A third high-ranking Los Angeles County sheriff’s official has filed a legal claim contradicting Sheriff Villanueva’s account of how he handled an incident in which a deputy kneeled on the head of a handcuffed inmate for three minutes.

Former Chief LaJuana Haselrig said in the filing, which is a precursor to a lawsuit, that she gave a DVD containing a video of the incident to Asst. Sheriff Robin Limon and Limon told her she was “heading immediately from there to Villanueva’s office to show him the video.”

Limon, who was a close advisor to Villanueva until he demoted her over the incident, filed her own claim last week alleging she showed the video to Villanueva and two other people five days after the incident happened.

Those accounts are at odds with the one offered by Villanueva, who has claimed that he learned of the March 2021 incident eight months after it happened and promptly ordered an investigation into it.

The two other people who Limon said viewed the recording alongside the sheriff are Undersheriff Tim Murakami and Villanueva’s aide, Anthony Blanchard. Murakami said at a news conference last week that the allegation that he saw the video in March 2021 was false. Blanchard said that “the video was never seen in March the way it was presented.”

Villanueva and Murakami did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The sheriff’s chief of staff said they had not yet seen the claim.

After The Times first reported on the violent detention and an effort by sheriff’s officials to keep it secret in March, Undersheriff Tim Murakami visited Haselrig’s home while she was out on medical leave and forced her to retire, her claim said. Limon, meanwhile, was demoted several ranks.

Haselrig’s claim also alleges that Villanueva targeted her because she is Black. She alleged in the filing that she once told the sheriff that she hoped there would be opportunities for qualified Black employees to promote and that he replied: “We have enough of you.”

She also alleges that Villanueva threatened several times to “get” whistleblowers for sharing information about misconduct. Haselrig’s claim said she advised him that it’s illegal to retaliate against whistleblowers.

The kneeling incident occurred on the morning of March 10, 2021, when deputies were conducting routine searches of inmates before their court appearances at the San Fernando Courthouse.

Security video obtained by The Times shows Deputy Douglas Johnson walking closely behind inmate Enzo Escalante through a hallway before ushering him toward a wall.

Escalante turned around and punched Johnson in the face multiple times. Johnson and other deputies then took Escalante to the ground, positioning him facedown. After he was handcuffed, Johnson kept his knee on Escalante’s head for three minutes.

Haselrig is the fourth person to have initiated a lawsuit over the incident. Along with Limon, Allen Castellano — a commander who was critical of efforts by the department to keep the incident under wraps — accused Villanueva in a legal claim of obstructing justice and retaliating against those who blew the whistle. The inmate whose head was kneeled on also filed a civil rights lawsuit.





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