Another veteran Los Angeles County prosecutor is suing her employer concerning the actions of District Attorney George Gascón — in this case, for opposing the alleged withholding of a decision to not file charges in a highly publicized use-of-force case in order to impact former Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s re-election bid.
Deputy District Attorney Amy Pellman Pentz’s Los Angeles Superior Court retaliation suit was filed Friday, Nov. 17, and seeks unspecified damages. A representative for the District Attorney’s Office did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
For three years, Pentz was assistant head deputy of the Justice System Integrity Division, which reviews complaints alleging government corruption and improper uses of force employed by law enforcement. During the 2022 campaign for Los Angeles County sheriff, Villanueva’s opponents criticized him for a widely publicized use of force by deputies that was recorded on video and depicted a deputy placing his knee on an inmate’s neck for more than three minutes.
“This video was illegally released to the public and was used by Villanueva’s detractors to spread the false narrative that the use of force was illegal and that Villanueva had attempted to cover it up,” the lawsuit states. Pentz’s unit investigated the case and her supervisor, Alan Yochelson, approved her September 2022 recommendation that no charges be filed because the use of force appeared proper and justified, the suit states. Yochelson’s supervisor, Diana Teran, gave her nod to the decision and Gascón did so a month later, the suit states.
A decision to not file charges is typically provided to the law enforcement agency right away, but in this case it was not turned over to the sheriff’s department or any other law enforcement department, the suit states. Yochelson told Pentz that Teran wanted to withhold release of the determination “in an effort to impact the outcome of the election against Sheriff Alex Villanueva,” the suit states.
Yochelson told Pentz, “This is total BS” and said he believed the information should be released, but that the administration did not want to “give Villanueva any good news this close to the election,” the suit alleges. A meeting was held about the use-of-force case in October 2022 and was attended by Pentz, Gascón, Teran and Yochelson, who told the plaintiff to not speak during the session, according to the suit. Teran said she and another administrator wanted the decision to not file charges held until after the elections and Gascón was in agreement, the suit states. After the meeting, Pentz told Yochelson that the refusal to release the decision in order to impact the elections “was unlawful or used words to that effect,” according to the suit.
Villanueva eventually found out that the decision was being withheld and chastised Gascón for doing so, the suit states.
“Gascón and other high-ranking officials in the District Attorney’s Office believed that plaintiff was the person that disclosed to Sheriff Villanueva that the declination had been withheld,” according to the suit, which further states that Pentz was removed from her position in November 2022, the same month in which Villanueva was defeated by former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna, described in the suit as a “close ally” of Gascón.
In testimony in January 2023 before the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission, Pentz contradicted Teran’s testimony that no one in the District Attorney’s Office had applied for an open integrity unit position, with the plaintiff stating that multiple prosecutors had indeed applied. After her commission testimony, Pentz was offered a position on the Equity Action Team as a representative for the Jewish community. Pentz was a founding member of the Jewish Prosecutor’s Association.
However, after attending her first meeting with EAT, Pentz was removed by Chief Deputy Sharon Woo “under the pretext that there were too many lawyers” on the team, the suit alleges. Multiple other prosecutors have also sued the county over the alleged retaliation they experienced for speaking out against Gascón’s criminal justice reform directives.