Attorneys for Los Angeles County will ask a judge Wednesday for an order upholding the termination of a sheriff’s deputy whose reinstatement by new Sheriff Alex Villanueva has set off a power struggle at the county Hall of Administration.
The county filed a lawsuit Monday against Villanueva, claiming he overstepped his authority by reinstating Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan, who was fired in 2016 by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell after being accused of domestic violence.
Mandoyan’s firing was upheld by the county’s Civil Service Commission. County officials claim in their lawsuit that Villanueva does not have the legal authority to reverse the commission’s decision, calling 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.”
Villanueva has not commented on the lawsuit, but he has defended the reinstatement of Mandoyan, which was done shortly after Villanueva’s upset victory over McDonnell in November’s election.
Last week, Auditor-Controller John Naimo, the county’s chief accountant, issued a letter 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 Los Angeles Times.
Mandoyan’s attorney, Greg Smith, told the newspaper Monday that the deputy remains on the job despite the county’s objections.
Villanueva told The Times Sunday the matter “is under review and will be decided through the legal employment process. 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.”
According to The 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.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who has been outspoken in her opposition to Mandoyan’s reinstatement, told City News Service Monday the lawsuit has bigger ramifications than the “deep disagreement” between Villanueva and the board over his authority to make such a move.
“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.
The lawsuit seeks a court order upholding Mandoyan’s termination, voiding his reinstatement and ordering him to surrender his badge and weapon and declaring that Villanueva’s action was “unlawful and without effect.”
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