
Attorney General Rob Bonta announced he was assuming all responsibility for the investigation into contracts awarded to a nonprofit group run by a friend of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
The state Department of Justice asked the nation’s largest sheriff’s department to stop its probe and hand over its evidence in the case.
The Sheriff’s Department released a letter that Bonta sent Tuesday to Undersheriff Timothy K. Murakami that said he has authority to take over investigations “in the public interest” and ordering the department to cease activity in the case, including making public statements or court filings.
“In recent days, the public unfolding of an unprecedented investigation has raised serious questions for residents of Southern California and beyond,” said Attorney General Bonta in a statement. “I recognize the deep uncertainty this has engendered and, given the unique circumstances, my team has committed to taking over this investigative process. Make no mistake: We are committed to a thorough, fair, and independent investigation that will help restore confidence for the people of our state. If there is wrongdoing by any party, we will bring it to light.”
For more than a year, the Sheriff’s Department has been investigating some $800,000 in contracts awarded by the county’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority to Peace Over Violence, a nonprofit organization that describes itself as a “social service agency dedicated to the elimination of sexual and domestic violence and all forms of interpersonal violence.”
The contracts were to operate a hotline for reporting sexual harassment on public transit.
The group’s executive director and CEO is Patricia Giggans, a friend of Supervisor Sheila Kuehl.
The Sheriff’s Department has said it was looking into whether Kuehl was improperly involved in obtaining contracts for the group.
Kuehl is a fierce critic of Sheriff Alex Villanueva and has called for his resignation. She appointed Giggans to serve on the Civilian Oversight Commission that monitors the Sheriff’s Department.
Both have denied wrongdoing in regard to the contracts.
Last week, sheriff’s deputies raided county offices and the homes of Kuehl and Giggans but a Superior Court judge has ordered the Sheriff’s Department to temporarily cease searching any computers and hard drives seized in the raids.
Kuehl and Metro challenged the validity of the search warrants, with lawyers for Kuehl writing in a court filing Monday that raids at Kuehl’s home and office were “politically motivated and retaliatory.”
The filing called warrants for those searches a “flagrant abuse of power and an offense to the rule of law.”
Villanueva had recused himself from the investigation but has discussed it in interviews and on social media as he campaigns for reelection.
Meanwhile, on the day of the raids, the sheriff asked Bonta to look into whether Kuehl and Giggans had improperly received advanced notice of the searches. In Tuesday’s letter, Bonta said he would look into the allegations but also was taking over the Sheriff’s Department probe.
“However, given that the requested investigation is intimately related to the underlying investigation from which the sheriff is recused, DOJ has determined that handling all of the matters is in the public interest,” he said.