Alex Villanueva
Alex Villanueva. Campaign photo

Los Angeles County officials have moved to reverse the controversial reinstatement of a deputy who worked as a campaign aide to Sheriff Alex Villanueva in a personnel decision that could exacerbate tensions between the county’s new sheriff and his bosses — the Board of Supervisors, it was reported Monday.

Auditor-Controller John Naimo, the county’s chief accountant, last week issued a letter — first reported by ABC7 — stating that the deputy, who was fired in connection with allegations of domestic abuse, would no longer be paid and must turn in his gun and badge, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“Your reinstatement was unlawful,” stated the letter dated Feb. 28, according to the Times.

Caren Carl Mandoyan was fired in 2016 by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell after a fellow deputy alleged Mandoyan grabbed her by the neck, tried to break into her home and sent her harassing text messages. Prosecutors investigated the woman’s claims and looked at video evidence in the case but declined to charge Mandoyan with intimate partner violence.

The firing was upheld by a county appeals board, but Villanueva reinstated the deputy in his first weeks as sheriff after defeating McDonnell last fall.

The letter to Mandoyan says he is “not authorized to serve as a Department employee” and that his salary and other benefits were stopped last month. It adds that the sheriff, who isn’t authorized to override decisions made by other high-ranking county officials, knew of the board’s decision.

Naimo said Sunday that he consulted with the county counsel before sending the letter and had copied the Board of Supervisors.

Villanueva’s decision to reinstate Mandoyan prompted a heated debate at a hearing in late January between the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors, which has no direct control over the day-to-day management of the Sheriff’s Department.

Villanueva suggested Sunday that the county’s move wasn’t the final word on the matter.

“This personnel matter is under review and will be decided through the legal employment process,” he told The Times in a written statement. “While the specific facts of this case are protected under the Peace Officer Bill of Rights and civil service procedures, I can assure that an objective, honest, and fair assessment was conducted before reinstatement. We will let the process continue forward as we work to determine the final outcome.”

Villanueva won an upset election against McDonnell in November. He vowed to lessen cooperation between his department and federal immigration officials as well as reconsider some of the reforms enacted in recent years after a massive corruption scandal brought down longtime Sheriff Lee Baca and other top leaders.

Only three months into his term, Villanueva has clashed with some sheriff watchdogs as well as supervisors. In January, he dismissed some efforts by the department to reduce force against jail inmates — a major problem at the heart of the corruption scandal — as a “social experiment” that backfired and put lives at risk.

But the Mandoyan issue has generated particular rancor.

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