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Sheriff’s Alleged Harassment Of County CEO Prompts $1.5M Settlement, Private Security Deal

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L.A. County CEO Sachi Hamai at the 2019 LA Promise Fund's "Hello Future" Summit. (Rachel Murray/Getty Images for the Summit)
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In an unusual move, L.A. County has agreed to provide outgoing CEO Sachi Hamai with full-time private security and $1.5 million to settle claims she brought regarding "severe and pervasive harassment, defamation, malicious prosecution and hostility" by Sheriff Alex Villanueva, according to a county attorney and a legal settlement obtained by LAist.

The settlement — approved by the county's Board of Supervisors — lists several instances of Villanueva’s alleged wrongdoing, including "falsely telling the press Hamai had denied first responders their salaries, inciting individuals to threaten to post her home address and harm her there."

County litigation counsel Skip Miller confirmed that the county will provide Hamai with security through the end of Villanueva’s first term or until she and the security company agree to end it, whichever comes first. He told us the county has been providing Hamai with security since earlier this year.

In a confidential letter to the supervisors that we obtained, Miller said "malicious attacks" have led to threats against the CEO on social media, such as: "Wait till Hamai fears for her life and the life of her family;" and "A crime at her house may end up in the unsolved case file before the ink dries on the report."

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The settlement also said the sheriff had publicly accused Hamai of "having committed a felony for having a 'financial interest' in a County matter, which he knew was false." This refers to statements Villanueva made about the CEO serving on the board of United Way of Greater Los Angeles, which voted to back a November ballot measure to redirect funding from the Sheriff’s Department to other services. Hamai stepped down from the board before it voted, and said she hadn’t been aware of United Way’s work on the initiative.

Villanueva issued a statement Thursday evening blasting the settlement, saying, "[s]ome would describe this as a backdoor way to give someone a 'golden handshake' after they leave their position."

He added: "Settling CEO Hamai’s allegations without a legitimate inquiry, bypassing standard procedure, gives the appearance of an illegal gift of public funds." The sheriff said the episode raises a series of questions, including whether Hamai ever filed a formal complaint or lawsuit, and how much will her security arrangement cost taxpayers.

Villanueva also asked: "How is it not a conflict of interest for County contract attorney Skip Miller to have represented both the CEO and the Board in the same transaction?"

Hamai issued a statement Thursday, saying, "it is so disheartening that I have been subjected to a hostile and toxic work environment created by a fellow department head."

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"As I leave County service, it is my sincere hope that no other County employee, male or female, in any part of our great organization, should have to face hostility of this kind, let alone from a department head in a position of power and public trust."

Hamai, who worked for the county for more than three decades and served as CEO for the last five years, is retiring on Monday.

Villanueva has clashed repeatedly with Hamai and the Board of Supervisors since he took office in late 2018. In one high profile confrontation, when the sheriff re-hired a deputy who had been fired over allegations of domestic violence and lying, the board went to court to block him.

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