Board of Supervisors order study in effort to assume control of Sheriff’s Department Personnel Division

Gathering lawsuits, credible accusations of cheating on exams, favoritism and Sheriff Villanueva’s handling of ex-deputy’s reinstatement cited as reasons behind effort to to strip away department’s ability to hire and promote their own personnel.  

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors could soon assume control of the Sheriff’s department Personnel Administration Division, removing Villanueva’s independence to hire and promote within the organization.  Sheriff’s Department employees close to the subject report the Board of Supervisors has enlisted the County Department of Human Resources to conduct a study that could determine the feasibility of the idea and develop a path forward. 

This is not the first time the Board has sought to strip Sheriff Villanueva of his duties.  In March of 2020, the Board removed Villanueva as chief of County Emergency Operations over concerns of mismanagement and in January the following year, the Board considered amending the county charter as a way to remove Sheriff Villanueva from office.  Although the Board did not take action to remove Villanueva, there was no misunderstanding about the lengths they might go to neuter his power.

As Villanueva approaches the end of his first term, a look in the rearview mirror provides a greater understanding. We recently told you about a new lawsuit alleging the sheriff and his wife Vivian Villanueva colluded to derail the career of Sheriff’s Academy Drill Instructor, Deputy Lina Pimentel.  In that lawsuit, Pimentel alleges she suffered retaliation after recruit Natalie Garcia was disqualified twice for failing to meet the state’s standard for physical training.  As it turned out, Garcia was a close friend of Vivian Villanueva.  In that lawsuit, Pimentel alleges Vivian Villanueva appeared at the training academy, angrily berated Pimentel in front of colleagues and called Pimentel a “c—“.  Vivian Villanueva was said to be so irate that she made veiled threats of violence against Deputy Pimentel for disqualifying her friend, Recruit Garcia.

If the allegations are proven, it will be no surprise since Vivian Villanueva has a reputation for a legendary temper and controlling personality that often affects policy decisions made by the sheriff.  In a previous post titled Who is Vivian Villanueva?, we attached an audio clip of Vivian that says it all. 

Then in January of this year, a lawsuit was filed by Deputy Rosa Gonzalez against Sheriff Villanueva and the commanding officer of Personnel Administration Bureau, Captain Yvonne O’brien.  In that lawsuit Gonzalez says that another employee admitted to receiving the questions and answers to a promotional exam from O’brien and that O’brien orchestrated the falsification of time records to make it appear as if the employee was on duty when in fact they were not.

The lawsuit states that Sheriff Villanueva was aware of and condoned this scheme, all to help a favored employee. Deputy Gonzalez says she suffered swift retaliation for exposing what is a criminal act under state law. 

The Mother of All

But perhaps the most glaring concern for Sheriff Villanueva’s mismanagement of personnel decisions was his rehiring of disgraced deputy Caren Mandoyan. Mandoyan had been fired for domestic violence by previous Sheriff Jim McDonnell and lost all appeals.  Mandoyan, who at the time of his firing was an enthusiastic supporter of candidate for sheriff Bob Lindsey, quickly switched to Team Villanueva after Lindsey’s primary defeat.  Soon after a runoff was declared between Villanueva and incumbent Jim McDonnell, Mandoyan pursued to endear himself to candidate Alex Villanueva. 

Mandoyan’s support for Villanueva was far more than superficial.  Mandoyan cozied himself to such an extent that he replaced one of Villanueva’s most trusted inner-circle campaign team members, elevating himself as Villanueva’s personal driver and body guard for the remainder of his campaign.  In return for Mandoyan’s loyalty, Villanueva promised to rehire him after the election, and that promise was kept. 

Against the advice of Villanueva’s transition team who warned him that such a rush to rehire Mandoyan was a mistake and a political minefield, the new sheriff ordered Personnel Administration Bureau to expedite Mandoyan’s reinstatement in time for the swearing in ceremony. The appearance of Mandoyan standing on stage next to the sheriff was meant as a message to McDonnell and sparked the predicted firestorm.

Caren Mandoyan at swearing in with Sheriff as he is pinned by wife Vivian

However, Mandoyan’s new lease on life was short lived and a preliminary ruling denied his reinstatement.

So with the full and complete support of Sheriff Villanueva and his wife Vivian, Mandoyan fought the case into superior court but eventually lost again.  Meanwhile, the case had become a festering blister on the backside of the Board who used the case as a test to determine the limits of a sitting sheriff to hire and fire who he chooses. 

The Mandoyan case and Sheriff Villanueva’s will to defy all common sense reasoning led to the destruction of relationship between Villanueva and his own County Council, the Board of Supervisors, nearly every oversight entity, and undermined the support of Inspector General, Max Huntsman.    

In fact for a time after it was decided that Sheriff Villanueva overstepped his authority to rehire Mandoyan, Villanueva defiantly allowed Mandoyan to work for him even without pay.

It will be interesting to see if the rank in file choose to support Villanueva who portrayed himself as the anti-corruption candidate.  These lawsuits do not appear lacking in merit or evidence. As department members, one must cringe at the similarities between the organization under Villanueva and the pay-to-play under Tanaka. 

What does a sheriff ‘s department even look like without the ability to manage its own personnel? Probably not very good. Perhaps none of this will happen if Sheriff Villanueva is missing from the department landscape going forward.

Just as a judge instructs a jury; if a witness was found to have lied about part of his testimony, you may disregard everything else he said under oath.  The county deserves a better leader than Sheriff Villanueva and wife Vivian.