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‘Very Disgusted’ ~ L.A. Sheriff, County Deepen Public Battle Over Deputy Cliques and Rehired Badge

[dropcap size=big]A[/dropcap]lex Villanueva, who made history just five months ago when he defeated a sitting L.A. County sheriff in the November 2018 election, has spent the better part of his tenure so far locked in a public battle with county officials over hiring practices and deputy cliques. The sheriff spent Tuesday in a 90-minute public hearing on those issues with the civilian oversight committee, where a retired lieutenant sheriff said the situation is "tarnishing the badge."

"We are very disgusted with what's going on," James P. Harris told Villanueva. "It's definitely a very different world today." The "world today" is in reference to a group of deputies that call themselves the "Banditos" at East Los Angeles Sheriff’s station. That clique has been a persistent mark on the department for several years, with accusations of misconduct going back to at least 2011.

In 2014, a sexual harassment lawsuit by a seasoned veteran on the force alleged the Banditos had about 80 members, many of them sporting tattoos of a sombrero-wearing skeleton holding a gun and draped in bullet belts. During the campaign and immediately after the election, Villanueva said he would not ban these types of tattoos as a matter of free speech.

"Deputy cliques are an outgrowth of hazing that was never properly addressed, Villanueva told L.A. Taco shortly after he was elected. "That is a failure of leadership. We had the problem of hazing for many, many years. But it is only in the last eight to 10 years that the hazing has gone unchecked. And the people who kept hazing became supervisors, sergeants and lieutenants, and sometimes even captains of a patrol station."

Tuesday, Villanueva said he was addressing the problem by transferring personnel, but that it would take some time to get it under control. His first act as sheriff was firing much of the previous administration's leadership.

Villanueva also continued to take heat for his decision to rehire Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan, who had been fired by Villanueva's predecessor Jim McDonnell after Mandoyan allegedly grabbed a fellow deputy by the neck and choked her for 30 seconds in an incident while they were dating. The deputy also accused Mandoyan of ripping of her jeans and then later stalking her.

[dropcap size=big]M[/dropcap]andoyan has maintained his innocence, and Villanueva continued to defend him telling the commision Tuesday that the relationship "ended badly" but did not "stray into the criminal arena." Villanueva refused to fire Mandoyan, who was a volunteer on his election campaign, even amid public outcry and pressure form the County Board of Supervisors. His refusal this month prompted the five supervisors to issue an order requesting Mandoyan's badge and gun and removing him from payroll.

In a letter to Mandoyan, County Controller John Naimo called his reinstatement "unlawful" and said Mandoyan was "not authorized to serve as a Department employee." In response, Villanueva issued a statement to the L.A. Times saying the matter was still under review and would be decided by the "legal employment process."

A court case on the matter is scheduled for June, where a judge will decide if Villanueva has the legal authority to overturn determinations made by the county. The County requested an emergency order to take Mandoyan's gun and badge pending the hearing. That order was denied by an L.A. Superior Court Judge.

RELATED: Not Messing Around: Sheriff Will ‘Physically Remove’ ICE From County Jails

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