On the morning of Tuesday, January 29, Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva made a surprise visit to the weekly board of supervisors meeting to defend his recent decision to reinstate a deputy named Caren Carl Mandoyan, who was discharged in 2015 from the LASD for allegations of domestic abuse, stalking, and spying on his ex-girlfriend, who was at the time, also a deputy working at the department.
Villanueva’s appearance was precipitated by a motion sponsored by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Sheila Kuehl having to do with the rehiring of Mandoyan, which has been, according to the motion, “the subject of serious debate and concern” because of the way Villanueva seemed to unilaterally decide to reinstate the allegedly abusive deputy, without any easily discernible process.
It didn’t help that, earlier in the month, the sheriff told the LASD’s Civilian Oversight Commission (COC) that, among the reasons he felt the charges against Mandoyan were suspect, was the fact that female deputy involved waited a year before reporting her ex’s alleged actions, then resigned from the department before testifying at his 2017 civil service hearings—never mind that victims of domestic abuse often delay reporting assaults—if they report the attacks at all—because of the fear and shame they experience.
(According to a civil lawsuit filed by Mandoyan against the department and his ex in August 2018, she did in fact testify at Mandoyan’s civil service hearing, but we’ll get to that in a minute.)
A quickie back story
In case you’ve somehow missed the basics of the Mandoyan reinstatement, according to the LA Times, which originally broke the story, the alleged victim stated in an application for a temporary restraining order that Mandoyan grabbed her by the back of her neck and pushed her face down into a couch, then ripped off her jeans and continued to squeeze her neck “for as long as 30 seconds.”
She further alleged that when she escaped and tried to lock herself in a bathroom, Mandoyan kicked in the door and broke it, according to the Times’ Maya Lau.
Then, after the incident, Mandoyan allegedly spied on his ex, attempted to break into her house several times, listened in on conversations with friends, threatened her, and so on.
Why Mandoyan was chosen to be first on the list of those who are hoping to have their cases reconsidered is still unclear. However, the former deputy was one of those most visible on the stage during the sheriff’s swearing in ceremony, and was reportedly a prominent presence in the new sheriff’s campaign, and during the post-election transition period.
He was also credited with helping to get the deputies union, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs (ALADS), to give Villanueva their endorsement, which also carried with it a healthy pot of cash, although Villanueva has since disputed that perception.
“There are grave concerns over how this particular matter has been handled and the message it sends to all of the men and women in law enforcement, as well as victims of domestic violence and the public at large,” Barger and Kuehl stated in their motion.
With these “grave concerns” in mind, the motion took the unusual step of directing the county’s chief executive officer to send “a 5-signature letter” to the sheriff that, among other things, requested his reconsideration of the rehiring and a response to the board’s concerns.
“The deputy’s discharge was based on documented evidence and the grounds for termination were upheld by the Civil Service Commission,” wrote Barger and Kuehl. They then cited the recent COC hearing, where the sheriff, they wrote, “revealed that his actions were based on his own personal doubts about the accuser’s credibility and time lapses between the alleged crimes and the report made.”
The motion also directed county counsel to provide a report within two weeks, “on the procedures to be undertaken” when there is this sort of conflict between the Supes and the sheriff.
Enter the sheriff
When the sheriff showed up at the board meeting just before the motion was to come up for a vote, although there had been no official request for him to be present, the supervisors took the opportunity to begin the Mandoyan conversation with Villanueva right away.
“Every employee of LA County is an employee of this board,” Kuehl told Villanueva, after thanking him for coming, “And it is not the case that any department head, including the sheriff, though you’re independently elected—can simply do anything they want after there’s been a finding by the civil service commission that uphold a termination.”
Any other department, according to Kuehl “would have to go court” in order to have such a firing overturned. “So I really want us to be able to clarify that because none of us is so independent that we can do anything we damn well please.”
Villanueva responded by telling board that the department he inherited had “undermined the entire integrity of the civil service system” and had financially “incentivized” civil services hearing officers to rule “in favor of the county.”
The sheriff said that he intended to correct the mess that he implied his predecessor had left him with his soon-to-be-formed Truth and Reconciliation commission, which would review the cases of potentially wrongly terminated deputies.
Moving forward, his administration would not…”make it up as we go along, because it’s politically expedient to have a high body count to show off to the press and say, ‘look what a reformer I am.'”
Kuehl was not persuaded.
“It’s pretty standard when people are accused of doing something that others don’t approve of, that they try to deflect the blame on to others. And you’re deflecting the blame to the civil service commission. It may seem like the right move to you,” she said. But perhaps he didn’t know about an 18-month study the board had ordered on the civil service commission.
What they discovered from the study, she said, was that in a “very, very high percentage of cases” the commission found for the employees.
“So your claim that they may have been weighted against the deputies, I have my doubts about it in terms of what I know about that report, and about the history of that board.”
When Barger took over the questioning, she too said that she’d been bothered by the fact that Villanueva had so easily reversed a termination that civil service had confirmed.
“For them to uphold” the Mandoyan case “5 to 0 caused me pause because that’s very unusual,” she said, “especially when it comes to a firing. Usually with a firing they tend to look at it and say, ‘That’s too harsh,’ and move it to a 30-day or 15-day suspension.”
A look behind the legal curtain
Barger also asked Villanueva if the deputy who had been reinstated would be willing to “waive his right to privacy” and release his personnel records, “given that he believes the facts [of his case] do not set for the legitimate grounds for termination.”
The sheriff said that the deputy would indeed waive his right to privacy, and that the board could review the full records in a closed session.
(Editor’s update: On Wednesday morning at a press conference, Villanueva admitted that Mandoyan would not, in fact, be waving his rights after all, and his files would not be made available—even to the supervisors—even in closed session.)
“When you understand the totality of this, you will have an entirely different perspective. I promise you that,” Villanueva told the board.
Kuehl smiled. “I look forward to it,” she replied dryly.
A few minutes later, the motion was passed unanimously.
Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, who was out sick thus not present,* sent out a statement after the board meeting had finished.
“I was deeply troubled when I first learned about the Sheriff’s unilateral decision to rehire a deputy who had been fired for alleged domestic violence, a termination upheld by the Civil Service Commission,” he wrote. “My concerns were further amplified when I heard the Sheriff’s testimony before the Board of Supervisors.”
Contrary to what the sheriff implied, Ridley-Thomas continued, he did “not believe that County Counsel approved the Sheriff’s actions. His extraordinary personnel decision sends the wrong message to both victims and other deputies.”
According to Carl Mandoyan’s civil complaint, he was relived of duty on July 10, 2015, and terminated on September 14, 2016.
Mandoyan and his attorney wrote in the complaint that his termination was upheld by civil service, because of the recording of a phone call without his “consent or knowledge” by his ex, which was “improperly provided” to the civil service hearing officer…”by her supervisors.”
The recording of the allegedly illegal phone call, a video that supposedly shows Mandoyan climbing uninvited through his ex’s window, and other related items, would have presumably been in the package that was to have been sent to the supervisors. But, as mentioned in the update above, they will no longer be provided, as Mandoyan has now elected to keep his file secret.**
Sheriff Villanueva has yet to announce the names of those who will act as his constitutional policing advisors, whom he said will also head up his Truth and Reconciliation commission.
But one of the names that is reportedly being prominently floated is that of Michael Goldfeder—who is also Carl Mandoyan’s attorney.
*WitnessLA originally failed to explain that Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas was home sick on Tuesday, and thus didn’t comment until his emailed statement, which he provided after the meeting.
**This story was last updated at 10:25 a.m. on Wednesday, January 30.
The photo at the top is courtesy of the LA County Board of Supervisors.