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Report on reinstatement of deputy is critical of sheriff

LOS ANGELES — Sheriff Alex Villanueva’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 July 8 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.

“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 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, [the Sheriff’s Department] 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,” the report said.

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 re-litigate disciplinary decisions. Mandoyan was a campaign aide.

Shortly after Villanueva’s election, the Office of Inspector General made a formal request to the department asking for notification of any action on Truth and Reconciliation and received no response.

In January, the office learned about Mandoyan’s reinstatement. The deputy had been fired based on allegations of domestic violence, stalking and harassment of a woman he had dated. The Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department also found that Mandoyan lied to Internal Affairs investigators.

After an extensive re-review of the case, the Office of Inspector General concluded that substantial evidence — including a 500-page investigation file — supported Mandoyan’s discharge, key pieces of evidence may not have been considered by Villanueva 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 Office of Inspector General. 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 Sheriff’s 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.

The District Attorney’s Office declined to file criminal charges, citing insufficient evidence to overcome reasonable doubt, but Mandoyan was discharged in September.

The Office of Inspector General said the evidence — including video and phone recordings — showed that Mandoyan was unfit to be rehired as a deputy.

The office 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 Villanueva or the Sheriff’s Department to the 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 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.

By ELIZABETH MARCELLINO

City News Service