Hector Villagra

hector-villagra-200Hector Villagra has been Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California since February 2011.

He launched the Orange County Office of the ACLU of Southern California in September 2005 and served as its Director until October 2009 when he became Legal Director for the ACLU of Southern California.

Before joining the ACLU, Mr. Villagra served as Regional Counsel for the Los Angeles Regional Office of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) from 2001 to 2005 and as a staff attorney at MALDEF from 1999 to 2001. Mr. Villagra has served as counsel in civil rights cases involving such issues as educational equity, religious discrimination, immigrants’ rights, and voting rights.

He began his professional career as a law clerk for the Honorable Robert N. Wilentz, Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, and the Honorable Stephen Reinhardt, circuit judge on the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

Mr. Villagra graduated from Columbia University and Columbia University School of Law.

Policing and Democracy Breakdown

The growing problem of police violence and public mistrust in law enforcement isn’t a breakdown of policing but of democracy. The secrecy and immunity that shield police officers from scrutiny and liability are products of democratic policymaking. They haven’t been imposed extra-legally; they were enacted through state legislatures and embedded in state law. It is state law that sets the terms of transparency and accountability, mandating what information the public may have about police … [Read more...]

Los Angeles County Sheriff Convicted

  This week, a federal jury convicted former Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka of conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges. Tanaka’s conviction and former Sheriff Lee Baca’s recent guilty plea are remarkable developments given the department’s long and troubled history of violence and impunity. But the convictions are only a first step. The problems that have long plagued the jails are not isolated to one individual or an isolated incident of obstruction of justice. … [Read more...]

A Call to Action: Challenging the Conspiracy of Silence

It’s been a difficult, painful year.  Many feel increasingly heartbroken and outraged with each new death of an unarmed person of color at the hands of police.  But that feeling isn’t enough. President Obama recently said, "It's not enough just to feel bad.” He said it about the killing of nine people during a prayer meeting in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. But he could just as easily have said it about the high-profile incidents of police abuse that have dominated … [Read more...]

Police Misconduct Needs ‘Broken Windows’ Approach

On the same day a female Los Angeles Police officer was sentenced to 36 months for delivering hard kicks to the groin of a handcuffed woman who later died, a homeless woman with mental illness was facing 25 years to life for merely picking up a police baton. How do we account for this disparity? How do we reconcile local prosecutors giving police officers the benefit of every real or imagined mitigating circumstance while civilians are routinely overcharged with crimes carrying the most severe … [Read more...]

Kathryn Steinle’s Murder Puts the Spotlight on ICE

View image | gettyimages.com e should not shred the Constitution in the face of tragedy. In the wake of the shooting death of Kathryn Steinle in San Francisco, the Sheriff’s Department is being blamed for having released the man now charged with killing her, Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, from jail. Presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others, has said the city should have honored a federal request, known as a detainer, to keep Lopez-Sanchez in custody. But the county … [Read more...]

Policing the Police

n the unrelenting stream of videos showing violent police encounters with citizens, none has carried more sheer power to stun the public than the shooting death of Walter Scott in North Charleston, South Carolina. Officer Michael Slager initially said Scott wrestled with him and tried to take his Taser. But the video told a disturbingly different story as it captured Slager firing eight times at a fleeing Scott, hitting him five times in the back. Slager was promptly charged with murder once the … [Read more...]

LAPD Can Build Trust with Release of Video in Fatal Skid Row Shooting

The fatal shooting of Charly Leundeu Keunang on the streets of skid row is a test of the Los Angeles Police Department's new body camera program and the department's ability to handle officer-involved shootings in a way the public can trust. So far, the LAPD isn't passing the test. uilding and maintaining trust requires a steadfast commitment to a transparent, objective process when it comes to assessing such shootings. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck has promised a comprehensive investigation of the … [Read more...]

L.A. Jail Proposal Would Do Little to Help

he Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is poised to decide whether to undertake a massive expansion of the county’s sprawling jail system. The board should instead pause and rethink the misguided approach to fixing the inadequate treatment it provides inmates with mental illness. There is no justification for spending up to $2.3 billion of taxpayer money on any plan that would do little to enhance public safety or improve the conditions that last year led the U.S. Department of Justice to … [Read more...]

New Sheriff in Town—For Now

os Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca stepped down today. In so doing, he kept his word. He is now part of the department's past and not its future. He leaves behind a scandal-ridden department that is at the center of three federal probes, including two civil rights and one criminal investigations. But the truth is many of the problems that now face the department precede Baca. The gang-like deputy cliques excessive force by deputies on patrol and the jail house violence date back … [Read more...]

Bye, Bye, Baca

n Tuesday, Los Angeles County Sheriff Leroy David "Lee" Baca finally exercised the kind of leadership that has sorely been lacking from his office when he announced his retirement at the end of this month. His decision to step aside makes possible a new era of accountability and reform in a department plagued by a culture of abuse and impunity. Baca claimed his leadership style was based "on pro-active, progressive problem solving." But when he was confronted with allegations of deputy … [Read more...]