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LA sheriff's official says she quit after 'highly unethical' demand to rehire deputy fired for abuse

Maya Lauff Writer, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

LOS ANGELES -- A top official in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said she left the agency after 34 years rather than carry out what she said was a "highly unethical" and "unheard of" directive from Sheriff Alex Villanueva to reinstate a fired deputy and alter his disciplinary record, court papers reviewed by the Los Angeles Times show.

Alicia Ault, who served as chief of the department's professional standards and training division before her resignation last year, said she was told by the incoming sheriff's chief of staff that it was Villanueva's "No. 1 priority" to reinstate Caren Carl Mandoyan before Villanueva took office so it would appear to have been done by the administration of former Sheriff Jim McDonnell, according to a deposition she gave in the county's lawsuit over the reinstatement, which was filed in court Wednesday.

Ault's deposition is part of the county's unusual legal action against Villanueva, Mandoyan and the Sheriff's Department. County supervisors and watchdogs, including the county inspector general, have criticized the sheriff for rehiring Mandoyan after he was fired in 2016 for domestic violence and for lying about his actions.

Supervisors asked Villanueva to rescind the hiring, saying it sends a troubling message to victims of domestic abuse, but the sheriff has refused.

The sheriff has defended Mandoyan, arguing that the deputy was punished unfairly under McDonnell's tenure, and said the rehiring was approved by an independent "truth and reconciliation" committee.

The legal filings Wednesday also include a deposition from Villanueva's former second-in-command, Ray Leyva, who was abruptly fired in March. Leyva said under oath that he reviewed video evidence in Mandoyan's case that showed the deputy tried to pry open a woman's door and had indeed lied about it, as investigators initially found.

 

Leyva said he believed the sheriff's reconciliation committee deliberately "skewed" evidence to justify reinstating the deputy. He said he repeatedly clashed with Villanueva in disputes that he said arose after he told the new sheriff he had to adhere to policies and procedures on various issues.

The Sheriff's Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment Wednesday. Steve Madison, an attorney who represents Villanueva and the department in the lawsuit brought by the county, said he has not had the chance to review the filings but plans to present new evidence that will support his clients' case.

Mandoyan, through his attorney, Greg Smith, has denied wrongdoing and said his initial firing was unfair. Smith said Wednesday he disagrees with the way Ault and Leyva have characterized events, noting that their testimony should be viewed in light of their fraught departures from the department.

Ault said in her deposition that the directive to reinstate Mandoyan came in a phone call from Villanueva's incoming chief of staff, Lawrence Del Mese, on Nov. 26, seven days before Villanueva's swearing-in Dec. 3. She said Del Mese told her he was looking at her picture on an organizational chart as he gave the order, a comment she perceived as a threat that her job was on the line.

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