Sheriff Villanueva defends rehiring of deputy accused of domestic violence

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- One day after the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors ripped into Sheriff Alex Villanueva for his decision to rehire a deputy accused of physically abusing and stalking a female deputy in 2015, Villanueva dismissed the criticism as "grandstanding" by the board.

"I don't ever want to be called a politician, and I was in front of people who are career politicians," Villanueva said. "They view things and they weigh their options and how they communicate in a different light than I do. I just move based on what's the right thing to do."

Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan was fired in 2016 by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell after Mandoyan's ex-girlfriend accused him of trying to break into her home, harassing her in text messages and pushing her face into a couch.

Prosecutors with the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Office declined to charge Mandoyan, citing a lack of sufficient evidence.

The Civil Service Commission upheld the Mandoya firing, but Villanueva brought him back onto the force as part of a plan he calls "truth and reconciliation."

"I initiated the review," Villanueva said of the investigation that led to Mandoyan's reinstatement.

"I know people think there's some kind of skullduggery involved and all that, but no - sorry, it's actually kind of boring."

The review was led by LASD Chief Steve Gross who said some of the female deputy's allegations were sustained and some were not.

"What I can tell you at this point is that the allegations did not rise to the level of termination, in our opinion, and that appropriate administrative action was taken at that time," said Gross.

Villanueva has previously suggested the female deputy had credibility issues and noted that she waited nearly a year to report the alleged abuse.

Villanueva told the supervisors on Tuesday that they would understand his decision to reinstate Mandoyan once they heard details of the case in closed session. Villanueva said the deputy had agreed to waive his privacy rights so supervisors could see the file on his case but Wednesday there was a turnaround.

"He decided not to waive his rights," Villanueva said. "He previously said he would, but I guess from the brouhaha that erupted and the grandstanding he said he wasn't going to participate."

The Board of Supervisors directed County Counsel on Tuesday to examine the legal issues surrounding Mandoyan's reinstatement and voted to send a letter to Villanueva expressing their "grave concerns" about his disregard of the traditional disciplinary review process.

"None of us is so independent that we can do anything we damn well please," Supervisor Sheila Kuehl said to Villanueva.

Mandoyan served as a volunteer and driver on Villanueva's election campaign -- and will receive back pay for the time he was off the department.

Villanueva said the department will review every termination over the past four years. Mandoyan was the "first one in the barrel" and he expects that half a dozen other cases may soon lead to the reinstatement of fired personnel.

Villanueva accuses former Sheriff McDonnell of misleading public

In Wednesday's "State of the LASD" address, Villanueva also accused former Sheriff Jim McDonnell of essentially cooking the books on the rate of violence in the jails, staffing shortages and deputy firings.

He says he inherited a department that's low on morale and "in worse shape now than we were in 2013."

"The previous administration treated our employees as if they were a disposable liability," said Villanueva.

Villanueva said that under McDonnell, the pendulum swung too far - deputies were afraid to use justified force against inmates because if they did "it would be at the cost of their own careers."

"We're letting our people know that they have the right to defend themselves."

Villanueva also accused his predecessor of downplaying violence against deputies inside the jails - and says McDonnell's administration released misleading statistics that did not include "gassing" attacks as an assault.

Gassing is when inmates throw bodily fluids like urine or feces at a deputy or other personnel inside the jail.

"An executive told the staff that they were too numerous, to stop counting them," said Villanueva.

In a statement responding to Villanueva's allegations, McDonnell said "Sheriff Villanueva is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts."

McDonnell says that he's been "reserved" in his comments to allow Villanueva to assemble his new team, but believes the department is losing "hard-earned progress on many fronts."

"Today's press conference highlights why, unless decisions are based on truth and transparency, the department will move backward."
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