Los Angeles County supervisors usurp sheriff's authority in enforcing COVID-19 vaccine mandate

Sheriff Alex Villanueva opposed the county's vaccine mandate for months

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Los Angeles County, not the elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva, will now have the power to discipline and fire deputies who don’t comply with COVID-19 vaccine mandates after a new motion passed Tuesday. 

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved an ordinance Tuesday giving the county personnel director, instead of the department heads, the power to discipline or terminate employees who do not comply with the county’s COVID-19 vaccine requirements. 

Though the move reneges this authority from all department heads, it’s largely viewed as a way to rein in Villanueva, who has for months refused to enforce the county’s vaccine mandate, instead allowing a regular testing option. He has argued that thousands of deputies could now lose their jobs.

LA SHERIFF RIPS PUSH TO FIRE 4,000 UNVACCINATED DEPUTIES AMID CRIME WAVE: ‘IMMORAL POSITION’

The rule change was first introduced in February by supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Holly Mitchell. 

In their motion, they cited an "inconsistent application and enforcement" of the county vaccine policy and a "wide variety from department to department." At the time, 81% of the county's 100,000 employees were fully vaccinated, while the rate for the sheriff’s department stood at just 60%. 

Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks at a press conference held in Hall of Justice, Feb. 15, 2022, in Los Angeles. 

Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaks at a press conference held in Hall of Justice, Feb. 15, 2022, in Los Angeles.  (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

"Not all of our department heads have recognized that this policy is critically necessary and will save lives," Kuehl has said in defense of the vaccine mandate. "We are not going to permit county lives to be jeopardized by an individual decision not to comply with county policy."

The ordinance passed Tuesday along a 4-1 vote, with Supervisor Kathryn Barger as the only "no" vote. 

"The proposed revision of the county code on today's agenda is a targeted overreach by members of this board to undermine the authority of one person, an elected department head whose actions are not inline the board's wishes," Tab Rhodes, president of the Professional Police Officers Association, told supervisors Tuesday, according to KABC-TV. 

Speaking with Fox News Digital in February, Villanueva condemned the proposal as a "power grab" and "suicide pact" by the board fueled by defund police activists to eventually fire the estimated 4,000 sheriff department employees who have not been vaccinated against the coronavirus. 

"This is strictly a political ideology," Villanueva said in February. "There is nothing that is driving them that's based on science or combating the coronavirus because we're surrounded by five counties who don't have vaccine mandates, and now they're actively recruiting members of my department." 

"We’re in the middle of a crime wave," he added. "We're the most understaffed law enforcement agency in the entire nation, and on top of that, they want to erode our presence even further." 

A spokesperson for the board told Fox News Digital in February the motion would still give a "generous timeline for progressive discipline" for employees who don’t comply with the vaccine mandate, starting with a notice of non-compliance, then a five-day suspension and then termination "only as a last resort." The spokesperson added that ample time would be given to request medical or religious exemptions. 

Villanueva told Fox 11 Los Angeles in February that, over the previous month, fully vaccinated employees tested positive at a rate of 3.46%, compared to the 3.83% for unvaccinated staff who tested positive. 

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Separately, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Malcolm Mackey ruled Monday that Villanueva must testify under oath before the Office of the Inspector General on the topic of so-called deputy gangs. Villanueva issued a statement saying he would appeal the ruling, dismissing the subpoenas as "political theater" and "heavy-handed abuse of power" against an elected official. 

Despite Hollywood not being his patrol area, Villanueva over the weekend offered assistance to the Los Angeles Police Department in clearing out a major homeless encampment.