LASD Law Enforcement

Should the LA County Sheriff’s Department Be Able to Fire Deputies Who Lie?

Celeste Fremon
Written by Celeste Fremon

What Does It Take to Get Fired Around Here?

It turns out that firing, or even sanctioning, law enforcement officers in the County of Los Angeles is often not so easy—even when executives of the law enforcement agencies who employ the misbehaving officers feel that firing is necessary for public safety.

Next week the LA County Board of Supervisors may take a large step toward making such terminations or sanctions more achievable by passing a motion sponsored by board members Mark Ridley-Thomas and Sheila Kuehl, which would look into amending the relevant part of the county’s civil service rules to allow “discharges, reductions, promotions or reassignments” of county employees involved with public safety and/or custody, if those employees are found to have deliberately…well….lied, in any consequential way.

The issue came to public notice a year ago when LA Times reporter Cindy Chang reported that LA County Sheriff Jim McDonnell wanted to fire deputies who had lied about significant issues—like, say where a deputy found a gun after an arrest, or whether or not a deputy saw a fellow deputy pummeling a non-resistant jail inmate. But evidently when the sheriff did take action on such employees, he reportedly often found that the county’s five-member civil service commission reinstated the people whom he had terminated.

“My question is, for someone who is proven to be untruthful or lacks integrity or committed acts of theft, insubordination, those kinds of things, where can I put someone like this?” McDonnell said to Chang. “Where can I comfortably deploy people where we don’t have that level of trust?”

(By the way, LA County Probation has reportedly dealt with similar civil service-forced reinstatements that many thought questionable, in the last couple of years, according to department sources close to such issues.)

McDonnell’s distress was understandable. After coming out of a period of scandal that has, to date, produced twenty-one federal convictions, plus a string of high-ticket lawsuits that still show no sign of slowing down, it would seem logical that, for the LASD in particular, barring extraordinary extenuating circumstances, any kind of serious lie proven to have been told on the job should be a deal breaker when it comes to protecting and serving in LA County.

Ridley-Thomas and Kuehl stated as much in their motion:

“… certain public service positions require absolute trustworthiness and when an employee is dishonest, they are no longer qualified to hold such a position and must be discharged or reassigned to a non-public safety position,” they wrote. “This is especially true of peace officers who have been entrusted to protect, honor, and preserve fundamental rights and liberties guaranteed by the United States Constitution. The job of peace officer simply cannot be entrusted to anyone who is not scrupulously honest.”


The Brady List

The issue of lying and the LASD came up in a different but related context last month when an appeals court stopped Sheriff McDonnell from giving the LA District Attorney’s office a 300-name “Brady list.” The list consisted of department members who had been investigated by the LASD and found to have engaged in one or more nefarious activities, the existence of which would qualify as exculpatory information that a defendant in a criminal case should rightfully be told under the landmark 1963 Supreme Court ruling of Brady v. Maryland. (Brady, if you’ll remember, is the SCOTUS ruling that requires prosecutors to turn over to the defense team anything that could be helpful to their client.)

According to a letter from the sheriff to the Brady deputies that the LA Times’ Maya Lau acquired, the violations that could get one on McDonnell’s Brady list included things like false statements, tampering with evidence, obstructing an investigation, influencing a witness, discriminatory harassment, using unreasonable force, and a few more where those came from.

But, although many supported the move, even inside the department, the list never reached the DA’s Office (which hadn’t decided if it wanted the compilation anyway), because the county’s deputies’ union, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs—or ALADS—sued to stop McDonnell from turning it over claiming that the list of 300 violated deputy privacy and therefore state law. A Superior Court judge, followed by a two-judge appeals panel, agreed with ALADS.

Last week the sheriff’s department’s civilian oversight commission passed a resolution that supported the sheriff’s Brady list.

Next, the ACLU of Southern California sent a strongly worded letter in support of the commission’s support of McDonnell. (The ACLU also filed an amicus brief in McDonnell’s behalf with the appeals court.)

Still the list remains in limbo.

Yet, the supervisors’ new motion also addresses the Brady list issue, a least tangentially:

It mentions a 2014 Amendment to the Peace Officer’s Bill of Rights that authorizes Civil Service Commissions throughout the state to decide whether an officer who winds up on a Brady list should be fired as a result of “conduct that makes him or her no longer a credible witness.”

The motion states unequivocally that “district Attorneys, Sheriffs and Police Chiefs” should track and prepare Brady Lists “to comply with their constitutionally mandated duties,” and to “protect communities and municipalities.” Then it asks county officials to figure out which county employees “might be appropriately subject to a Brady List,” in order, it seems, to figure out who might then, in turn, be subject to the proposed amendment to the civil service rules.

Last week Peter Eliasberg, Chief Counsel of the So Cal ACLU, and Peter Bibring, Senior Staff Attorney, sent another letter, this time praising the new board motion, and strongly suggesting an additional amendment, that would allow the public to “know whether law enforcement agencies in Los Angeles County are maintaining such [Brady] list and voluntarily providing the names of officers on that list to the District Attorney whenever a case has been filed in which an officer on the list may be a witness.

WLA agrees.

And we will, of course, continue to track this interesting and important interweave of issues.


PostScript: If you want to read what happened in another interesting California case involving Brady, prosecutors, and police privacy issues have a look at this 2015 story of ours.

25 Comments

  • The concept is great; however, there are many out there being wrongfully terminated due to the terribly weak standard of proof the Department uses. It IS NOT fact based, rather subjective based on the feelings, hunches, and personal biases of the case reviewers. the standard is merely the preponderance of the evidence….49%-51%.

    I personally aware of an individual who had this exact thing happen to her. The Department 1.) had zero proof the allegations occurred. 2.) had zero proof of any lying. Yet, that was good enough, as the allegations involved use of the “N” word. It was straight PC move by the Department to avoid litigation or press exposure. To make matters worse, the allegations claimed the incident happened over 5 years ago, in an off-duty capacity, at a recreational event. Additionally, she was not a problem employee by any means, years of tenure, outstanding evaluations, awards, etc.

    Tanaka protege Hebert ran with the case the moment it came in. Obviously there is a ton of information to add, but nothing of substance that would have any weight or bearing on the ability of the Department to “PROVE” the allegation of lying.

    • Department executives don’t give a rat’s ass about “preponderance of evidence.” They instruct IAB or ICIB to cobble together two or three facts and make investigations “founded.” Standard practice, rubber stamped by Mannis for decades now. That leaves it up to the poor victim to go outside the department to Civil Service to challenge the decision, and that’s where the department’s case usually falls apart.

      This is a prime example of unethical executive misconduct, and it happens on a regular basis under McDonnell. There may be dozens of facts that support exoneration, but the executives ignore them in favor of the three things they try to hang their hat on. It’s comical to see them squirming on the stand, under oath, trying to defend their decisions.

      Fresh eyes: yes, your executives are lying under oath when they do this. Add them to your Brady list. Better yet, fire them.

  • What about when executives lie aka Tomas Angel ( he’s Hispanic by the way) when it suits him. Allowed to resign cause Jimmy didn’t have the marbles to fire. assistant Sheriff Iron Mike Rothans riding dirty in his stolen Audi was able to shamefully step down on his terms again no marbles. Commander Fennel sexually harassing LT’s no punishment LMAO son making daddy proud. What do they say kids mimic there parents. I hear Long Beach PD is ecstatic that he’s gone. Hey jimmy go back to Boston

  • The disciplinary rules of the department already allow for the firing of deputies who lie. Brady v. Maryland is case law which addresses this issue as well. Changing Civil Service rules will affect more than just the LASD. This is all just smoke and mirrors to take attention away from the mismanagement by the current executive staff. What about firing a sitting sheriff who says gold snaps are for officer safety at the cost of $300,000+ of taxpayer money? That’s quite a whopper, but will he face sanction? Doubtful. The new boss is the same as the old one.

  • Hell yes!! You lie, you’re fired. You pick on a 13-year old, you’re fired. You recording your fat ass in a police car, you’re fired. Notice we only ask that question of government employees. Anywhere else it would be a stupid question.

  • Why is our focus on the firing of deputies who lie……when the behavior is obviously accepted, tolerated, and exhibited by the leaders on our Department….until the Executives on the Department are held to the same standards as deputies….this conversation is mute…..Martel is right…..new boss same as the old boss…..

  • You lie, you die, has always been the standard. Unfortunately that standard is subjective. It’s my opinion the Sheriff accepts the double standard beause he lacks the courage to can executives he’s promoted unless the issue involving the executive becomes a media circus. Either that or he’s too blind to see the forest through the trees. Either way, he has no business holding the position he’s in. Just another politician speaking out of both side of his mouth.

  • Fennell vs Walton: I don’t know the truth regarding the civil suit…..other than Commander Fennell admitted to making “raunchy texts” to Lt. Walton (Policy of Equality violation). I do know the use of the “rape defense” by the Department (she dressed provocatively) was sickening…..shows how far the Department will go to win a civil case regardless of the truth/facts…..

    • ……and now Jr. is in hot water over the mistreatment of women. Belt Buckle needs to wake up and focus on gaining the respect of the good men and women in his department. Instead, he focuses on how to get out of civil litigation instead of holding his misbehaving officers accountable. Wake up Belt Buckle, the difference between silver and gold is inconsequential to good performing and well supported deputies.

  • “Buttons” won’t fire these guys or acknowledge their wrongdoing because he would have to admit he made bad decisions. When’s the last time you heard a high-ranking law enforcement administrator admit they were wrong? About anything? Yet, they demand deputy sheriff’s and sergeants be accountable. “Buttons” is a fraud. And then there is always the higher-ups who have dirt on their boss, and the boss knows it. The biggest liars in law enforcement are found at HQ. I’ve always believed that if you want to get rid of corruption in law enforcement, don’t focus on street soldiers. Body cams belong on the folks at HQ.

  • He who owns the court makes the rules. When you are running the show, you make the rules and adjust them as you see fit.

  • If “Buttons” proclamation to his personnel and the media that changing the uniform buttons/snaps to brass is an “officer safety” issue isn’t a lie, than there is no such thing as a lie. He’d be hard pressed to spend $300,000 on a uniform change simply because he doesn’t like the current look, which has been around for decades. So, “Buttons” lied. He lied, lied, lied. He knew it wouldn’t look good to spend so much on a cosmetic uniform change, so he lied! You can make the rules when you’re the boss but you can’t lie. I don’t care who you are. Not in law enforcement. So, he should be investigated just like he’s​ investigating and trying to ruin a bunch of careers of good deputy sheriff’s.

  • LA county sheriff’s and jails are full of untrustworthy, lying, conniving officers. Not all of them but most are! I have been lied to, misdirected and mislead!

  • Celeste is a true believer. She has faith in politicians, laws, the ACLU, the FBI, the whole government establishment when it comes right down to it. Which is kind of ironic when you consider literally half of the stories she writes about is how that same government fails through incompetence, laziness, corruption, cronyism, etc. There she is, supporting a new county policy against lying, written by politicians no less ( I guess they would know). Never mind all those old rules against lying that no one pays attention to, this time we really mean it!

  • Let’s face it, we have some screw ups. Every one of us has seen somebody get away with something they should not have. The profession we are in demands that we are above everyone else when it comes to ethical standards. I agree we have some very unethical Executives, and “Fresh Eyes” now owns every one of them. He has allowed them to stay, and he has continued to promote them, But dammit when some unethical piece of crap, out there (and we have quite a few out there) tarnishes the badge, The badge of honor we all wear, then they should be GONE.

  • Sheriff McDonnell;
    In one breath HE will say HE’S critically low on funds for things…. and can’t afford that without additional funding.

    In another breath HE will say its a drop in the bucket of his overall budget….

    Due to HIS decisions on running HIS department, HE’S forcing, mandatory, many of HIS deputies to work up to 64 hours of overtime a month. Being tired, not in the happiest state of mind from never having any positive contacts with their families and friends, because all they do is sleep and work, they don’t have time to workout and stay in peak shape, they don’t have time to cook their better meals, so the fast food drive thru becomes the norm, I wonder how that impacts poor behavior, mistakes on the part of HIS deputies.

    Then HE has the arrogance, and basically the stupidity, to say $300,000.00 in belt buckles “completes the tactical package.” AKA, it will help keep them safe. Exposing HIS utter lack of any true experience as a street cop. Like most political administrators, if we dissect his career, probably going to be no real time spent anywhere, really doing any true, credible, time in the barrel, necessary to have really gained the necessary experience to be a leader, so all he can be is a political administrator.

    $300,000.00 towards lessening mandatory overtime, $300,000.00 towards more training for YOUR deputies, $300,000.00 towards more equipment….

    A LEADER would have never made this decision, and would have stopped it before his staff got traction with it, and would be apologizing for it happening under his watch if his staff had gotten it done before he could stop it.

    Bottom line, truth, HE wanted it. HE liked the way HE looked in it. Just like all the hats and jackets changed. HE prioritized how HE looked over all other things.

    He runs around “fist” bumping his staff and loves to be in front of the news camera. The New Emperor has new clothes and the staff, BaNaKaLyTe’s, feel safe and comfortably at home praising HIM, and the continuance of PAY-TO-PLAY.

    • Speaking of Pay-To-Play, just wait until you see the new batting order, with the new executive aids. It will NEVER CHANGE

  • We should bear in mind that Sheriff McDonnell only appears to be a moral genius when standing next to a guy like former Sheriff Lee Baca. When standing alone, on his own merits, Sheriff McDonnell is as small ethically as any other leader who is aware of and willfully tolerates on-going financial fraud against the Los Angeles taxpayer. The present Sheriff is not exactly the best messenger for this article’s message. He long ago traded off his management credibility and ethical legitimacy. To pose like a moral crusader after having failed to properly investigate the on-going public corruption and fraud involving multiple violations of civil service rules, state statutes, and state and federal retirement laws, and POST regulations, that LATBG and others have previously outlined, is pretty rich.

    With some formal effort, it might yet be possible to add Sheriff McDonnell’s name to the Brady list. The question the Sheriff asks, “My question is…” can be turned around: “Our question is, for someone who […] lacks integrity […] where can we put someone like this?”

    Realistically, the Department needs an agent of change from the inside, someone who is intelligent, reasonable, tough, yet supportive and developmental, who has some charisma and humility, is professional, truth-seeking, fair, transparent, having had worked the streets, custody, maybe detectives, someone who understand justice as a public good, is ethical, but not a Charlie Parks-like Pharisee. By most tallies, this fella ain’t cutting it. Boy, do I wish it were otherwise. Such a waste, and a damn shame.

  • Should departments be able to fire officers that lie about something material? Absolutely. Problem is, most officers lie about something material. Police reports (material); investigations (material); process for filing a complaint (material); sworn testimony (material).

    Just make sure the candidate pool is large enough to replace those who will be let go.

  • I agree that it’s critical to hold deputies to a higher standard of integrity regarding in particular, honesty, than the general populace. However, I find it troubling that this Sheriff sends a conflicting message by recently promoting a North Patrol Division Captain to Commander, when this individual was disciplined as a deputy, for lying on a report while working Century station. It seems the sheriff wants to have it both ways — or perhaps I should give him the benefit of the doubt and realize that he will put this new Commander’s name on that Brady list? If the sheriff wants the support and respect of his troops, he should apply the same standards to everyone who has a star on their chest.

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