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Cellphones, Laptop Returned To LA County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl After Sheriff Search

An LA Superior Court Judge in Downtown Thursday continued a freeze on any examination of material seized by LA County Sheriff’s Department detectives during searches of an LA County Supervisor’s home and several other locations last month.

The items taken by investigators, including dozens of electronic devices and hard drives, are in the process of being ‘imaged,’ or forensically copied, by special agents of the California Department of Justice, which has taken-over the Sheriff’s investigation.

In court the DOJ returned to Kuehl’s attorney two cellphones and a laptop computer that had been seized, and asked for assistance from Kuehl to unlock two additional devices so they could be copied.

Judge William C. Ryan also indicated he would push for investigators to speed up the process of copying a server array detectives took from the non-profit group Peace Over Violence, as its attorney said the group’s work has been at a standstill without its computer systems. 

On September 14 Sheriff’s Department detectives searched the home and office of Supervisor Kuehl, Sheriff oversight commissioner Patti Giggans, and the offices of the Metro transit agency’s inspector general. The Department said it was seeking evidence of an alleged corruption scheme, in which Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said Supervisor Kuehl used her political influence to cause Metro to award a no-bid contract to Giggans, who is Kuehl’s longtime friend.

Kuehl and Giggans have repeatedly denied doing anything improper. The contract in question is long expired.

On Wednesday Sheriff Villanueva claimed during a live streamed speech that the California Attorney General’s office had directed the Sheriff’s Department to destroy the material it collected in the searches, and Villanueva suggested it could be a criminal act to destroy the items.

The Sheriff’s Department filed as an exhibit an email from the AG’s office with a motion objecting to the alleged directive for destruction, which more specifically states that all the case material should have, by now, been turned-over to state investigators.

“Part of the response will be to clarify all evidence items have been turned over to DOJ and the LASD does not maintain any evidence related to this case,” the California Department of Justice wrote to Villanueva’s detective.

“Following the handover of the final items (body cam footage and box of emails) they want a statement from yourself or LASD that no evidence/items/reports remain with the LASD,” the email said. 

Copies of all of the LASD material, however, were ordered by an LA Superior Court judge in September to be turned-over to the California Department of Justice, so none of the material or potential evidence should have been lost or permanently destroyed.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta said in September that he directed LASD to, “cease its investigative activity and transmit all evidence to DOJ.”

Bonta said his office would take-over the case given the unique circumstances and clear conflict of interest that exists between the Sheriff’s Department and the Board of Supervisors.

The Attorney General’s Office said it gave no such destruction directive to the Sheriff’s Department.

“We did not ask the LA County Sheriff’s Department, or anyone else, to destroy evidence,” a spokesperson told NBC4. 

In court Thursday Judge Ryan said he watched Villanueva’s presentation, then asked the deputy attorney general handling the case if such a destruction order, like the one claimed by the Sheriff, had been given.

The deputy attorney general told the judge, “no.”

Kuehl, Sheriff’s oversight commissioner Patti Giggans, and attorneys for the Metro Transit Agency’s office of inspector general have filed motions to attempt to quash, or invalidate, the searches.

Those requests have not yet been considered by the court, and the judge set a date in December for a progress hearing.

The Sheriff’s Department said the searches were part of a political corruption investigation into allegations that Kuehl helped Giggans, her longtime friend, win a now-defunct no-bid MTA contract.

Kuehl and Giggans have repeatedly denied any interference in the MTA contract award, which they’ve said was decided independently by MTA alone. 

Both said they believe the Sheriff’s investigation and the searches, were, in reality, a thinly-veiled retaliation campaign in response to their efforts to oversee the Sheriff’s Department and Villanueva.

File source

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