On paper, the deputies are scattered around the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department in various assignments. One is supposed to be working patrol in Lancaster, another in West Hollywood. A third is assigned to a gang crime unit.
In reality, though, the group of nine men and women make up a little-known team of investigators formed by Sheriff Alex Villanueva and other top sheriff’s officials.
Much of what they do, by design, is a mystery to the public and even to most within the department. But as some of the investigations handled by the team have come to light, a common thread has emerged: Their targets are outspoken critics of Villanueva or the department.
The unit, named the Civil Rights and Public Integrity Detail, has pursued a long-running investigation into one of Villanueva’s most vocal critics, L.A. County Inspector General Max Huntsman, and others despite sheriff’s officials being told by the FBI and state law enforcement officials that it appeared no crimes had been committed, a senior sheriff’s official said.
The team also has an open criminal inquiry into a nonprofit that is run by a member of a county board that oversees the sheriff and is associated with county Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, both of whom have clashed fiercely with Villanueva and called for his resignation.