A retired Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department chief Monday sued the county and Sheriff Alex Villanueva, the latest of several department members to claim Villanueva directed a coverup of a video of a deputy with his knee on the head of a man in custody for three minutes.
Plaintiff LaJuana Haselrig was often seen standing next to Villanueva during news conferences, but her Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges whistleblower retaliation, racial discrimination, failure to take all steps to prevent discrimination, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and violations of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights.
Haselrig seeks at least $5 million in damages. Also named as defendants are Cmdr. John Satterfield and Deputy David Yoo.
Villanueva, who has been hostile to Haselrig based on her race, “has a long history of making racist, resentful statements toward African-Americans including in the media,” the suit states.
Villanueva believes there are “enough” Blacks in sheriff’s department management and wants to increase the number of Latinos in the department, the suit alleges.
Villanueva also has “maliciously targeted plaintiff for being a whistleblower as she exposed the sheriff’s ongoing corruption and lack of ethics,” the suit states.
Haselrig has a master’s degree in emergency management administration and has a long, successful 34-year history working for the department, the suit states.
Villanueva retaliated against Haselrig and other whistleblowers after they “exposed Villanueva’s coverup of the use of excessive force on March 10, 2021, by Deputy Douglas Johnson against an inmate, Enzo Escalante,” the suit states.
A sheriff’s commander found out about the Escalante incident, so he and his supervisor, Haselrig, took all the necessary steps to handle the matter promptly and properly,” the suit states.
“However, Sheriff Villanueva obstructed justice and covered the (use-of-force) incident up and retaliated against the plaintiff and others for blowing the whistle on the illegal conduct,” the suit states.
On March 29, Villanueva forced Haselrig to “end her long illustrious career with LASD” by pressuring her to retire, giving her “two poisonous options — retire immediately without contemplation or be demoted to captain with her career permanently destroyed under either scenario,” the suit states.
Haselrig’s career is over with her alleged forced retirement, the suit states.
Video of the Escalante incident shows Johnson kneeling on the handcuffed inmate’s head and neck for more than three minutes, even after he had allegedly stopped resisting.
Former Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon and Commander Allen Castellano also have alleged retaliation by the department. Villanueva and Satterfield lied orally in print by saying that the plaintiff engaged in crimes that were actually committed by the sheriff and the commander, the suit states.
Yoo released a statement defaming Haselrig, her attorney and the lawyer’s other clients, also stating that they are criminals trying to avoid prosecution through the filing of their lawsuits, the suit states.