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James Hellmold loses both his bid to be sheriff and his job

Sheriff's Department says James Hellmold's demotion has nothing to do with politics
'I'm happy to serve in any capacity whatsoever,' James Hellmold says after being demoted
The morning after losing L.A. County sheriff election, James Hellmold gets demoted

The morning after losing the election for Los Angeles County sheriff, James Hellmold got a message to call his boss.

Over the phone, Interim Sheriff John Scott delivered the bad news: he was demoting Hellmold from assistant sheriff to chief.

Hellmold, 46, who served as then-sheriff Lee Baca's driver and rose quickly to the department's third-ranking position, is trying to make the best of it, even though his new job as chief of countywide services is a far cry from being in charge of patrol and detectives.

"It's his prerogative. I'll be professional through good times and bad times," Hellmold said. "I'm proud of this department and I'm happy to serve in any capacity whatsoever. There are no bad assignments in the Sheriff's Department."

Scott said in a written statement that Hellmold was promoted too quickly under Baca and will benefit from working at a lower rank.

"Prior administration promoted him two ranks, and he will now … gain the proper operational experience that he missed," the statement said.

In internal staff memos Thursday, Scott described several other reassignments. Hellmold will assume the position held by Chief Buddy Goldman, who will transfer to the South Patrol Division. Michael Rothans, chief of the South Patrol Division, will take Hellmold's old assignment as acting assistant sheriff of patrol operations.

Nicole Nishida, a spokeswoman for the Sheriff's Department, said the personnel changes have "nothing to do with political ties."

In Tuesday's primary election, Hellmold came in fourth with 8% of the vote. Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell dominated the field with 49% and will face retired undersheriff Paul Tanaka in a runoff. Todd Rogers, another assistant sheriff who ran unsuccessfully for the top post, is keeping his position.

Scott was appointed interim sheriff in January following Baca's sudden retirement. He has promised to take politics out of decision-making in a department known for favoritism in hiring and promotions.

"I don't believe that's John Scott's character to do it for political reasons," said Brian Moriguchi, president of the union that represents sheriff's supervisors.

McDonnell said he will develop his own personnel plan if he becomes sheriff.

"I respect Sheriff Scott's decisions, but I plan to come in and take a fresh look," McDonnell said.

cindy.chang@latimes.com

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