Los Angeles County's new sheriff made it a campaign point that he was going to be focusing on the rank-and-file and rooting out cronyism from the leadership of the department. So it may come as a surprise to quite a few folks that he has just reinstated a deputy and campaign supporter who had been fired for allegedly stalking and physically attacking his ex-girlfriend.
Maya Lau at the Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who just took office in December, has hired back Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan, who was fired in 2016 by then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell (whom Villanueva defeated in November's election) for the alleged abusive behavior. Mandoyan's firing was upheld by a county appeals board.
The Times notes that Mandoyan's rehire is the only one of its type so far, but it certainly sends quite the message. Villanueva won't explain why he rehired the deputy, explaining in a statement that California's laws sealing police personnel records forbids doing so.
Prosecutors declined to file charges against Mandoyan, but the Times did get copies for an application for a restraining order the woman—a fellow deputy—had filed as well as a memo from the district attorney's office describing the case. The woman was photographed with bruises and provided video evidence of him trying to force his way into her home. Prosecutors determined, though, that they didn't have enough evidence to charge Mandoyan with a crime.
Mandoyan sued to get his job back but then dropped the suit last month after Villanueva was elected. Mandoyan was also part of Villanueva's campaign, and he was photographed by the Times participating in a swearing-in ceremony in December for new hires at the sheriff's department, holding the box of pins for the sheriff.
That this is how Villanueva chooses to move forward with his term as sheriff, after removing two officials from their jobs advising the department to make sure law enforcement officers are engaging in "constitutional policing," has some folks concerned. From the Times:
"I'm a little flabbergasted and shocked that we're now confronted with this kind of hiring policy," Patti Giggans, the chairwoman of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission, said of Mandoyan's reinstatement. "It's very disturbing. I think every commissioner will be very bothered by this."
Out with the old administration's cronyism, and in with the new? Villanueva's public campaigning focused a lot on pushing immigration officials out of Los Angeles' jails (McDonnell had allowed Immigration and Customs Enforcement staff to maintain an office in there). But Villanueva also made it very clear that he believed deputies and those in lower ranks were being unfairly punished. He says he wants to potentially create some sort of commission to rehear the cases of deputies who believe they had been wronged in some fashion by the sheriff's department's disciplinary procedures. Villanueva claims that he had previously been unfairly targeted for discipline by department leadership for political reasons and denied promotions.
We may end up learning more about Mandoyan's case. With the start of the new year, new records about police conduct investigations are now covered by California's Public Records Act. The sheriff's department is supposed to release certain records about Mandoyan upon request, but there are limits and it's not quite clear whether they'd apply here. The law covers cases of sexual assault by law enforcement officers or where they are caught engaging in deception on the job (like perjury, or concealing or fabricating evidence). So an investigation on domestic violence or stalking might not fall under the new release rules. But the Times has submitted a public records request to see what they can get about Mandoyan's work history (similiarly, Reason has submitted a records request under the new rules for anything they have about Villanueva's history of discipline).
What's happening now should serve as a reminder of how hard it is to get rid of problem cops. But with these new public records laws, at least California residents can know who they are. Though law enforcement representatives are fighting to stop even that information from being released.