Los Angeles County Sheriff Alleged Cover-up of 2021 Deputy Misconduct Now Being Investigated by Grand Jury and Used as Evidence in Vanessa Bryant’s Public Lawsuit

By Anna Olsen 

LOS ANGELES, CA – On March 9, 2021, jury selection began for the trial of ex-police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd.

Just a day later at the San Fernando Courthouse in Los Angeles, Deputy Douglas Johnson got into an altercation with 24-year-old inmate Enzo Escalante.

After Escalante and his friend disobeyed orders to be quiet, Johnson angrily pinned Escalante to the wall which was followed by alleged aggression and multiple punches from Escalante. Other nearby officers quickly intervened and soon Deputy Johnson was kneeling on Escalante’s head, which lasted approximately three minutes.

The L.A. County Sheriff’s Department—allegedly directed by Sheriff Alex Villanueva—attempted to cover up the incident due to concerns regarding the impact it could have on their reputation, especially during such public uncertainty caused by Chauvin and Floyd, according to the Los Angeles Times.

As a result, no charges were pressed against Escalante for his violent outburst.

The Los Angeles Times was able to gain footage of the incident, however, which was posted on March 25, 2022, alongside accusations of the cover-up.

Villanueva responded immediately after release of the footage, placing blame on other members of the department and claiming that he investigated the incident promptly upon becoming aware of it eight months after it happened, according to news reports.

On April 26, Villanueva announced he was investigating the L.A. Times staff writer who reported on the department’s cover-up, which was met with protest from individuals at the newspaper.

Just two days later on April 28, Robin Limon—an ex-L.A. County sheriff’s assistant and one of the officers blamed by Villanueva—filed a legal claim. arguing that she watched footage of the incident only five days after it occurred alongside Villanueva, Undersheriff Tim Murakami and Lieutenant aide Anthony Blanchard.

All three of them denied Limon’s claims.

Commander John Satterfield published a memo on May 1 disputing Limon’s claims, arguing that Villanueva had watched the footage for the first time with him on Nov. 18, 2021.

On August 4, 2022, multiple subpoenas were issued to the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department requesting records of the incident and ordering multiple sheriff’s officials and executives to speak in court.

Now there are reports a grand jury is currently being assembled by a team of Los Angeles prosecutors to properly investigate the incident, and this week Villanueva released a statement addressing the subpoena and claiming that “an allegation of misconduct is of deep concern to the department, and this one is no exception.

“Hence, we are conducting a thorough internal investigation,” he continued, “and we are fully cooperating with this subpoena. Our investigation indicates that the allegation of misconduct was orchestrated by involved Department executives to falsely portray themselves as whistleblowers in order to avoid discipline, up to and including termination. The District Attorney has been given this and all other relevant information.”

The formation of the grand jury has been met by positive feedback from the Inspector General Max Huntsman.

“The Sheriff’s Department has refused to cooperate with our subpoenas and I’m optimistic that they will find it more difficult to resist grand jury subpoenas,” Huntsman stated.

Deputy Johnson is also being investigated for horrifying photos he took and shared of the Kobe Bryant crash site.

Vanessa Bryant is suing the County of Los Angeles for “emotional distress” caused by the release of these photos, claiming, “Emotional distress means that not only do I have to grieve the loss of my husband and child,” Bryant stated during a court deposition, “but for the rest of my life I’m going to have to fear that these photographs of my husband and child will be leaked.”

Jury selection for Bryant’s trial is supposed to begin Wednesday, and the recent release of the footage of Johnson’s misconduct is not being ignored by Bryant and her lawyers.

Sheriff Villanueva is involved in Bryant’s trial as well and has been ordered to testify in regard to his involvement in the sharing of the photos.

About The Author

Anna Olsen is a recent UC Berkeley graduate originally from Seattle, WA. She double majored in law and global studies and plans to head to law school after taking a gap year to become a juvenile defense attorney.

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