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L.A. supervisors challenge reinstatement of deputy sheriff accused of stalking, domestic abuse

L.A. supervisors challenge reinstatement of deputy sheriff accused of stalking, domestic abuse
Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger is the lead author on a motion to question Sheriff Alex Villanueva's recent reinstatement of a deputy who was fired in connection with allegations of domestic abuse and stalking. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

In a rare public confrontation with Los Angeles County’s elected sheriff, the county’s governing body is expected to vote Tuesday on a motion that would challenge the recent reinstatement of a deputy sheriff who was fired in connection with allegations of domestic abuse and stalking.

The five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has little direct control over the county’s top cop. But Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s rehiring of a fired deputy who worked on his campaign has sparked widespread criticism among watchdogs and prompted action by two supervisors.

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Supervisor Kathryn Barger, the lead author on the motion, along with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, cited “grave concerns” over the reinstatement and expressed alarm over Villanueva’s comments last week that the move was justified because the deputy’s accuser waited to come forward and was hesitant to testify.

“The reinstatement and the reasoning for it sends a disturbing message that a crime victim should not be believed based on the timing of the allegations and one person’s doubt about his or her credibility,” the motion says. “This approach can further discourage victims from coming forward who are already reluctant to report such crimes for a variety of reasons, including shame, self-doubt and fear.”

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Capt. Darren Harris said Villanueva is aware of the motion. He did not comment further.

The Times reported this month 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 twice, sent her harassing text messages and admitted to listening to her conversations.

A county appeals board heard evidence in the case and upheld Mandoyan’s dismissal.

Prosecutors investigated the woman’s claims and looked at video evidence in the case but declined to charge Mandoyan with intimate partner violence. Mandoyan did not respond to requests for comment.

Mandoyan, who appeared onstage at Villanueva’s swearing-in, served as his driver and played a key role in persuading rank-and-file deputies to rally behind Villanueva’s long-shot bid. The motion does not mention Mandoyan by name, but a spokeswoman for Barger confirmed he is the deputy referred to in the document.

Speaking before the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission for the first time last week, Villanueva defended the reinstatement. He questioned the credibility of the accuser, saying the fact that she waited nearly a year to report her claims and her decision to quit the department just before she was about to testify were “big warning signs.”

Villanueva also said any discipline of deputies over claims of domestic violence should require that related criminal charges are filed and that the allegations relate to employment. Neither element was present in this case, he argued.

Villanueva’s stance would mark a significant departure from the way internal affairs matters have been handled. The cases operate with lower standards of evidence than criminal cases and can involve compelled testimony by deputies. The county’s inspector general, Max Huntsman, told Villanueva at the meeting last week that his approach was “radical.”

The motion calls for the county’s five supervisors to send a joint letter to Villanueva expressing their concern and asking the sheriff to reconsider Mandoyan’s reinstatement. It would also direct county counsel to examine the procedures the supervisors can take in navigating conflicts with the sheriff.

Kuehl said county lawyers could explore whether the sheriff has the authority to bring back a deputy whose firing was upheld by the county Civil Service Commission. She said the attorneys may also look into whether the county could withhold a deputy’s paycheck, citing it only as a hypothetical.

Kuehl said Villanueva “sounded stuck in the ’60s” by blaming the alleged victim in Mandoyan’s case. She also questioned Villanueva’s proposal to create a “truth and reconciliation” commission to hear the cases of deputies with grievances against the department.

“It sounds like he wants to bring back every bad deputy who he thought got a bad deal,” Kuehl said.

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A statement from a spokesman for Supervisor Hilda Solis said she “wholeheartedly supports the rights of victims, and she believes the sheriff should lead by example.” Solis indicated she would support the motion. Supervisors Janice Hahn and Mark Ridley-Thomas did not provide responses Sunday about the vote.

With control of the county’s $30-billion budget, the supervisors’ most direct form of influence over the Sheriff’s Department is in approving that agency’s $3-billion budget. The board, which regularly considers whether to authorize legal settlements involving alleged misconduct by deputy sheriffs, has an interest in keeping litigation costs down.

The county has spent at least $182 million in Sheriff’s Department payouts over the last decade.

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