Sheriff Alex Villaneuva’s reinstatement of a deputy — which led county officials to file a lawsuit against the sheriff — was a rush to judgment contradicted by key evidence that may have gone unreviewed by the new administration, according to a report released Tuesday by the Office of Inspector General.
Even before he took office in December, Villanueva was working to try and reinstate former Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Deputy Caren Mandoyan, the report concluded. Mandoyan had been fired based on allegations of domestic violence, stalking, and harassment of a woman he had dated after the two began working together in 2012 at the West Hollywood Sheriff’s Station. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department also found that Mandoyan lied to Internal Affairs investigators. The identity of the woman, who obtained a restraining order against Mandoyan, has not been revealed
“The evidence we reviewed suggests that Mandoyan’s return to duty may have been preordained, rather than the product of an objective `Truth and Reconciliation’ process,” the OIG report stated.
“In approximately 25 days, the Truth and Reconciliation Panel overturned a year-long administrative process that involved hundreds of pages of interviews, documents, and other exhibits, and that was subsequently affirmed through a five-day Civil Service Hearing. Historically LASD has struggled to make evidence-based discipline decisions rapidly. Further, the findings in a memorandum setting forth the analysis of the Panel are silent on key pieces of evidence, including video evidence and corroborating witness statements,” according to the report.
Villanueva’s election victory was due in part to the support of rank- and-file deputies attracted by campaign promises of wide-ranging reforms, including a “Truth and Reconciliation” process to relitigate disciplinary decisions. Mandoyan was a campaign aide.
Shortly after Villanueva’s election, the OIG made a formal request to the department asking for notification of any action on Truth and Reconciliation and received no response.
In January, the OIG learned about Mandoyan’s reinstatement. After an extensive re-review of the case, the OIG concluded that substantial evidence — including a 500-page investigation file — supported Mandoyan’s discharge, key pieces of evidence may not have been considered by Villaneuva and no evidence identified any bias against the deputy in the discipline process.
The settlement agreement reinstating Mandoyan in exchange for dismissing civil claims against the county may be invalid, according to the OIG. That position would support the stance taken by the county Board of Supervisors in its lawsuit.
A summary of the case against Mandoyan notes he was originally a reserve deputy and met the victim in the domestic violence case when they were both deputies at the West Hollywood Station. When Mandoyan was transferred to the South Los Angeles Station, he became suspicious the woman was cheating on him and would call several times a day to check up on her.
Mandoyan allegedly threatened the woman and told her he had highly placed friends in the department, leading her to fear for her own job and for her father, who was also a deputy with the department.
She alleged that Mandoyan physically assaulted her in September 2014 and then, three months later, after they ended their relationship, tried to break into her apartment.
In June 2015, she reported continuing harassment to her supervisor, who told the woman she needed to file a police report. Mandoyan was relieved of duty the next month and the complainant obtained a temporary restraining order in July.
Civil Service Commission files of the case, obtained by several news organizations, include interviews with the woman, identified as Deputy X. She said that in his threats to her Mandoyan said that he is a tattoo-wearing member of the deputy clique, “The Grim Reapers.” She also alleged that Mandoyan grabbed her phone and deleted texts, recordings, and contact information as part of his effort to control her. Videos included in the commission investigation show Mandoyan allegedly breaking into the apartment of Deputy X through the bathroom window.
The District Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges citing insufficient evidence to overcome reasonable doubt, but Mandoyan was discharged in September.
The OIG said the evidence — including video and phone recordings — showed that Mandoyan was unfit to be rehired as a deputy.
The OIG also concluded that Villanueva’s many comments in support of Mandoyan — saying his due process rights were violated, for example — were not supported by the facts.
A response from Villaneuva or the Sheriff’s Department to the OIG report was not immediately available.
An attorney representing the sheriff and the department in the county lawsuit told the Los Angeles Times that a prior draft of the OIG report was “blatantly skewed” in favor of the Board of Supervisors and attacked the credibility of Mandoyan’s accuser.
“The report is part of an ongoing attack against the sheriff by the Board of Supervisors,” Steven Madison told the newspaper.