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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
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Ex-LA County sheriff sues officials over placement on ‘do not hire’ list

Alex Villanueva accused county officials of blacklisting him and bringing his career to a "standstill" following two separate accusations of harassment and discrimination.

LOS ANGELES (CN) — Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, the divisive official who was perennially at odds with most of the leading politicians in the region throughout his four years in office, sued the LA County Board of Supervisors on Thursday accusing the officials of libel and of violating his First, Fifth and 14th Amendment rights.

The suit comes one month after Villanueva's lawyers sent the board a 196-page tort claim letter seeking damages of more than $25 million over his placement on a "do not hire" list in response to two separate complaints accusing Villanueva of harassment and discriminatory behavior.

"After a long, storied career in public service, Villanueva’s career has been dealt a lethal blow due to respondents’ secretive legal proceedings, unabashedly devoid of any notice, due process, transparency — and even the 'respect' assured by respondents’ own published policies," the letter said.

Villanueva campaigned for sheriff in 2018 as a reformer, and won. Once in office, though, he tacked hard to the right, attempting to stonewall an independent investigation into deputy gangs, or cliques, within the department and seeking to speed up approvals for applications to carry concealed weapons.

He became a frequent guest on Fox News and a vocal critic of vaccine mandates, most of the Democratic elected officials in the city and the county and the Los Angeles Times.

The approach did not endear him to voters: Villanueva was ousted in 2022 after just one term in office. Two years later, he ran for a seat on the county board of supervisors and lost again, badly.

His post-political career has, apparently, not been going well either. Among the many allegations in Villanueva's federal complaint is that he was placed on a "do not hire" list following an investigation into his behavior that concluded, among other things, that Villanueva had discriminated against Inspector General Max Huntsman by referring to him in public, as "Max-Gustaf Huntsman." Huntsman accused Villanueva of "dog whistling to the extremists he caters to" by using his birth name, which sounds foreign.

According to the complaint, being placed on the list "severely affects, limits, and otherwise precludes Villanueva’s employment opportunities in the county government, as well as directly and indirectly detrimentally affecting Villanueva’s employment prospects across the board."

Villanueva's short tenure was marked by numerous legal battles between him, the board of supervisors, Huntsman and the LA County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission. For example, Villanueva refused to testify in front of the oversight body as part of its investigation into deputy gangs. The commission issued a subpoena, and Villanueva sued to block it. Eventually, a judge ordered the sheriff to testify before the commission.

In addition to the complaint regarding Huntsman, another complaint was filed against Villanueva by a deputy to Supervisor Hilda Solis, which accused the former sheriff of targeting and harassing women of color. Last year, the County Equity Oversight Panel sustained both complaints and recommended that Villanueva be deemed ineligible for any job in the county.

The claim letter likened the "do not hire" list to a "scarlet-lettering" and said that "Villanueva’s career has been brought to a standstill."

As the Los Angeles Times reported last month, Villanueva has not ruled out running for sheriff again in 2026.

Follow @hillelaron
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