LOS ANGELES – The power struggle between Sheriff Alex Villanueva and the county over the reinstatement of a deputy who was fired after being accused of domestic violence landed in court Monday, with the county asking a judge to uphold the deputy’s termination.
The county filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court on Monday, March 4, challenging Villanueva’s reinstatement of Caren Carl Mandoyan, who was fired in 2016 by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell.
According to the Los Angeles Times, a fellow deputy alleged Mandoyan grabbed her by the neck, tried to break into her home and sent her harassing text messages. Prosecutors investigated the woman’s claims but declined to charge Mandoyan.
His firing was upheld by the county Civil Service Commission, but Villanueva reinstated the deputy in his first weeks as sheriff after defeating McDonnell last fall.
Last week, county Auditor-Controller John Naimo, the county’s chief accountant, issued a letter stating that the deputy would no longer be paid and must turn in his gun and badge.
The letter to Mandoyan says he is “not authorized to serve as a department employee” and that his salary and other benefits were stopped last month. It adds that the sheriff, who isn’t authorized to override decisions made by other high-ranking county officials, knew of the board’s decision, according to The Los Angeles Times.
Mandoyan’s attorney, Greg Smith, told The Los Angeles Times Monday that the deputy remains on the job despite the county’s objections.
The county’s lawsuit contends that Villanueva does not have the legal authority to reverse the decision of the Civil Service Commission and reinstate Mandoyan, rendering the move “void as a matter of law.”
“To the county’s knowledge, Mandoyan has not returned any county property and is continuing to hold himself out as a deputy sheriff,” according to the lawsuit. “Respondents’ actions are exposing the county to significant liability, threatening public safety and undermining trust in the department.”
County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who has been outspoken in her opposition to Mandoyan’s reinstatement, told City News Service that beyond the “deep disagreement” between Villanueva and the board over whether he had authority to make such a move, the case has bigger ramifications.
“The larger picture is that the sheriff has also indicated that he wants to reopen the terminations of a number of deputies, and so we were also concerned that this was going to lead to a kind of set of actions that would be similar,” Kuehl said, saying the concern pushed the county to pursue legal action to get a judge’s ruling on the matter.
Villanueva’s decision to reinstate Mandoyan prompted a heated debate at a hearing in late January between the sheriff and the Board of Supervisors, which has no direct control over the day-to-day management of the Sheriff’s Department.
Villanueva suggested Sunday that the county’s move wasn’t the final word on the matter.
“This personnel matter is under review and will be decided through the legal employment process,” he told The Los Angeles Times in a written statement. “While the specific facts of this case are protected under the Peace Officer Bill of Rights and civil service procedures, I can assure that an objective, honest and fair assessment was conducted before reinstatement. We will let the process continue forward as we work to determine the final outcome.”
Villanueva won an upset election against McDonnell in November.
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