Robert Luna - Photo courtesy of the lunaforsheriff's flickr page

A defiant Sheriff Alex Villaneuva conceded defeat Tuesday in his re-election bid, but in doing so, he again lashed out at his critics for pushing what he called “false narratives” about his leadership of the department.

Villanueva has been consistently trailing former Long Beach police Chief Robert Luna as results from last week’s election continued to be tallied. Updated vote totals released Monday by the county Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s Office showed Luna with a lead of 324,837 votes, up from 259,184 when the last update was released on Saturday.

The results from last Tuesday’s election currently stand at 987,730 votes for Luna, or 59.8%, and 662,893 for Villanueva, or 40.2%.

There are an estimated 655,300 ballots left to be processed, according to the clerk’s office. Another update of the voting totals is expected to be released Tuesday afternoon.

“I want to wish the incoming sheriff well,” Villanueva said during an afternoon news conference. “I want him to succeed for a simple reason — the safety of the community depends on him succeeding. The welfare of every single person on the department depends on him succeeding.

“… Again, we wish Mr. Luna well, and like I said before, the narrative of the political establishment and the media is not the narrative of the people who are struggling to survive day by day. … That disconnect is real.”

He added, “One thing I’ve learned also is that speaking truth to power is not without risks. I remember a politician that I met early on, they told me you can be a reformer or you can be reelected. You’ve got to pick one. I’m proud to say I’m a reformer. I have no desire to abandon who I am, my principles, just to get elected.

” … I’ve faced adversity throughout my career in law enforcement because I’ve always spoke truth to power, never batted an eye. And in our meetings, our executive meetings, every meeting that we had when we had to make a decision the very first thing was, `what’s the right thing to do.’ And the second thing was, OK, make it happen. … Every adversity I’ve faced throughout my years in law enforcement has always propelled me to a bigger stage, a bigger audience and a bigger voice.”

Villanueva’s voice cracked slightly with emotion as he wrapped up his roughly 20-minute remarks, saying, “If there are people who think somehow we’re defeated, quite the opposite. We’re walking out of here with our heads high. We accomplished the mission we set out to be, we could have used probably four more years to solidify it, but we set a very high standard.”

Following Villanueva’s concession, Luna issued a statement, starting with “Thank you, L.A. County.”

“I’m deeply honored and humbled that you have elected me as your next sheriff. With your vote, you have entrusted me with a clear mandate to bring new leadership and accountability to the sheriff’s department. And that’s exactly what I will do.

“I want to offer my best wishes to Sheriff Villanueva and his family. And I look forward to working with the talented and courageous sworn and professional staff of the sheriff’s department who are dedicated to keeping our communities safe.”

During his concession news conference, Villanueva blamed his loss on what he called a sweeping misinformation campaign and the use of “false narratives” focused on issues including alleged deputy gangs, his alleged resistance of oversight by the county and Civilian Oversight Commission and other allegations of internal harassment and retaliation against purported whistleblowers.

He said he was victimized by a “weaponized political machine” operated by the county, which he described as a “corrupt criminal enterprise.”

He then rattled off a list of what he called major accomplishments during his tenure, including addressing homelessness, revising body-worn camera program, reinstating the issuance of concealed weapon permits and managing the jail system during the COVID-19 pandemic.

His defeat marks the second straight election in which an incumbent sheriff was unseated, something that hadn’t occurred for roughly a century prior. Villaneuva ousted Sheriff Jim McDonnell four years ago.

The candidates ran a spirited campaign, with Luna attacking the incumbent over his torrid relationship with the county Board of Supervisors and accusing him of ignoring the issue of deputy gangs within the department. Villanueva has deflected such criticism, saying his battles with the board show he is a fierce defender of the department and its deputies, and insisting that he has gone to great lengths to attack and ban alleged deputy cliques in the agency.

Villanueva’s victory four years ago came with strong backing from reform-minded community groups and Democrats. But over the past four years, Villanueva’s support among those groups has waned as he repeatedly clashed with the Democrat-dominated Board of Supervisors over funding and policy matters.

Villanueva has also repeatedly defied subpoenas to appear before the Civilian Oversight Commission and refused to enforce the county’s COVID-19 vaccination mandate among his deputies and department employees.

Luna has argued during the campaign that the sheriff’s department is being “mismanaged” by Villanueva and said he will work to restore trust in the agency. He also touted his position as an outsider with no connections to the sheriff’s department.

Luna said he will work to “modernize” the sheriff’s department and its jail system and improve the mental well-being of deputies and employees.

Andrés Dae Keun Kwon, policy counsel and senior organizer with the ACLU of Southern California — which has been critical of Villanueva’s leadership — issued a statement hailing the vote.

“The people of L.A. County have spoken,” Kwon said. “Sheriff Villanueva’s removal from office, coupled with the overwhelming approval of Measure A, is an indictment of the sheriff’s abuse of authority and a clear mandate for real sheriff accountability.”

Measure A, approved on last week’s ballot, gives the county Board of Supervisors the authority to remove an elected sheriff from office “for cause.”

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