Another shot was fired Tuesday in the battle between Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors over control of hiring decisions, with Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas declaring that Villanueva is endangering public trust in the department.
“The Sheriff’s Department needs the public’s trust in order to be effective, so ensuring transparency, legality and oversight in this matter are necessary,” Ridley-Thomas said. “The men and women of the department, as well as the people of Los Angeles County, deserve no less.”
On Monday, the county filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court challenging Villanueva’s reinstatement of Caren Carl Mandoyan, who was fired in 2016 by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell after being accused of domestic violence. A hearing is scheduled Wednesday on a request for an injunction upholding Mandoyan’s termination and confirmation that county counsel and the board have exclusive authority over civil actions involving any county officer.
Calling the need for action “unprecedented” and “uncomfortable,” Ridley-Thomas previewed a motion, to be heard next Tuesday, asking county lawyers to review whether the sheriff’s “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” is legal. The motion also calls on Villanueva not to reinstate any more deputies until all legal challenges related to the issue have been settled.
Villanueva has not revealed the workings of the commission, but it is intended to re-evaluate terminations made under revised disciplinary guidelines.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who co-authored the motion, said there were a lot of unanswered legal questions.
“I need to understand all our legal options,” Kuehl said. “Rolling back reforms adopted by the department, and doing so without legal authority, cannot be allowed.”
Stricter punishment for deputy misconduct was implemented by both Sheriff Lee Baca and McDonnell based on recommendations from the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence. The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union representing rank-and-file deputies, challenged those changes and a decision is pending by the County Employee Relations Commission.
“It is premature for the sheriff to implement policy regarding the department’s discipline guidelines, which remain subject to legal challenge,” according to the supervisors’ motion.
“We cannot allow the last decade of reform to be abandoned,” Ridley-Thomas said.
Mandoyan’s firing was upheld by the county Civil Service Commission, but Villanueva reinstated the deputy in his first weeks as sheriff after his upset defeat of McDonnell in last November’s election.
According to the Los Angeles Times, 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 but declined to charge Mandoyan.
Last week, Auditor-Controller John Naimo, the county’s chief accountant, issued a letter — first reported by ABC7 — stating that the deputy would no longer be paid and must turn in his gun and badge.
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, according to The Times.
Mandoyan’s attorney, Greg Smith, told the newspaper on Monday that the deputy remains on the job despite the county’s objections.
The county’s lawsuit contends that Villanueva does not have the legal authority to reverse the decision of the Civil Service Commission and reinstate Mandoyan, rendering the move “void as a matter of law.”
“To the county’s knowledge, Mandoyan has not returned any county property and is continuing to hold himself out as a deputy sheriff,” according to the lawsuit. “Respondents’ actions are exposing the county to significant liability, threatening public safety and undermining trust in the department.”
Kuehl, who has been outspoken in her opposition to Mandoyan’s reinstatement, told City News Service Monday that beyond the “deep disagreement” between Villanueva and the board over whether he had authority to make such a move, the case has bigger ramifications.
“The larger picture is that the sheriff has also indicated that he wants to reopen the terminations of a number of deputies, and so we were also concerned that this was going to lead to a kind of set of actions that would be similar,” Kuehl said, saying the concern pushed the county to pursue legal action.
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.”
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