Hours after attempting to intimidate an Los Angeles Times reporter with the threat of criminal charges in retaliation for breaking a story of inmate abuse at the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department, LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is walking it back.
“I must clarify at no time today did I state an L.A. Times reporter was a suspect in a criminal investigation. We have no interest in pursuing, nor are we pursuing, criminal charges against any reporters,” he said in a statement provided to the LA Times. This despite the easily accessible video of him implying just that.
His statement follows widespread outrage from politicians and press freedom organizations over his initial remarks, which came during a press conference that was livestreamed on Tuesday morning. Villanueva announced his department is investigating LA Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian for a “leak” involving a use-of-force video that showed a deputy violently abusing an inmate.
The sheriff insisted Tchekmedyian has some “important questions to answer.”
Villanueva even went as far as displaying Tchekmedyian’s photo, an obvious attempt at retaliation over her recent Times story that he was involved in covering up the incident, in which a deputy apparently kneeled on the head of a handcuffed inmate for 3 minutes.
Villanueva referred to the video showing clearly abusive behavior by his subordinates, as “stolen property.”
In a statement earlier Tuesday, LA Times Executive Editor Kevin Merida called Villanueva’s initial comments an “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 criminalize news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law,” Merida’s statement continued. “We will vigorously defend Tchekmedyian’s and the Los Angeles Times’ rights in any proceeding or investigation brought by authorities.”