Supervisors put the brakes on sheriff’s dismissal review panel

LASD Sheriff Alex Villanueva (top center) addresses Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Tuesday.

County supervisors squared off with the county sheriff Tuesday, telling the county’s top cop to stop pursuing his Truth and Reconciliation panel.

On Tuesday, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a motion directing county lawyers to evaluate the legality of Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s proposed Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

The motion calls for county counsel to scrutinize the legality of efforts by the newly elected sheriff to  reevaluate discipline previously imposed on Sheriff’s Department personnel.

Until questions over the panel’s legality have been answered, the board instructed the sheriff to discontinue re-evaluating discipline cases and unilaterally reinstating deputies previously fired from the LASD.

The motion didn’t stop the sheriff from reporting on the progress he’s made in overhauling what he has called a broken department.

“We have deputies working patrol who are excited to go to work,” he told the board. “They’re working hard with the communities, building partnerships — long-term partnerships.

Happy deputies

“They’re resolving problems. They’re happy to go to work. And, the energy is unlimited now,” he said.  “Just ask anybody on patrol right now, ‘How are you doing?’ And, they’ll tell you, ‘We’re doing great, thank you.’”

“They’re actually policing themselves,” Villanueva said. “The word on the yard is: Don’t mess it up.”

Supervisors responded with their own concerns.

The sheriff explained the purpose of his Truth and Reconciliation Panel as a group righting wrongs.

“The charges of false statements were the reasoning behind the terminations,” he told supervisors. “Due to the standard of false statements being previously re-interpreted regarding employee misconduct, these cases have to be subject to review in order to ascertain the validity of these past determinations.

“The Truth and Reconciliation Panel is going to do exactly that,” he said.

However, not until county lawyers assess the legality of the panel, due to Tuesday’s action.

“I should point out,” Villanueva told the board. “The Civil Service Commission is appointed by each and every one of you.”

Domestic violence

The board voted in favor the motion to stop the Truth and Reconciliation Panel after hearing powerful testimony from criminal-justice reform advocates, as well as domestic violence survivors, who expressed concern about the sheriff’s recent decision to rehire a deputy who served on his campaign.

That deputy’s termination over domestic violence allegations had been upheld by the Civil Service Commission.

The cases of about 400 deputies are expected to be reassessed by the Truth and Reconciliation Panel. However, it was the proposed reinstatement of one particular fired deputy that prompted concern among supervisors about the panel they call a commission.

“I stand behind the decision I made to challenge the rehiring of this individual,” Supervisor Kathryn Barger told the sheriff, referring to a previous decision to fire the sworn officer over domestic violence reports.

Non-endorsement

“If I hear one more time, ‘We didn’t endorse you’ — there are people who did not endorse me, sheriff, that I work with on a day-to-day basis,” Berger said from the dais, in response to the sheriff’s 15-minute preamble that mentioned the fact that Villanueva didn’t have the supervisor’s endorsement for sheriff in the 2018 election. “Because for me, it’s about doing the job you’re elected to do.

“So, at some point, I hope we can put that aside. Because my goal is to work with you,” she said.

“For those individuals who have not come before civil service and have not been adjudicated, it’s a whole different matter,” she said. “But for those who have been put into the civil service and then gone through that process, that is what is in question.

“I appreciate the sheriff’s stated intentions to improve deputy morale and enhance recruitment efforts; however, it is very important that those goals not come at the expense of public trust and increased civil liabilities for the county,” Barger said.

Deputy association

In May, the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which represents approximately 7,900 non-supervisory deputies in the nation’s largest sheriff’s department, held off on endorsing then-Sheriff Jim McDonnell, or one of his challengers, based on the number of respondents the union had to the survey, which was a little less than 18 percent of membership, said Detective Ron Hernandez, a 34-year member of the Sheriff’s Department and president of ALADS at the time.

The union was hoping for at least about 33 percent participation for an endorsement; however, for Hernandez, the results were indicative of department concerns.

jholt@signalscv.com   661-287-5527 On Twitter @jamesarthurholt

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