New Sheriff Should Go Back to the Drawing Board

DTLA—Alex Villanueva has been the focus of numerous news reports since he was sworn in as sheriff of Los Angeles County on Dec. 3. Unfortunately, few of these concern advances he is bringing to the department that operates L.A. County jails and provides law enforcement services in unincorporated parts of the county. Instead, the attention swirls around a fired deputy he has reinstated, and a panel he wants to form to consider cases against officers who were disciplined in the past.

These matters have prompted a vigorous dispute between the sheriff and the County Board of Supervisors. First they tangled over Villanueva’s reinstatement of Caren Carl Mandoyan, a deputy who had been fired by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell in 2016 following allegations of domestic abuse filed by a female deputy who Mandoyan had been in a relationship with; McDonnell’s decision was affirmed by the county Civil Service Commission. Last week, the supervisors unanimously passed a motion asking county lawyers to investigate the legality of Villanueva’s proposed Truth and Reconciliation panel.

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Villanueva wants a body that will ascertain whether deputies had their rights violated when they were relieved of duty or otherwise disciplined by McDonnell, who came into office with a reform agenda. At a supervisors’ meeting last week, the sheriff said the cases of as many as 400 deputies could be examined. To pursue that aim, he has appropriated the moniker of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission formed in post-apartheid South Africa; that body was convened to provide restorative justice and shed light on violence and human rights abuses during the repressive, racially divided era.

Sands have been shifting over how Villanueva’s panel would work. While it initially appeared that the Truth and Reconciliation panel green-lighted the decision to reinstate Mandoyan, it was later revealed that the panel is in the formative stage; Villanueva last week told the supervisors there have been multiple drafts of the panel’s makeup. It later became clear that another group of LASD employees — apparently three men who answer to Villanueva — OKed bringing back Mandoyan. The supervisors have spoken out against the move.

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The supervisors have asked attorneys to determine if Villanueva’s proposed panel is legal. It looks like the new sheriff wants to press the issue.

Doing so would be a mistake by Villanueva. While we understand his desire to be certain that deputies were fired or disciplined for reason, he should abandon this bullheaded approach, and step back and consider how the present situation looks to the general public, particularly given the domestic abuse allegations against Mandoyan (attorneys for Mandoyan say he did not engage in abuse, and no criminal chargers were filed).

Rather than pursue this course, Villanueva should start from scratch and seek to work with supervisors on a review process that is as transparent as possible. If it is determined that a new review panel is appropriate, then decisions or recommendations on matters of reinstatement should come from members who don’t answer directly to the sheriff.

Villanueva’s current approach hampers public trust in the process and reflects poorly on the department. He should recognize this and go back to the drawing board.

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