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Sheriff’s Chief Eliezer Vera announces run for L.A. County sheriff against Villanueva

Eliezer Vera speaks at a podium
Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Chief Eliezer Vera announced that he is running for sheriff.
(Eliezer Vera campaign)

A senior Los Angeles County Sheriff’s official announced Wednesday he will run for sheriff in next year’s election, becoming an early challenger to Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

Chief Eliezer Vera said he decided to try to unseat his boss in order to bring a level of stability to a Sheriff’s Department that he said has been roiled by Villanueva’s clashes with other elected officials and oversight bodies.

“Unfortunately what we’re seeing out of the current sheriff is that pretty much whenever an elected official, or most people in a position of power, have a difference of opinion with him, what he has shown is complete disdain and disregard, and that is very problematic,” Vera said. “I can’t imagine a worse message to send to law enforcement officers.”

Asked for his response to the news that someone from his own command staff would run against him, Villanueva did not mention Vera. “My reform efforts speak for themselves,” he wrote, ticking off several things he has accomplished, including banning federal immigration officers from county jails and outfitting some deputies with body-worn cameras. “I’ll remain focused on doing my job, which is what matters to LA residents.”

Vera’s decision marks a break with the sheriff. He supported Villanueva in his upstart 2018 campaign and became a close advisor to him after Villanueva shocked L.A. County’s political establishment by beating the incumbent sheriff, Jim McDonnell.

One of Villanueva’s first acts as sheriff was to promote Vera to chief in a move that allowed him to skip a rank. The sheriff made Vera chief of the Sheriff’s Department’s Central Patrol Division, a prominent role in which Vera oversaw six sheriff’s stations, including the Compton, East L.A. and Century stations.

Vera played a key role in Villanueva’s attempt to rehire Carl Mandoyan, a deputy who was fired in connection with allegations of domestic abuse and stalking. Mandoyan was fired in 2016 by McDonnell after a fellow deputy alleged Mandoyan grabbed her by the neck, tried to break into her home and sent her harassing text messages. Mandoyan has denied the allegations.

Vera was on a panel set up by Villanueva that concluded Mandoyan had brought “discredit to himself and the department,” but nonetheless should be rehired.

In announcing his campaign Wednesday, Vera tried to downplay his role in the decision, saying he had been told the panel wouldn’t be responsible for making the final decision on Mandoyan’s rehiring. And the panel, he said, had initially pushed for “much more discipline” to be imposed on Mandoyan, but that the recommendation was rebuffed by the sheriff, who conveyed a “very clear message” he wanted the deputy reinstated.

In hindsight, Vera said he has realized the sheriff should not make end-runs around the process that county employees must go through to challenge being fired.

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“Once civil service makes that ultimate decision, and the employee has gone through every appeal they can do, the courts have made it perfectly clear: It’s over, that’s it,” he said. Under “my leadership, that’s exactly where it will end.”

Villanueva’s controversial move to rehire Mandoyan marked the beginning of what has grown into a contentious relationship with the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, the department’s civilian oversight board and others. Along with his decision to rehire Mandoyan and other deputies with tainted backgrounds, Villanueva has been criticized for rolling back reforms and safeguards McDonnell put in place to combat corruption within the department.

Villanueva has been dismissive of such claims, saying the previous sheriff’s changes hamstrung the department and that he is responding to concerns from rank-and-file deputies.

Vera joined the Sheriff’s Department in 1988. He’s married to a retired sheriff’s sergeant, and two of his four children are deputies in the department, while a third is planning to join soon, he said.


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