A Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department commander has sued the county and Sheriff Alex Villanueva, the latest of several department members to claim Villanueva directed a cover-up of a video of a deputy with his knee on the head of a man in custody for three minutes.
Plaintiff Allen Castellano’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit alleges whistleblower retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation, false light and a violation of the Public Safety Officers Procedural Bill of Rights.
Castellano seeks at least $10 million in general damages and another $5 million in special damages. Also named as defendants are Cmdr. John Satterfield and Deputy David Yoo.
Villanueva issued a statement Thursday regarding the lawsuit, saying it contained some of the same “outright lies” as similar suits filed by other LASD plaintiffs.
“There is no new information contained within this claim, especially not an explanation as to why (Castellano) and others so critically failed in the performance of their duties,” Villanueva said.
The suit filed Tuesday alleges that Villanueva retaliated against Castellano and other whistleblowers regarding the alleged use of excessive force on March 10, 2021, by Deputy Douglas Johnson against an inmate, Enzo Escalante, at the San Fernando courthouse.
“The incident is reminiscent of how (former Minneapolis police) Officer Derek Chauvin had improperly cut George Floyd’s air off,” the suit states. “Here, Escalante survived, but under LASD policy, the nature of the deputy’s conduct required a swift criminal and administrative investigation into his conduct.”
Castellano, alerted of the Escalante incident, took the necessary steps to handle the matter promptly, but Villanueva “obstructed justice and covered the Escalante incident up and retaliated against the plaintiff and others for blowing the whistle on the illegal conduct,” the suit states.
Villanueva then “used his usual political tactic of trying to frame the whistleblowers for his own misconduct and has repeatedly defamed (Castellano) ..,” the suit alleges.
Villanueva and Yoo defamed Castellano by suggesting in August that the plaintiff and the other whistleblowers in the Escalante matter are criminals trying to avoid prosecution by suing the sheriff, according to the suit, which further alleges that the sheriff and Satterfield defamed Castellano by writing in a memo that the plaintiff was involved in a cover-up of the Escalante incident and committed “gross management mistakes.”
Castellano suffers from extreme emotional distress and has been on medical leave for nine months for hypertension with blood pressure that sometimes reaches dangerous levels, the suit states. In April, while on leave, Castellano was “forced out of his unit and reassigned to an unspecified command,” the suit alleges.
Castellano’s potential for career advancement within the department has been severely undermined, according to his suit.
Former Assistant Sheriff Robin Limon and retired Chief LaJuana Haselrig also have filed lawsuits alleging retaliation by the department.