The Los Angeles County sheriff on Monday criticized elected officials, sports figures and civic leaders for “fanning the flames of hatred” as America faces nationwide unrest, saying they instead should emphasize trust in the criminal justice system.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s comments to The Associated Press came after the weekend ambush of two deputies who were in their parked police vehicle when a man walked up to the passenger’s side and fired multiple rounds.
The deputies were struck in the head and critically wounded but both are expected to recover, Villanueva said. The gunman hasn’t been captured and a motive has not been determined.
After the shooting, a handful of protesters gathered outside the hospital where the deputies were being treated and tried to block the emergency room entrance.
Videos from the scene showed protesters shouting expletives at police and at least one yell “I hope they … die.”
Villanueva said the anti-police rhetoric is making deputies’ work more difficult.
“They’re out there doing their job and yet we have people fanning the flames of hatred and just turning up the volume when we don’t need it. We need to be turning it down,” Villanueva said.
“Particularly our elected officials and civic leaders and sports figures, they need to start emphasizing trust in the system, due process.”
Many politicians and athletes have harshly criticized police and called for defunding departments in the wake of the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin.
The NBA playoffs were delayed last month when Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James and others supported the Milwaukee Bucks’ decision not to play following Blake’s shooting.
Ron Hernandez, president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, said his organization is open to overall reform, but Saturday’s shooting could never be justified.
“When you’re sitting there doing paperwork and providing safety for the community, and somebody from the public comes out and ambushes you and tries to kill you, there’s no valid explanation for that,” he said during a Monday news conference outside the hospital.
“I don’t care how angry the public, I don’t care how angry even the people that might protest are. That’s not going to resolve anything.”
Villanueva also challenged James, the Lakers forward, to match $175,000 in what he said was donated reward money to find the shooter, according to KABC. James has not commented publicly on the shooting.
In his interview with the AP, Villanueva also rejected claims the criminal justice system is biased against people of color, saying his department is committed to thorough investigations, including of its own employees.
“To someone who says they’re biased, the only bias we have is toward facts,” he said.
“We need to stop the false narratives. We have to let the system take its course and justice has to be based on facts, based on evidence. It has to be right.”
Villanueva said the department’s investigations into police shootings take time.
“We’re not going to speed up or slow down at the behest of anybody,” he said.
“It’s going to be based on fact, not on emotion. Some people already have determined the results, so they’re trying to throw rocks at the process.”
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