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Numerous top L.A. County sheriff's officials will be fired or relieved of duty once Alex Villanueva is sworn in; new staff named

Numerous top L.A. County sheriff's officials will be fired or relieved of duty once Alex Villanueva is sworn in; new staff named
One of Alex Villanueva’s main promises on the campaign trail was that he would rid the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department of officials he said contributed to a corrupt culture under previous administrations. (Genaro Molina / Los Angeles Times)

Numerous Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials, including high-ranking executives at the level of chief and above, will be removed from their jobs once Sheriff-elect Alex Villanueva is sworn in Monday, his spokesman said.

Those being relieved of duty include the undersheriff, the four assistant sheriffs, eight chiefs, a communications director and a community outreach director, said Danny Leserman, a spokesman for Villanueva. He said the department’s two constitutional policing advisors are being transferred to new jobs with Los Angeles County and will be replaced.

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Villanueva previously said he would eliminate the constitutional policing advisor positions.

Leserman said Villanueva is elevating some existing department members and bringing back retired commanders for his team. Retired Cmdr. Ray Leyva will be named undersheriff, and retired Cmdr. Robert Olmsted will serve as an assistant sheriff, he said. Industry station Capt. Tim Murakami and Lt. LaJuana Haselrig, who is assigned to fiscal administration, will also become assistant sheriffs.

The purge of nearly the entire executive leadership of the Sheriff’s Department will be one of the most sudden in recent years. After Sheriff Jim McDonnell was elected in 2014, he took two years to finish assembling his executive team.

One of Villanueva’s main promises on the campaign trail was that he would rid the department of officials he said contributed to a corrupt culture under previous administrations.

“The sheriff-elect said he was going to clean house, and he meant it. This is just the start,” Leserman said. “This is about getting rid of the cronyism, getting rid of the dark parts of the department, so we can really restore the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department.”

Leserman said that his statement did not suggest all of those being let go are accused of bad acts, but that the sheriff-elect needed to reshuffle the jobs in order to implement his team.

Carol Lin, the strategic communications director under McDonnell, said she showed up to work Wednesday and was told by a colleague, “‘We’ve all been fired.’”

Lin said she viewed an email from a member of Villanueva’s transition team to a Sheriff’s Department official that contained a long list of names of people whose services would no longer be needed as of Monday. Hers was on it, though she had never been personally told her job was being eliminated.

“The communication from the sheriff-elect has been brutal, sudden and disruptive,” said Lin, who is starting a new job with the county’s chief executive office. “There is a real tangible brain drain underway. With all due respect to the people coming in, they haven’t been here. They’re going to start cold with a lot of the major issues.”

Department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said she could not confirm whether the officials were told they would not have jobs under Villanueva’s administration, citing privacy concerns.

Other than Lin, the officials subject to being removed could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Sworn peace officers at the rank of chief and above, if removed from their jobs, are generally entitled to the last civil service-protected position they held before they were appointed. For many at that level, the last protected rank they held would be commander.

Olmsted, who retired in 2010, is relocating from Nevada and said he plans to be in the job for at least two years. Leyva, who took a medical retirement in 2016 because of back and wrist issues, said he intends to return as a civilian and will serve for only 120 days.

Both have run for sheriff in the past — Leyva in 2006 and Olmsted in 2014.

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“I’m excited about coming back because I get to work with some great people again. I’m pretty humbled that Alex asked me to come back,” said Leyva, who has known Villanueva since the late 1980s when they worked together at the East Los Angeles station.

Villanueva will be sworn in Monday at East Los Angeles College.

6:40 p.m.: This article was updated with information on past campaigns by Leyva and Olmsted.

6:20 p.m.: This article was updated with additional details about planned department changes.

5:15 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about personnel changes.

4:00 p.m.: This article was updated with additional information about staffing changes.

This article was originally published at 3:10 p.m.

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