Explosive new allegations were reported Wednesday evening against the administration of Los Angels County Sheriff Alex Villanueva in the case of a deputy reinstated after allegations of domestic violence, stalking and harassment of a woman he had dated.
Alicia Ault — the former head of the department’s professional standards and training division — said in a court deposition that she quit her job in protest after 34 years with the department because Villanueva’s incoming chief of staff ordered her, in the weeks before the new sheriff took over from his predecessor Jim McDonnell, to reinstate former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Caren Mandoyan, and to alter Mandoyan’s disciplinary history.
Ault’s deposition, reported Wednesday night by the Los Angeles Times, came as part an unusual legal action taken by Los Angeles County to try to rescind the reinstatement.
Ault said the newly elected sheriff’s top aide, Lawrence Del Mese, phoned her one week before Villanueva’s swearing-in on Dec. 3 and directed her to reinstate Mandoyan and change the records of a separate use-of-force case against the deputy from “founded” to “unfounded.”
She resigned four days later.
The Sheriff’s Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from City News Service, nor did officials comment for the Times story.
Villanueva’s lawyer in the county case, Steve Madison, told the Times he hadn’t reviewed the filings but plans to present new evidence that will support his client’s case.
Villanueva’s former undersheriff Ray Leyva, who was fired in March, also said under oath that he believed the sheriff’s reconciliation committee deliberately skewed evidence to favor the deputy, and that he thought Villanueva fired him because the sheriff was tired of Leyva trying to make him conform to department rules and protocols, according to the Times.
A report released last week by the Office of Inspector General concluded that Mandoyan’s reinstatement was a rush to judgment contradicted by key evidence that may have gone unreviewed by the new administration.
Even before he took office in December, Villanueva was working to try and reinstate former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Caren Mandoyan, the report concluded.
Mandoyan worked on Villanueva’s 2018 campaign.
“The evidence we reviewed suggests that Mandoyan’s return to duty may have been preordained, rather than the product of an objective `Truth and Reconciliation’ process,” the OIG report stated.
“In approximately 25 days, the Truth and Reconciliation Panel overturned a year-long administrative process that involved hundreds of pages of interviews, documents, and other exhibits, and that was subsequently affirmed through a five-day Civil Service Hearing. Historically LASD has struggled to make evidence-based discipline decisions rapidly. Further, the findings in a memorandum setting forth the analysis of the Panel are silent on key pieces of evidence, including video evidence and corroborating witness statements,” according to the report.
In January, the OIG learned about Mandoyan’s reinstatement despite the allegations of domestic violence, stalking and harassment of a woman he had dated. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department also found that Mandoyan lied to Internal Affairs investigators.
The agreement reinstating Mandoyan in exchange for dismissing civil claims against the county may be invalid, according to the OIG. That position would support the stance taken by the county Board of Supervisors in its lawsuit.
A summary of the case against Mandoyan notes he was originally a reserve deputy and met the victim in the domestic violence case when they were both deputies at the West Hollywood Station. When Mandoyan was transferred to the South Los Angeles Station, he became suspicious the woman was cheating on him and would call several times a day to check up on her.
Mandoyan allegedly threatened the woman and told her he had highly placed friends in the department, leading her to fear for her own job and for her father, who was also a deputy with the department.
She alleged that Mandoyan physically assaulted her in September 2014 and then, three months later, after they ended their relationship, tried to break into her apartment.
In June 2015, she reported continuing harassment to her supervisor, who told the woman she needed to file a police report. Mandoyan was relieved of duty the next month and the complainant obtained a temporary restraining order in July.
The District Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges, citing insufficient evidence to overcome reasonable doubt, but Mandoyan was discharged in September.
Madison told the Times that a prior draft of the OIG report was “blatantly skewed” in favor of the Board of Supervisors and attacked the credibility of Mandoyan’s accuser.
“The report is part of an ongoing attack against the sheriff by the Board of Supervisors,” he said.
The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Aug. 16.
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