Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva is denying that he tried to intimidate a Los Angeles Times reporter for doing her job.
Villanueva announced during a live streamed press release Tuesday that Times reporter Alene Tchekmedyian is being investigated by his department for the “leak” of a video showing a deputy kneeling on the head of a handcuffed inmate for about three minutes.
“These three people have some important questions to answer,” Villanueva said during the press conference as he pointed to photos of Tchekmedyian, his political rival Eli Vera and sheriff’s Inspector General Max Huntsman.
Villanueva said the possible felonies under investigation include conspiracy, burglary and unauthorized use of a database.
After the press conference, his comments sparked outrage among politicians, journalism groups, and LA Times’ top brass.
“His attempt to criminalize news reporting goes against well-established constitutional law. We will vigorously defend Tchekmedyian’s and the Los Angeles Times’ rights in any proceeding or investigation brought by authorities,” executive editor of The Times Kevin Merida said in a statement.
Hours later, Villanueva walked back his previous comments after public pressure mounted.
“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,” he told the Times in a statement.