Los Angeles County officials have moved to reverse the controversial reinstatement of a deputy who worked as a campaign aide to Sheriff Alex Villanueva, a personnel decision that could exacerbate tensions between the county’s newly elected top cop and its governing body, the Board of Supervisors.
Auditor-Controller John Naimo, the county’s chief accountant, issued a letter last week stating that the deputy, who was fired in connection with allegations of domestic abuse, would no longer be paid and must turn in his gun and badge.
“Your reinstatement was unlawful,” the letter, dated Feb. 28, stated.
The Times reported in January that Caren Carl Mandoyan was fired in 2016 by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell after a fellow deputy alleged Mandoyan grabbed her by the neck, tried to break into her home and sent her harassing text messages.
Prosecutors investigated the woman’s claims and looked at video evidence in the case but declined to charge Mandoyan with intimate partner violence. Neither Mandoyan nor a lawyer who represented him after his dismissal, Michael Goldfeder, responded to requests for comment on Sunday.
The firing was upheld by a county appeals board, but Villanueva reinstated the deputy in his first weeks as sheriff after defeating McDonnell last fall.
The letter to Mandoyan says he is “not authorized to serve as a Department employee” and that his salary and other benefits were stopped last month. It also says the sheriff, who isn’t authorized to override decisions made by other high-ranking county officials, according to Naimo’s letter, knew of the board’s decision.
Naimo said on Sunday that he consulted with the county counsel before sending the letter and had copied the Board of Supervisors. He declined to comment further.
The decision by Villanueva prompted a heated hearing in late January between the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors, a separately elected group responsible for setting county policy and appropriations but without direct control over the day-to-day management of the Sheriff’s Department.
Villanueva suggested Sunday that the county’s move wasn’t the final word on the matter.
“This personnel matter is under review and will be decided through the legal employment process,” he told The Times in a written statement. “While the specific facts of this case are protected under the Peace Officer Bill of Rights and civil service procedures, I can assure that an objective, honest, and fair assessment was conducted before reinstatement. We will let the process continue forward as we work to determine the final outcome.”
Villanueva won an upset election against McDonnell in November, stunning the Los Angeles political establishment. He’s vowed to lessen cooperation between his department and federal immigration officials as well as reconsider some of the reforms enacted in recent years after a massive corruption scandal brought down longtime Sheriff Lee Baca and other top leaders.
Just three months into his term, Villanueva has repeatedly clashed with some sheriff watchdogs as well as supervisors.
In January, he dismissed some efforts by the department to reduce force against jail inmates — a major problem at the heart of the corruption scandal — as a “social experiment” that backfired and put lives at risk.
But it’s been his decision to rehire Mandoyan that has generated particular rancor.
The letter to Mandoyan — first reported by KABC-TV (Channel 7) — is the latest flare-up between Villanueva and county officials, who in January pressed the sheriff about why Mandoyan, who volunteered on Villanueva’s election campaign, was rehired given the serious allegations of abuse of a former girlfriend in 2014.
Villanueva said he disagreed with the board about the facts of the case, which remain unclear because of the confidentiality of personnel files of law enforcement officers in California. He said the case against Mandoyan was the result of a flawed disciplinary process that could lead to unfair termination.
“But they have a very valid point,” he said after the hearing, “and we want to make sure we’re protecting the rights of everyone who’s in a vulnerable position. But we have to protect the rights of everyone. We can’t pick and choose who we afford that protection for.”
At that meeting, the supervisors asked the county’s lawyers to compile more information about the case — a move that likely prompted the drafting of the letter.
Villanueva has often talked about creating a “truth and reconciliation” commission to address those who feel wronged by the Sheriff’s Department. He promised to rid the agency of the cronyism that he argued stood in the way of his own advancement. He said Mandoyan was the first deputy he reinstated as part of an effort to rebuild the department.
The county’s chief executive officer, Sachi Hamai, and the county’s top lawyer, Mary Wickham, weren’t immediately available for comment on Sunday.