File photo. Los Angeles County Supervisor Kathryn Barger in a Signal Editorial Board meeting. Dan Watson/The Signal

Supervisors challenge LASD Sheriff over reinstatement

After grilling L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva about domestic violence and the gravity of firing sworn officers, three county supervisors challenged his reinstatement of a deputy fired for domestic abuse.

On Tuesday, Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Sheila Kuehl submitted a motion to stand united in expressing concern over the reinstatement of a deputy discharged from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department over allegations of domestic abuse and stalking.

The motion was approved with the support of Supervisor Hilda Solis, who said at one point: “This makes me feel really uncomfortable.” The other two supervisors — Mark Ridley-Thomas and Janice Hahn — were absent Tuesday.

The concerned supervisors are also calling on county counsel to report back in two weeks with a plan on procedures for handling a growing conflict between the LASD and the county.

Villanueva told the supervisors that once they reviewed all the facts in the case — and other planned reinstatement cases — that they would have a “change of mind.”

Villanueva, who last month was elected 33rd sheriff of the country’s largest sheriff’s department, said he has been trying to clean up a tainted system.

In addressing concerns expressed by supervisors over what they believed were questionable cases of dismissed deputies seeking reinstatement, he told them: “If there’s solid evidence that supports the decision — it’s a good decision and it’s going to remain.

“When you hear the details of the cases, you’re going to have a change of mind,” he said.

Agreeing at least that all facts are needed to assess the dismissal and the reinstatement, Barger amended her motion to include a call for all the facts.

Specifically, her amendment reads: “Direct county counsel to contact the subject deputy and facilitate the signing of the waiver to release his personnel records.”

“The issues of domestic violence cannot be taken lightly,” Barger said. “It’s important that the facts be the driving force in this.”

Basically, supervisors are asking the deputy seeking reinstatement to sign the waiver so that they can see the entirety of his record.

It was the implication of domestic violence, however, that fired up reaction among supervisors and spectators Tuesday.

In a letter explaining their motion, Barger and Kuehl wrote that the reinstatement in light of alleged domestic abuse and stalking “has been the subject of serious debate and concern.”

The deputy’s firing was based on documented evidence and the grounds for termination were upheld by the Civil Service Commission, they said.

They noted, however, “At a recent Civilian Oversight Commission hearing, the sheriff revealed that his actions were based on his own personal doubts about the accuser’s credibility and time lapses between the alleged crimes and the report made.”

“The reinstatement and the reasoning for it sends a disturbing message that a crime victim should not be believed based on the timing of the allegations and one person’s doubt about his or her credibility.”

That approach can discourage victims from coming forward, adding to the difficulty in reporting such crimes for a variety of reasons, officials noted.

The sheriff has the authority to hire and fire.

“However, there are grave concerns,” Barger and Kuehl said jointly in their brief accompanying their motion, “over how this particular matter has been handled and the message it sends to all of the men and women in law enforcement, as well as victims of domestic violence and the public at large.”

They added: “This action may also hinder the Sheriff’s Department’s ability to restore and preserve the public trust that is so vital in effective policing.”

More than 10 million women and men are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States each year, which equates to about 20 people every minute, according to the National Council Against Domestic Violence.

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