LOS ANGELES (CN) – A California judge on Wednesday declined the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors’ request for an emergency order forcing Sheriff Alex Villanueva to fire an officer whose rehiring sparked opposition from officials who said the sheriff overstepped his authority.
Within days of taking office, Villanueva reinstated officer Caren Carl Mandoyan to the force, a move that came years after a county appeals board upheld a decision to fire Mandoyan. Mandoyan was let go after his partner – also a police officer – accused him in 2016 of sending threats by text message, stalking her at home and grabbing her by the neck.
Mandoyan – who was never criminally charged – volunteered as Villanueva’s personal driver during his election campaign and appeared on stage at his swearing-in this past December.
The Board of Supervisors opposed Villanueva’s personal effort to reinstate Mandoyan and sued the newly elected sheriff Monday, claiming his rehiring decision was outside the scope of his authority.
Greg Smith, an attorney for Mandoyan, said at the hearing that supervisors should respect Villanueva’s personnel decisions in his department.
“[Villanueva] has the authority to deputize anyone he wants,” Smith said, adding Mandoyan will refuse to turn over his badge and gun.
Before that, the county had also moved to strip Mandoyan of his badge and gun and told him in a letter that Villanueva failed to inform him his salary and benefits were cut on Feb. 20.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Mitchell L. Beckloff declined to address whether Villanueva has the authority to rehire Mandoyan on Wednesday, and asked for further evidence and briefing on that matter.
But he denied the county’s request for an emergency order forcing Mandoyan to return his badge, gun and other county property and set a June 26 hearing for the county’s injunction request.
A spokesperson for the county did not respond to a request for comment by press time. A spokesperson for the sheriff’s department declined to comment and said the department will “let this work its way through the court process.”
Villanueva – who was elected on a reformist platform and backed by dozens of community organizations – has argued in recent weeks that Mandoyan was wrongfully fired and said that he would launch an internal process to review similar cases.
The department panel at the center of Villanueva’s review effort said in a report this week that while Mandoyan should be rehired, he had acted unprofessionally and in a manner that discredited the department.
Supervisor Janice Hahn had sharp words for the panel and Villanueva in a statement Thursday.
“The makeup of this so-called “Truth and Reconciliation” commission raises red flags about its legitimacy and ability to be fair. I have a real problem with a commission made up of three men who think credible accusations of stalking and attempts to break into an ex-girlfriend’s home are not fireable offenses,” Hahn said.
“This fight to reinstate an abusive deputy to the force is eroding public trust and distracting from the important issues this department should be working on. This is an unfortunate start to the new sheriff’s term and I hope he will reconsider this ill-advised decision.”