LA Times accuses sheriff of ‘outrageous’ effort to ‘criminalise reporting’ after he targeted journalist over his alleged cover-up

‘His attempt to criminalize news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law’

Bevan Hurley
Wednesday 27 April 2022 22:01 BST
LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva
LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva (Associated Press)

The Los Angeles Times has condemned Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s investigation into reporter Alene Tchekmedyian as an “outrageous” attempt to “criminalize reporting”.

Mr Villanueva on Tuesday said he was investigating Tchekmedyian as well as a political rival and a sheriff’s inspector over the leak of a damning video showing a deputy kneeling on the head of a handcuffed prisoner.

Tchekmedyian wrote articles alleging that Mr Villanueva had tried cover up the video footage, which he has denied.

In a statement, LA Times executive editor Kevin Merida said: “Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s attack on Alene Tchekmedyian’s First Amendment rights for doing newsworthy reporting on a video that showed a deputy kneeling on a handcuffed inmate’s head is outrageous.

“His attempt to criminalise news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law,” Merida added.

“We will vigorously defend Tchekmedyian’s and The Los Angeles Times’s rights in any proceeding or investigation brought by authorities.”

During Tuesday’s press conference, Mr Villanueva stood next to a picture board showing his opponent in an upcoming sheriff’s race Eli Vera and the sheriff’s inspector Matt Huntsman.

“The three individuals that we want to know a lot about,” Mr Villanueva said gesturing at photos of the three individuals.

 Asked to clarify, he said “all parties to the act are subjects of the investigation”.

After widespread condemnation, Mr Villanueva claimed on Wednesday that Tchekmedyian was not under investigation in a series of tweets.

“Resulting from the incredible frenzy of misinformation being circulated, I must clarify at no time today did I state an LA Times reporter was a suspect in a criminal investigation. We have no interest in pursuing, nor are we pursuing, criminal charges against any reporters.”

“We will conduct a thorough investigation regarding the unlawful disclosure of evidence and documentation in an active criminal case.  The multiple active investigations stemming from this incident will be shared and monitored by an outside law enforcement entity.”

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