LA Deputy Fired Over Domestic Abuse, And Then Rehired, Gets To Keep His Gun And Badge (For Now)

(Maya Sugarman/KPCC)

A judge Wednesday rejected an effort by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to force Sheriff Alex Villanueva to seize the badge and gun of one of his deputies, who was fired in 2016 over domestic abuse allegations. Villanueva rehired Carl Mandoyan after his election in November, claiming he was unfairly fired by former Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

Mandoyan was a key aide in Villanueva's successful campaign to oust McDonnell. The sheriff has denied the reinstatement was connected to his campaign work.

"I'm not sure the board has the authority to tell the sheriff not to rehire a deputy," said Superior Court Judge Mitchell Beckloff, adding, "each county department head has the authority to hire eligible people."

"If the board controls the sheriff, why don't they fire the sheriff?" asked Beckloff, who went on to answer his own question: "Because they can't fire him."

The judge said he was also unconvinced by the county's argument that there was an urgent need to temporarily stop Mandoyan from acting as a deputy because McDonnell found him to be unfit to serve. The allegations over domestic abuse included a charge that Mandoyan stalked a fellow deputy. The civil service commission upheld his termination.

"What's the urgency?" Beckloff asked. "You've known about this for a while."

He set another hearing on the matter for June 26.

Mandoyan's attorney was elated.

"He's got a gun and badge and the judge said the board of supervisors cannot take it away from him," said attorney Greg Smith.

He declined to say exactly what Mandoyan is doing for the department. Mandoyan is assigned to the South L.A. station but has been seen at the sheriff's side at special events, including a graduation of new deputies from the academy.

REHIRED OR REINSTATED?

The county's lawyers argue Villanueva did not rehire but instead reinstated Mandoyan as a deputy. And there are rules that prohibit a sheriff from unilaterally reinstating a deputy, according to attorney Skip Miller.

"I'm concerned that a deputy who is no longer a deputy who went through the whole civil service process is out there holding himself out as a deputy and the sheriff is allowing it," Miller said. He said despite the judge's ruling, the county will continue to refuse to pay Mandoyan his salary.

Informed of Miller's comments, Smith said, "That's going to be a problem."

Attorneys for the sheriff declined to immediately comment.

Wednesday's hearing came in response to a county request that Beckloff not only order Mandoyan to relinquish his badge and gun, but that he enjoin Villanueva from recognizing Mandoyan as a deputy sheriff.

THE LETTER

The county filed the request after County Auditor-Controller John Naimo sent Mandoyan a letter on Feb. 28 informing him that his reinstatement was illegal and that he must return his badge and gun.

Miller said McDonnell fired Mandoyan in 2016 after the former sheriff concluded he had engaged in domestic abuse, breaking and entering into his ex-girlfiend's home and being untruthful about it with internal affairs investigators.

"He should not have a badge and gun and uniform," Miller said.

Once Mandoyan's rehiring became public, the Board of Supervisors sharply criticized the decision, saying it sends the wrong message to victims of domestic violence.

Some community groups echoed that criticism. The ACLU and a number of other organizations sent Villanueva a letter last month calling his decision to reinstate Mandoyan "deeply troubling," and accusing him of a "failure to take violence against women and abuse of power seriously."

Villanueva held his ground, dismissing those concerns and suggesting that because the female deputy refused to show up in court against Mandoyan that her allegations lacked merit. That further incensed at least some of the female supervisors, who said the sheriff's remarks betrayed a lack of understanding of how women deal with abuse.

The panel Villanueva set up to review Mandoyan's case said he had acted "in an irrational, unprofessional and impulsive manner" and "brought discredit to himself and the department" but still concluded that he should be rehired, according to a report obtained by the Los Angeles Times.

The group could not confirm the woman's claims that Mandoyan had physically abused her or that he had tried to break into her home, but it did say he had gone there, repeatedly knocked on her patio door and opened her unlocked bathroom window after she told him several times to leave, the Times said.

But in the end, the panel decided that "an individual should not be subjected to discipline based upon a police report alone and/or a temporary restraining order" without a conviction.