State Watch

LA Times condemns sheriff over ‘outrageous’ actions against reporter

Alex Villanueva, Alene Tchekmedyian
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva gestures during a news conference, Tuesday, April 26, 2022, in Los Angeles. Villanueva disputed allegations that he orchestrated the coverup of an incident where a deputy knelt on a handcuffed inmate’s head last year. Villanueva, who oversees the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, also indicated that an Los Angeles Times reporter is under criminal investigation after she first reported the incident with the inmate. (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

The Los Angeles Times on Tuesday called Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s investigation of one of its reporters “outrageous” and an effort to “criminalize newsworthy reporting.”

The condemnation comes after Villanueva announced on Tuesday that he was criminally investigating “all parties,” including Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian, involved in the publication of a video that showed a sheriff’s deputy kneeling on the neck of a handcuffed inmate.

Tchekmedyian had covered the story, including allegations that Villanueva was involved in an effort to cover-up the abuse. The sheriff has denied those claims. 

“Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s attack on Alene Tchekmedyian’s First Amendment rights for doing newsworthy reporting on a video that showed a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate’s head is outrageous,” Kevin Merida, the executive editor of the Times, said in a statement on Tuesday.

“His attempt to criminalize news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law,” Merida added. “We will vigorously defend Tchekmedyian’s and The Los Angeles Times’s rights in any proceeding or investigation brought by authorities.”

When asked for a response, the sheriff’s department told The Hill that it was “unable to comment any further due to several active ongoing investigations, pending litigation, including a criminal investigation.” 

“What we can say is, Sheriff Alex Villanueva is committed to transparency and accountability,” the department added.   

In a press conference announcing the investigation, Villanueva said the situation was “entirely orchestrated for political purposes only.”

“Too bad I don’t have people, reporters like from the LA Times. Maybe you need to start clarifying exactly what you did with this and who did you get it from and when did you get it,” the sheriff said. 

“What she receives illegally and …the LA Times used it. I’m pretty sure that’s a huge, complex area of law and freedom of the press and all that. However, when it’s stolen material, at some point you actually become part of the story,” he added of Tchekmedyian during the press conference. 

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