Kevin Cody

Former Leeds’ murder blames arrest on politics

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by Kevin Cody

Cheree Townsend, the 40-year-old black mother of two and former LA Probation Department employee arrested for the May 3 murder of retired Rancho Palos Verdes nurse Susan Leeds, 66, has filed a $12 million lawsuit against Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell and the cities of Rancho Palos Verdes and Rolling Hills Estates.

Townsend was arrested May 16 while driving her Chevrolet Malibu in Victorville and held on $1 million bail in a Victorville jail for five days. She was then released without being charged.

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On May 18, while she was still in jail, Sheriff McDonnell held an hour-long press conference during which Townsend’s car was shown in a May 3 surveillance video of the Promenade Shopping Center parking garage parked near Leeds car. Leeds was stabbed to death in her car shortly after noon, that day.

No new suspects have been arrested.

Townsend’s attorney Nazareth Haysbert said Monday at a downtown Los Angeles press conference, that his client’s arrest was the result of McDonnell rushing the investigation in hopes of improving his chances of winning the June 6 primary election. McDonnell won 48 percent of the primary vote, forcing him into a runoff on Nov. 6 with Alex Villanueva, a retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s lieutenant.

Haysbert said his client was at the mall to shop for her son’s prom.

McDonnell’s office issued a statement this week denying Townsend’s arrest was politically motivated.

During the hour-long May 18 press conference, McDonnell and Sheriff Homicide Captain Chris Burgner repeatedly said the purpose of the press conference was to elicit help from the community in solving the murder. Burgner said he was hopeful that shoppers who were in the area at the time of the murder might have seen something that would help with the investigation. He noted that similar press conferences had elicited new evidence from the public.

During the press conference, Burgner  said that arrest photos of Townsend would not be released because “we want to preserve the integrity of followup identification of the suspect.”

He said that based on items taken from the Leed’s car, Sheriff’s investigators believe Leeds was the victim of a “crime of opportunity” that began as a robbery.  

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