LOS ANGELES – Lawyers for a retired deputy and for Los Angeles County told a judge Thursday that a tentative settlement was reached in the plaintiff’s lawsuit, in which he alleged that he endured an internal backlash for refusing a captain’s request that he campaign on behalf of former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka in his failed bid to be elected sheriff.
Ban Nguyen also maintained he was retaliated against for rejecting a sergeant’s request that he falsify the applications of some recruits.
“Well, congratulations to both sides,” Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Susan Bryant-Deason said after being informed of the preliminary resolution of Nguyen’s lawsuit, which is subject to approval by the Board of Supervisors.
The tentative settlement came as the case was about to go to trial. Bryant-Deason ruled previously that a jury should decide whether Nguyen was a whistleblower or merely a public employee engaged in his mandatory duty to tell his superiors about alleged corruption.
In his lawsuit filed in February 2015, Nguyen alleged violations of his civil rights and the state Labor Code. The suit named Tanaka, Los Angeles County, two Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department captains and two department sergeants. One of the captains, Judy Gerhardt, has since been promoted to commander.
Nguyen’s case was unrelated to a criminal case in which Tanaka was sentenced last June to five years in federal prison for his role in a wide-ranging 2011 conspiracy to derail a federal investigation of misconduct in jails. Tanaka surrendered to begin serving the sentence in Colorado in January and Nguyen’s lawyer, Richard Love, said the former undersheriff’s deposition testimony would have been used in place of live testimony had the case gone to trial.
According to the lawsuit, Nguyen began working with the department in June 1996 and was a background investigator for the personnel bureau. He said that in 2012, a sergeant asked him to falsify documents for specified applicants so they could pass the background process and be hired. He claims he refused and complained to a lieutenant about the sergeant’s order, but nothing was done.
A captain asked Nguyen to campaign on behalf of Tanaka, but Nguyen declined and was subsequently demoted to a position doing background checks for prospective civilian members of the department, according to his lawsuit.
Two sergeants also gave Nguyen an excessively large caseload and subjected him to unwarranted criticism of his work, according to his lawsuit, which alleged a captain increased the retaliation after Nguyen complained to then-Sheriff Lee Baca.
Nguyen retired for medical reasons in November 2015, but he would have stayed with the department longer had his alleged mistreatment not occurred, Love said.
Then-Long Beach Police Chief Jim McDonnell defeated Tanaka, who also served as Gardena’s mayor, in November 2014 in a runoff election for sheriff.