On the campaign trail for sheriff, Alex Villanueva repeatedly decried a culture of patronage and vindictiveness that he said permeated the Sheriff’s Department and unfairly thwarted the career advancement of many deputies, himself included. He said the problem did not stop following the conspiracy and obstruction convictions of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and former Sheriff Lee Baca, but simply took a different form under Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
Villanueva said he was running in part to rid the department of cronyism once and for all.
So it is disconcerting, to say the least, to learn that Villanueva — now sheriff — has reinstated a deputy who had been fired during the McDonnell regime following allegations of domestic abuse and stalking.
Caren Carl Mandoyan, as reported Wednesday by Times staff writer Maya Lau, was a key Villanueva campaign aide and played an important role in his upset victory over McDonnell. After the June primary, which eliminated candidate Bob Lindsey, Mandoyan helped win support for Villaneuva from Lindsey’s faction and helped coordinate the successful runoff campaign.
The alleged abuse and stalking victim was a fellow sheriff’s deputy. No criminal charges were filed. Mandoyan appealed his firing, but it was upheld by the Civil Service Commission.
Was Mandoyan unfairly targeted by the previous regime and reinstated to correct a wrong? Or was he rehired in exchange for his service to Villanueva during the campaign? It would be useful to know whether the action was part of a well-considered and vetted program to eliminate cronyism — or instead just another example of it, with the only difference being that it is now being perpetrated by a different sheriff on behalf of a different faction. But neither the sheriff nor Mandoyan are talking.
Police are public employees, entitled to be hired, promoted and disciplined based on their qualifications and adherence to high standards of performance, not on the favors they do for or the relationships they build with their superiors. Tanaka may have inflicted lasting damage to the department by playing favorites, rewarding those who raised money for his political campaigns and punishing deputies who wouldn’t play along. A properly functioning discipline system does not tolerate such abuse.
But law enforcement officers are not like other public employees. They wear badges, carry guns and can arrest and even kill civilians, so they must be held to more exacting or at least more particularized standards than, say, civil engineers or office administrators. They have to set an example. A sheriff must have power to raise performance standards when necessary and to weed out deputies who run afoul of the rules, for example by falsifying reports.
Discipline guidelines and performance standards for sheriff’s deputies were raised in 2013, and rightly so, following recommendations of a panel investigating beatings of jail inmates by deputies. They were raised again in 2016, and hundreds of deputies were suspended or discharged during McDonnell’s tenure for running afoul of the new guidelines. But last year, a county hearing officer upheld the deputy union’s complaint that the rules were improperly imposed without labor-management bargaining. Later this month, the Employee Relations Commission is due to consider a remedy.
In the meantime, the Sheriff’s Department is operating under the much lower performance standards and discipline rules as they existed in 2012, before the Jail Violence Commission made its recommendations.
What Los Angeles County residents ought to expect from their new sheriff is that he will guarantee high standards of conduct and meaningful discipline. They are entitled to expect a pledge from Villanueva that reform in the department will not be rolled back.
It is still early in Villanueva’s tenure, and we hold out hope that he will offer a level of transparency and accountability that inspires public confidence. His explanation-free reinstatement of Mandoyan fails on both counts.
Nor is it a signal that the department will continue to take seriously allegations of domestic violence. Or that it is ridding itself of factionalism.