A Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander will have to shore up his whistleblower suit in which he alleges he was wrongfully reassigned to a less prestigious position after questioning why deputies involved in the 2021 service of a search warrant, in which nearly 70 shots were fired, were not disciplined, a judge ruled on Tuesday, March 21.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Curtis A. Kin agreed with attorneys for the county that Cmdr. William E. Jaeger did not provide facts showing he reasonably believed the shooting information he disclosed demonstrated a breach of a state or federal statute, or a violation of a local, state or federal rule or regulation. The alleged violation of internal LASD polices asserted by Jaeger do not amount to an infringement of local rules or regulations, the judge said in giving Jaeger 20 days to file an amended complaint.
Jaeger was hired in November 1990, was promoted to captain in 2019, and was promoted to commander in April of this year, according to his lawsuit. As commander of the Professional Standards Division, Jaeger oversaw the Internal Affairs Bureau, the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau and the Advocacy Bureau. That same month, Jaeger began service on an executive force review committee tasked with reviewing the Internal Affairs Bureau investigation of a May 2021 incident involving a search warrant executed by the Operation Safe Street Gang Team of the detective division and also personnel from the Industry Sheriff Station and the District Attorney’s Office, the suit filed Nov. 9 states.
The service of the warrant resulted in 69 rounds of fire, and as part of the review, a panel consisting of three commanders, chaired by Jaeger, was assigned to make recommendations with respect to any corrective action and/or discipline deemed necessary for any LASD personnel found to have violated department policy, the suit states. During a hearing, LASD Chief Chris E. Marks of the detective division and Chief Jorge A. Valdez of the east patrol division repeatedly opined during the hearing that no discipline should be imposed on any of those involved in the shooting “despite clear issues with the tactics used on that day, the pre-planning of the search execution and the shooting itself,” the suit states.
Marks and Valdez instead insisted that the personnel involved should only receive more training, according to the suit. In contrast, Jaeger said he believed that there may have been many LASD policy violations during the incident and that it preliminarily appeared that discipline should be imposed on the various participants, according to the suit. At the conclusion of the April hearing, the panel determined that the tactics used by various participants had been outside of LASD policy and merited suspension of a various number of days, including eight days for a lieutenant, according to the suit, which further states that Marks did not concur with any of the findings or discipline recommended. Because the panel and the detective division chief were not in agreement, the next step according to LASD policy, would have been for then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva to make a final decision as to the outcome, but instead, the next day an assistant sheriff removed Jaeger from the committee, convened a new panel that still included the other commanders and scheduled a new hearing, the suit states.
Jaeger spoke to members of LASD management, including then-Undersheriff Timothy Murakami, telling him that the new hearing was against LASD policy and would discredit the department’s stated commitment to proper investigations and oversight of major uses of force, the suit states. Murakami initially told Jaeger that he understood, but later called the plaintiff into a meeting with an LASD chief and told the plaintiff he was being transferred to the Court Services Division, the suit states. The LASD chief told Jaeger he should have compromised on the discipline and “should not have aired the LASD’s dirty laundry in a public meeting in front of the Office of the Inspector General and counsel for the County of Los Angeles,” the suit states.
Jaeger told Murakami that reassigning him would send a “horrible message” to other members of the Professional Standards Division, making them afraid to stand up against “obvious wrongdoing,” the suit states. Jaeger also told Murakami and the LASD chief that the department was covering up the May 2021 shooting, according to the suit.
“Murakami responded by telling Commander Jaeger that he needed psychological help and should see a doctor,” the suit states.
The job transfer has “significantly tarnished Cmdr. Jaeger’s stellar reputation and damaged his career,” the suit states.
Jaeger also has suffered severe emotional distress, embarrassment, humiliation, loss of self-esteem and depression, according to his suit.