The Los Angeles County’s Civilian Oversight Commission said Tuesday it would request a more formal explanation and documents from Sheriff Alex Villanueva on why dozens of internal affairs cases into allegations of deputy misconduct had been prematurely closed.
At least 45 cases were “inactivated” by Sheriff’s executives in January and February, 2019, according to an Inspector General’s report, meaning they were shelved before detectives could complete investigations into allegations of child abuse, sexual misconduct, and other law and policy violations.
“In many instances the reasons for those inactivations were not documented,” Inspector General Max Huntsman told the Commissioners, even though he said Sheriff’s Department policy requires a written explanation of each decision. “I think it’s critical that the policies be followed and the documentation be there so that the Sheriff’s Department itself can look closely and be consistent in the discipline it provides.”
The Commission’s inquiry began in April after Huntsman’s office detailed the increase in both the pace and the number of cases being inactivated.
Commissioners said they would send a written request to Villanueva not only for information on the individual decisions, but also on the instructions given to high-level officials to reconsider whether misconduct investigations should be abandoned.
“To see it go from 10 [cases] in a quarter, to 45 in two months, if that doesn’t raise some red flags, and some lights flashing around here, it should,” said Commissioner James P. Harris.
Sheriff’s officials said previous administrations also closed internal affairs cases before investigations were complete, and said it was routine to reevaluate the purpose of continuing a case if the deputy under investigation resigned, retired, or died.
Undersheriff Tim Murakami told the Commissioners there was no written directive or policy change that prompted the reviews of current cases.
“To my knowledge, no, nothing was written, it was all verbal,” Murakami said.
Villanueva has criticized former Sheriff Jim McDonnell for being too aggressive in opening misconduct cases, and has begun reconsidering past misconduct terminations, including that of a campaign volunteer, Caren “Carl” Mandoyan, who was fired by the County for lying during a domestic violence investigation.
In December an internal panel of Sheriff’s executives assembled by Villanueva decided to set aside the County’s Civil Service Commission’s findings and reinstated or rehired Mandoyan over the objections of the board of supervisors.
Villanueva’s legal authority to ignore an administrative decision is now the subject of a lawsuit between the Sheriff and LA County. A judge is set to hear argument next month.