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L.A. County sheriff abruptly removes second-in-command Ray Leyva, promotes Tim Murakami to undersheriff

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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva places a pin on the collar of Assistant Sheriff Tim Murakami during a ceremony Dec. 3.
(Mel Melcon / Los Angeles Times)

A longtime Los Angeles County sheriff’s official who came back from retirement to serve as Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s second-in-command — and was seen as a steadying hand in a fledgling administration that has already grappled with controversies — is leaving a little more than three months into the new sheriff’s term, he said.

Ray Leyva said Villanueva told him in a brief meeting Monday morning that he wanted a sworn officer in Leyva’s position and thanked him for his service. Leyva had been working as a civilian after returning to the department from a medical retirement and was planning to serve for at least the first five or six months of Villanueva’s tenure.

Leyva said he thanked Villanueva for the opportunity to work for him, wished him well, took his belongings and left the building.

“Obviously I’m disappointed. I wanted good things to happen for the department, and I wanted to be part of that,” he said.

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Assistant Sheriff Tim Murakami will replace Leyva immediately as undersheriff, department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida said. Villanueva could not be reached for comment.

Many in the department had seen Leyva as an experienced, stabilizing force for Villanueva, who had never served in the upper ranks before scoring an upset over his predecessor, Jim McDonnell, in the race for sheriff last year. Villanueva previously served as a lieutenant.

The move is not the first time Villanueva has abruptly removed staff members. Promising a maverick approach and a rethinking of many departmental policies, the sheriff replaced nearly the entire executive team upon taking office Dec. 3 and demanded that hundreds of other senior department managers reapply for their positions.

The personnel change marks a stunning rise for Murakami, who had been captain at the City of Industry station before Villanueva promoted him three ranks to assistant sheriff. He will now ascend another rank.

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Murakami was one of three senior Sheriff’s Department executives Villanueva appointed to reevaluate the disciplinary case of Caren Carl Mandoyan, a deputy whom McDonnell fired in connection with allegations of domestic abuse and stalking.

The “truth and reconciliation” panel concluded that Mandoyan had been punished unfairly, paving the way for his reinstatement, according to the panel’s report reviewed by The Times.

The rehiring of Mandoyan, who volunteered on Villanueva’s campaign, has been a source of controversy during the new sheriff’s term, setting off a legal dispute with the county Board of Supervisors.

Leyva, who rose to the rank of commander during his previous career with the Sheriff’s Department, took a medical retirement in 2016 because of back and wrist issues. The arrangement meant his rehiring by the county would last 120 business days. But such contracts are often renewed.

“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,” Leyva said in November. He said he had known Villanueva since the late 1980s when they worked at the East Los Angeles station.

Leyva, who ran for sheriff in 2006, was supportive of Villanueva’s campaign, contributing a total of $3,000 and attending two of his election events.

maya.lau@latimes.com

Twitter: @mayalau

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