A Los Angeles County sheriff’s official running to replace Sheriff Alex Villanueva said Tuesday he is exploring legal options after he was demoted from chief to commander because of his campaign challenging his boss.
“What the sheriff did today is not only wrong, it goes against every procedure, and rule, laid out in our department and across the county,” Eli Vera said during a news conference. “Alex decided to do something unprecedented for what are clear political reasons, this is unfortunate.”
Vera, a 32-year veteran of the department, had been chief of the agency’s Technology and Support Division. He said he received a written notice from Villanueva last week that he was being demoted, and the move was directly tied to Vera’s decision to challenge the sheriff in the upcoming election.
In a statement, the sheriff’s department denied any wrongdoing, and insisted that Vera’s claims of retaliation “lack merit.”
“Although we will not comment on personnel matters, the law is firmly established that at-will employees, in particular those who serve as confidential advisers to an elected leader, cannot oppose him/her politically and keep their advisory position,” according to the department. “The sheriff has the right to remove senior-level advisers whose views do not align with his own agenda. Who has ever heard of a cabinet secretary running a negative campaign against the president who appointed them?”
Vera called the move “an intimidation tactic.” He said the demotion will not deter him, adding that “now the voters of Los Angeles know more about how their sheriff operations — he has and continues to operate from a position of fear.”
“In the coming weeks I will review all my legal options with employment attorneys, so I may preserve my rights afforded to me by the County of Los Angeles,” Vera said. “It is crystal clear why the incumbent sheriff is doing this. He is afraid of my campaign. He sees that I was able to raise six figures in a month or so, and the money hasn’t stopped coming in, he knows how much support I have across the department, and more is on the way.”