Earlier this year Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Captain Phillip Hansen, who is in charge of the reserve deputy program, began asking uncomfortable questions. Like why was a Sheriff’s reserve volunteer being given the use of a county car at taxpayer expense.
“That is considered a perk and considered a perk that many full time deputies with years on the job are denied,” said Roxane Marquez, Press Aide to Supervisor Gloria Molina.
When Capt. Hansen’s questions went unanswered, Supervisor Molina (photo, left) could sympathize with the lack of transparency on the part of the Sheriff’s Department.
“This mirrored the experience that Supervisor Molina and her staff had been having from time to time when we would investigate certain questions about the department,” Marquez said.
Then, what Capt. Hansen uncovered about one particular reserve raised eyebrows.
“When this captain did some digging, one reserve deputy he had identified had been a fundraiser for the sheriff,” said Marquez.
In Los Angeles County, the Sheriff is considered an independently elected official. Just like any politician, the office holder relies on campaigning and fundraising in order to seek reelection.
According to an investigative piece by Los Angeles Times reporter Robert Faturechi, reserve Chris Vovos “was frequently seen parking a county-owned Ford Crown Victoria outside his La Mirada restaurant, a popular hangout for deputies.”
Vovos was described as a Baca fundraiser.
The LA Times story which broke Monday brought the alleged impropriety to the attention of Supervisor Molina.
“The supervisor was very concerned about the perk being given to somebody who really hadn’t put in a lot of years. She was equally concerned that the captain had a hard time getting answers that really were within his purview,” said Marquez.
Unsatisfied with the official response to their inquiry The LA Times filed a public records request. They were denied.
“That request ended up being kind of oddly denied without a really good explanation and the supervisor eventually just said enough is enough and she wanted answers,” Marquez said.
At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, Supervisor Molina requested a motion to have Sheriff Baca or his representative answer questions on this issue. Although the story broke the day before the meeting, the Brown Act requires 72 hours notice before an agenda change can be made.
Just how many reserves are enjoying the use of county-owned vehicles is unclear. The LA Times is suggesting there may be as many as four. Marquez says Supervisor Molina tries to be very careful about not making accusations they can’t back up. However, the Sheriff’s Department’s stonewalling is raising concerns for the supervisor that this abuse may go beyond one reserve with financial ties to Baca.
“It’s not outside the realm of possibility in case like this to conclude that may be the case,” said Marquez.
This controversy follows closely on the heels of Baca’s appearance in a campaign video declaring his support for Los Angeles City Atty. Carmen Trutanich for district attorney.
State law prohibits sworn officers from making political endorsements while wearing their badge and state-issued uniform. Baca said he thought he was only in violation if he solicited funds while in uniform.
While Supervisor Molina wants answers for Baca, she’s quite clear on her admiration for Capt. Hansen.
“She wants to keep people like that in the county system. This is partly why we’re doing what we’re doing is to show that on the Board of Supervisors that type of good work has support,” said Marquez.
In addition to the reserve deputy question, another important Sheriff’s Department issue will be addressed when Special Counsel Merrick Bobb from the Office of Independent Review gives his report on jail violence and the feasibility of jail personnel wearing on-body surveillance cameras.