In a confrontational surprise appearance before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Alex Villanueva this week defended his reinstatement of a deputy fired after allegations of domestic violence and stalking.
Villanueva said there were a half-dozen similar cases that he planned to share with the board behind closed doors.
“When you hear the details of the cases, you’re going to have a change of mind,” the sheriff told the supervisors.
Supervisor Kathryn Barger had brought a motion recommending that the board send a letter to the sheriff citing “grave concerns” over the reinstatement and Villanueva’s comments to the Citizens Oversight Commission justifying his decision.
The motion, co-authored with Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, says: “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.”
Villanueva said his comments were misrepresented, but insisted that the facts did not support an allegation of domestic violence, going so far as to object to the board using the term victim.
“We could safely call her a complainant,” the sheriff said.
He also promised to aggressively prosecute some executives he believes presented false evidence, “either here locally or through the attorney general’s office.”
The five-member Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors has little direct control over the county’s top cop, but Kuehl issued a warning.
“None of us is so independent that we can do anything we damn well please,” she said.
Kuehl said that any other county employee would have go to court to be reinstated, but Villanueva countered that he was aiming to save the county money by using an internal process to re-litigate cases.
Kuehl addressed the sheriff’s comments before the Civilian Oversight Commission, in which he said the fact that the accuser waited nearly a year to report her claims and her decision to quit the department just before she was about to testify were “`big warning signs.”
“It seemed like your own attitude was … if they don’t speak up, how serious can it be,” Kuehl said. “I’m really worried and concerned about the message that is being sent … what it means for women in your department … what it means about women in our jails.”
Villanueva countered, “I do care about the victims of domestic violence and I will do everything in my power to make sure that their voices are heard” and perpetrators brought to justice.
However, he alleged that the Civil Service Commission has ignored “a mountain of (exculpatory) evidence” in some cases. Citing a six-fold increase in terminations, Villanueva said it had been “politically expedient to have a high body count” related to deputy misconduct during Sheriff Jim McDonnell’s tenure.
Both Kuehl and Barger said the commission most often settled cases in favor of employees, citing an in-depth review of cases.
Speaking to City News Service outside the hearing room, the sheriff said it made sense to get wrongfully terminated deputies back to work quickly and would consider cases dating back to roughly 2013, when he lost confidence in the process.
“Justice delayed is justice denied. That’s what the social justice advocates always say,” Villanueva said. “If someone was wrongfully terminated two years ago, are we going to keep them wrongfully terminated for a third year?”