LOS ANGELES – Citing a lack of urgency in the case, a judge Wednesday rejected Los Angeles County’s request for an order voiding the reinstatement of a sheriff’s deputy who was fired in 2016 amid allegations of domestic violence.
The county argued that Sheriff Alex Villanueva overstepped his authority by reinstating Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan shortly after Villanueva was elected in November. Villanueva’s attorney, however, argued that the sheriff has the authority to hire whoever he wants — raising the issue of whether Mandoyan was “reinstated” or “rehired.”
Attorney Louis “Skip” Miller, on behalf of the county, asked Beckloff to issue a restraining order removing Mandoyan, saying Mandoyan was still carrying a gun and a badge even though the county does not consider him to be an official employee of the department.
Judge Mitchell Beckloff said, however, he did not see an immediate need for a court order. He said the issue could be litigated in due course, and he set another hearing on the issue for June 26. The judge, however, questioned whether the county Board of Supervisors can interfere in the sheriff’s hiring decisions — saying there is a clear distinction between a fired employee being rehired or reinstated.
Mandoyan’s firing in 2016 by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell was upheld by the county’s Civil Service Commission. County officials claim in their lawsuit that Villanueva does not have the legal authority to reverse the commission’s decision, calling 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.”
Villanueva has defended the reinstatement of Mandoyan, which was done shortly after Villanueva’s upset victory over McDonnell in November’s election. Mandoyan was a volunteer on Villanueva’s campaign.
Last week, Auditor-Controller John Naimo, the county’s chief accountant, issued a letter stating that Mandoyan 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 newspaper Monday that the deputy remains on the job despite the county’s objections.
Villanueva told The Los Angeles Times that the matter “is under review and will be decided through the legal employment process.”
“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 said.
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.
Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, who has been outspoken in her opposition to Mandoyan’s reinstatement, told City News Service the lawsuit has bigger ramifications than the “deep disagreement” between Villanueva and the board over his authority to make such a move.
“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.
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