LOS ANGELES—City Councilman Mark Ridley-Thomas was suspended from office by a divided Los Angeles City Council on Oct. 20, shortly before he’s scheduled to be arraigned on federal bribery and conspiracy charges stemming from his time serving on the county Board of Supervisors.
Councilmen Marqueece Harris-Dawson, Curren Price, and Mike Bonin opposed the suspension. Bonin urged the council to not consider the suspension on Oct. 20, saying it was “too early” and that the council hadn’t considered the “full range of options,” as the indictment is only a week old.
“Having read this indictment, having known Mr. Ridley-Thomas for 30 years, I think it is important to give him the benefit of the doubt and the opportunity to defend himself before we rush to judgment,” Bonin said. “For me, that 30-year career certainly justifies giving Mr. Ridley-Thomas the benefit of the doubt, hearing his defense and letting this be adjudicated before we rush to judgment and conduct what really is a political conviction.”
Bonin added that the suspension would be disenfranchising the 10th district, which voted Ridley-Thomas into office last year. Harris-Dawson added that many constituents already knew about the allegations against Ridley-Thomas and voted for him anyway, as did members of the LA City Council, many of whom endorsed Ridley-Thomas.
Price said before the vote that his office has been “inundated” with calls of support for Ridley-Thomas from South LA residents.
“I choose to operate from a position of fairness, respect, and decency, and I refuse to slaughter the reputation of someone who’s got a 40-year track record of dedicated public service,” Price said.
He added that the charges don’t involve Ridley-Thomas’s work for the city.
The motion to suspend Ridley-Thomas was introduced on Oct. 19 by Council President Nury Martinez and seconded by Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, the council president pro team.
“The trial on the indictment has yet to take place and a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty; however, a council member who has been charged with public corruption cannot continue to exercise the powers of city office and preserve public trust,” the motion stated.
Ridley-Thomas’s lawyer Michael Proctor told City Attorney Mike Feuer in a letter that there’s no legal basis for suspending the councilman, and he would explore “any and all legal action” challenging a suspension.
“Simply put, there are no allegations that involve Council member Ridley-Thomas’s work as a city official,” Proctor wrote in the letter. The charges against Ridley-Thomas stem from his time on the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors.
Ridley-Thomas said in a statement after his suspension that he was “humbled by the support of my colleagues who did not rush to judgment and disappointed in those who did.”
He accused the other 11 council members of stripping his constituents of “their representation, of their voice and of their right to the services that they deserve.”
He also reiterated that he would fight the charges and clear his name.
LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva claimed that Ridley-Thomas’s indictment was further confirmation of the LA Board of Supervisors’ corruption in his weekly social media livestream on Oct. 20.
“They say this famous phrase, ‘fish rots from the head down,’ and I’ve said that the LA County Board of Supervisors is the most corrupt government, local government entity in the entire nation,” Villanueva said. “And I stand by that as the assessment. This only is a further confirmation of that.”
Villanueva said in the sheriff’s department, employees suspected of a crime are typically relieved of duty while that crime is being investigated.
“You don’t get to continue doing your job,” he said. “You get indicted, then you’re relieved of duty without pay.”
The West Area Neighborhood Development Council, which is part of Ridley-Thomas’s district, declined to give an official statement on the matter.
However, community activist Gina Fields, who is chair of the West Area Neighborhood Development Council, said individually that she thought Ridley-Thomas shouldn’t be suspended from his position before he’s found guilty.
Fields said that in the last nine months, Ridley-Thomas has worked with District 10 to house dozens, especially in impacted areas such as Leimert Park and Crenshaw Manor.
“[The district] has been very responsive, we’ve been doing monthly meetings with Ridley-Thomas and his team to try to assist the unhoused to try to improve the businesses that are in the area, to give them a boost economically post-COVID. There’s been so much great and positive activity,” Fields said.
She said that removing Ridley-Thomas from office before anything has been resolved poses a challenge to the community “because we don’t want the good work to stop. We need to keep moving on and especially during this time of the redistricting, and all the challenges with that, we need a councilmember who could still speak on our behalf and work on our behalf.
“I’m not here to say whether he’s innocent or guilty,” Fields said. “I don’t know. But I think just like everyone else deserves their day in court, he deserves due process, and no judgment should be made, his job should not be taken, his health care and pension should not be taken, his salary should not be taken until, or if, there’s a conviction, then those decisions can be made. But [not] right now, while he’s stating his innocence and fighting this mighty battle.”
Los Angeles Controller Ron Galperin said on Oct. 19 that pending the councilman’s suspension, he will cut off Ridley-Thomas’s salary and benefits.
Ridley-Thomas announced on Oct. 18 that while he refuses to resign his seat, he was stepping back from his council duties and would not be attending full council or committee meetings.
Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 20, although he’s expected to attend the downtown federal court hearing virtually.
Ridley-Thomas, along with a former University of Southern California (USC) dean, was indicted on 20 counts of bribery and fraud on Oct. 13.
In 2018, Ridley-Thomas, 66, who then served on the LA County Board of Supervisors, allegedly conspired with Marilyn Flynn, 83, former dean of the USC School of Social Work, to provide Ridley-Thomas’ son, Sebastian, 34, with “graduate school admission, a full-tuition scholarship, a paid professorship, and a mechanism to funnel Ridley-Thomas campaign funds through the university to a non-profit to be operated by the relative,” according to a statement by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.
In exchange for his son’s admission, Ridley-Thomas, in his role as a county supervisor, allegedly “steered new contracts” that would generate millions in new revenue for the school, according to the U.S. Attorney statement.
While Mark Ridley-Thomas is scheduled to be arraigned on Oct. 20, Flynn is not set to be arraigned until Oct. 25.
City News Service contributed to this report.