A Los Angeles County sheriff’s commander can move forward for now with his lawsuit against the county, in which he alleges he was wrongfully reassigned to a less prestigious position after questioning why deputies involved in a 2021 incident in which nearly 70 shots were fired during service of a search warrant were not disciplined.
After a hearing on Thursday, Aug. 17, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Joseph Lipner rejected an argument by a county attorney that Cmdr. William E. Jaeger‘s most recently revised complaint was a “sham pleading” because in it he alleged violations of state law, but in prior filings only maintained that violations of internal LASD policies occurred. The judge said that Jaeger fixed the shortcomings in the earlier court papers, “fulfilling the very purpose of leave to amend.”
Jaeger was hired in November 1990, was promoted to captain in 2019 and to commander in April 2022, according to his suit. 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. 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 an April 2022 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 2022 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 Sheriff Alex Villanueva to make a final decision as to the outcome, but instead the next day Assistant Sheriff Holly Francisco removed Jaeger from the committee, convened a new panel that still included the other commanders and scheduled a new hearing in May, the suit states.
Jaeger spoke to members of LASD management, including 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 lawsuit.
“Murakami responded by telling Commander Jaeger that he needed psychological help and should see a doctor,” the suit filed last Nov. 9 states. The job transfer has “significantly tarnished Commander 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.