After a one-week absence, John Oliver returned to the Last Week Tonight desk on Sunday and dedicated a big chunk of his latest episode to Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who’s running for re-election.
Though Villanueva ran as a Democratic reformer—the first Democrat to be elected LA County Sheriff in 138 years—during his tenure he not only has moved to the right but also has been asked to resign by the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission over a perceived lack of accountability.
“His re-election bid this year has been overshadowed by claims in the L.A. Times that he directed a cover-up of an incident where one of his deputies knelt on a detainee’s head for three minutes,” said Oliver. “It is a damning story about abuse of power and lack of transparency, and Villanueva took swift action against those responsible… for everyone finding out about it.”
A Los Angeles Times story revealed video showing that on March 10, 2021, after being punched by inmate Enzo Escalante, Deputy Douglas Johnson and other deputies “took Escalante to the ground, positioning him facedown. After he was handcuffed, Johnson kept his knee on Escalante’s head for three minutes.” Allen Castellano, a Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander, subsequently filed a legal claim against L.A. County alleging that Villanueva watched video of the incident five days after it occurred and said, “We do not need bad media at this time,” while directing Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon to “handle the matter.” (Villanueva has denied any wrongdoing and claimed to have not seen the video in question until eight months after it happened, at which point he “immediately” launched an investigation into Johnson.)
Villanueva proceeded to hold an absolutely absurd press conference where he pointed fingers at his political opponent in the sheriff’s race, Max Huntsman, as well as Los Angeles Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian, who broke the story about the cover-up, saying: “The matter is under investigation. This is stolen property that was removed illegally from people who had some intent—criminal intent—and it will be subject to investigation.”
“OK, when you’re accused of being complicit in a terrible act, being more concerned about who said it than the accusation doesn’t exactly convey innocence. ”
“OK, when you’re accused of being complicit in a terrible act, being more concerned about who said it than the accusation doesn’t exactly convey innocence,” said Oliver.
“Sweeping things under the carpet seems to be Villanueva’s style,” he continued, “because, despite campaigning four years ago as a reformer in an infamously corrupt department, his record since then has not been great. A 2019 IG report found that over just a two-month period, officials working under him canceled 45 administrative investigations into his employees, some of which involved domestic violence, child abuse, and sexual misconduct with an inmate.”
Plus, Villanueva’s re-election bid has been filled with “culture war” nonsense, including speaking out against “woke-ism.” Oliver also took aim at Villanueva’s 30-second campaign ad, which he called “maybe one of the dumbest things that I have ever seen.”
The ad includes a beautiful woman rollerblading past tents of unhoused people, a mother and child gleefully playing in a sandbox with unhoused people in it, and a man giving a woman a foot massage—seemingly having the time of their lives—as people are stealing stuff from their home, all as “Ave Maria” plays and Villanueva talks vaguely about “standing up to the corruption” in a voiceover.
“Now, obviously, that is all idiotic—from the 1990s rollerblader to the song choice for your California dream ad being ‘Ave Maria’ and not, I don’t know, ‘California Dreamin’,’ to the fact that everyone there is having an absolute ball, including the people experiencing a break-in. I’ve honestly never seen anyone this happy getting robbed, and I’ve seen Glenn Close at the Oscars eight times,” Oliver said.
He proceeded to call it “the most unwatchable depiction of Southern California since La La Land.”
The Daily Beast