LA County, Sheriff Lock Horns Over Fired Officer

LOS ANGELES (CN) – Tension between the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors and Sheriff Alex Villanueva over his decision to rehire an officer who was fired after a domestic violence complaint escalated over the weekend, with officials asking a judge to uphold the officer’s termination.

Los Angeles County’s newest sheriff Alex Villanueva. (Villanueva for Sheriff)

Within days of taking office, Villanueva – who was elected in November 2018 on a platform of progressive reform – reinstated officer Caren Carl Mandoyan to the force. Mandoyan’s partner, also a police officer, accused him in 2016 of sending threats by text messages, stalking her at home and grabbing her by the neck.

Mandoyan also volunteered for Villanueva’s election campaign and appeared on stage at his swearing-in this past December.

While the Civil Service Commission County Appeals Board voted unanimously in 2018 to fire Mandoyan – who was never criminally charged – Villanueva personally moved to rehire him, criticizing the commission’s process as flawed.

The decision rocked community organizations that endorsed Villanueva, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California, which said in a Feb. 19 letter that the sheriff turned his back on campaign promises, especially by doubting a female survivor’s credibility.

“[Villanueva’s] stance is all the more troubling in that as sheriff, he’s tasked with ensuring that deputies respond appropriately to domestic violence and sexual assault,” the letter said.

The Board of Supervisors grilled Villanueva at a Jan. 29 meeting and directed county counsel to examine the sheriff’s authority to rehire officers.

At the meeting, Villanueva told supervisors – a body that has little control over the sheriff’s day-to-day actions – he planned to review a half-dozen other cases where officers’ “exculpatory evidence” was ignored by county investigators.

The county’s lawsuit, filed under seal Monday in Los Angeles Superior Court, says Villanueva acted unlawfully when he rehired Mandoyan. The county asked the judge to order the officer to turn in his badge and gun, according to media reports.

A LA County Sheriff’s Department spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

This past week, County Auditor-Controller John Naimo handed Mandoyan a termination letter last week and noted Villanueva had failed to inform him that his salary and benefits were cut on Feb. 20, according to media reports.

In his letter, Naimo ordered Mandoyan to turn over any county property and said Villanueva was not authorized to rehire him, reports said.

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