Fired deputy sues again, saying domestic violence probe was unfair
A former Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy whose reinstatement sparked a legal battle between the county’s top elected leaders is suing again to get his job back, saying his case was handled unfairly.
Caren Carl Mandoyan requested that a judge order Sheriff Alex Villanueva to conduct a new investigation into the domestic violence allegations against him and to reinstate him, according to a writ of mandate he filed in L.A. County Superior Court last month.
In August, the judge nullified Mandoyan’s original reinstatement and ordered him to turn in his gun and badge.
Key to Mandoyan’s argument is a new 100-page Sheriff’s Department report that concludes that Mandoyan was denied due process and that “newly discovered exculpatory information” was left out of his 2016 internal affairs investigation. If the information had been presented at the time, the report says, Mandoyan may not have been fired. Department executives initially had proposed a 20- to 25-day suspension.
It’s the latest development in a saga that began when, in one of his first controversial moves in office, the newly elected Villanueva rehired Mandoyan, who had volunteered as a driver during his 2018 campaign. Mandoyan was also instrumental in assembling support of rank-and-file deputies for Villanueva, who upset incumbent Jim McDonnell.
In moving to reinstate Mandoyan, Villanueva argued that McDonnell and other prior sheriffs were too tough in punishing deputies and questioned the allegations against Mandoyan, noting that the district attorney had declined to file charges.
However, the reinstatement stoked concerns that the sheriff was rolling back critical reforms and sparked an unusual legal battle with the Board of Supervisors, who sued Villanueva, saying his rehiring of Mandoyan was unlawful. The Civil Service Commission, a county appeals board, had heard evidence and in 2018 upheld the dismissal.
In an interview, Mandoyan said he’s been used as a political pawn in a campaign waged by Villanueva’s detractors and vowed to keep fighting to return to the force.
“I’m not going to walk away from it knowing that somebody falsely accused me. So if they do it to me, who’s to say they’re not going to do it to anyone else?” Mandoyan said. “This whole political retaliation has destroyed my entire life.”
Louis “Skip” Miller, an attorney representing L.A. County, called the new action frivolous and dismissed the Sheriff’s Department’s report as hearsay.
“It’s completely self-serving, it would never be admitted in a court of law,” Miller said. “I’m disputing the underlying — the validity, authenticity, honesty of the report itself. It’s preposterous.”
A hearing on Mandoyan’s new legal bid is set for February.
Miller said two judges have already weighed in on Mandoyan’s case. One in August overturned Mandoyan’s reinstatement and, more recently, a federal judge tossed his retaliation lawsuit, saying the former deputy’s claims were already litigated before the Civil Service Commission, which upheld his termination.
“You have a Superior Court judge and a federal court judge who both said: No. He was not properly reinstated,” Miller said. “For him to go for a third bite at the apple is... it’s ridiculous.”
Greg Smith, Mandoyan’s attorney, said that when he learned of the new internal report, dated Oct. 1, he submitted a records request to the Sheriff’s Department and within five days received 615 pages of material, including the report and attached exhibits with some redactions.
When asked about Mandoyan’s new lawsuit, the Sheriff’s Department directed a reporter to Villanueva’s July statement saying that the Board of Supervisors and their lawyers are “desperately trying to persuade public opinion by improperly releasing allegations” to The Times. “We eagerly look forward to sharing the facts in the courtroom,” the statement said.
Villanueva had publicly defended Mandoyan’s rehiring, saying the deputy was denied due process, while raising concerns about his accuser’s credibility. His position prompted complaints from advocates who work with domestic violence victims.
The Office of the Inspector General has said its review “yielded no evidence” that Mandoyan’s due process rights were violated. Inspector General Max Huntsman declined to comment on the Sheriff’s Department’s October report.
Mandoyan was fired in 2016 by then-Sheriff McDonnell after a fellow deputy he had dated alleged that he grabbed her by the neck, tried to break into her home and sent her harassing text messages. Video footage released in the case appeared to show Mandoyan trying to break into the woman’s apartment using a metal tool.
Mandoyan denied the allegations. Smith said his client was just trying to get the woman’s attention and that it would have been impossible for him to break into the apartment through the fixed side of the sliding glass door.
In the October report, the Sheriff’s Department identifies “new information which would have directly refuted some of the allegations” against Mandoyan.
It said a deputy who was friends with both the woman and Mandoyan during their relationship was quoted in a March ABC7 article saying that she had asked the woman if she’d been abused.
“She made it crystal clear to me — no, I have not been hit, I have not been pushed. I would be the one to kick his ass,” Deputy Lisa Richardson told the station about her conversation with Mandoyan’s accuser. She said she was also interviewed by the Sheriff’s Department, according to the report.
Mandoyan’s attorney didn’t know about Richardson’s statement and therefore didn’t call her to testify at Mandoyan’s civil service hearing, the report said.
The report also said that Mandoyan’s accuser provided investigators with three videos she recorded of the December 2014 alleged break-in incident and six videos of a January 2015 incident. But two clips, one recorded during each incident, were missing.
Mandoyan was fired in part for lying to internal affairs investigators by claiming he never tried to break into the woman’s home. The report said the missing December 2014 video, up to 18 minutes, “may have added important context” to their interaction or corroborated Mandoyan’s statement that he was trying to get his belongings from inside. It also cites emails in which department executives at first declined to form a conclusion on whether Mandoyan was dishonest.
Mandoyan told The Times recently that the missing clip in the December 2014 incident would have shown the pair laughing as they filmed each other. Shortly after the recording, he said, he was allowed inside. He said he and the woman then watched the footage and laughed. Later that night, they exchanged “love you” texts.
The woman, who resigned from the department before testifying in Mandoyan’s civil service hearing, could not be reached for comment.
Mandoyan said he asked Villanueva for a fresh look at his case during the sheriff’s campaign.
“All I ever asked from him was: Give me a fair shot. I knew I got screwed. I knew 110% I got screwed,” he said. “I just wanted somebody to look at it with fresh eyes.”
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