Alex Villanueva Files $25 Million Lawsuit Over 'Do Not Rehire' Label

Former Sheriff Alex Villanueva plans to file a $25 million federal lawsuit against Los Angeles County for putting a “Do Not Rehire” notation in his personnel file after an oversight panel said he harassed and discriminated against two County employees. county.

In early 2022, one of those employees, Inspector General Max Huntsman, accused then-Sheriff Villanueva of “whistling at the extremists he serves” when he repeatedly referred to the inspector general by his foreign-sounding birth name, Max-Huntsman. Gustaf. A few weeks later, Villanueva publicly accused Huntsman of denying the Holocaust.

Around the same time, a deputy justice for County Supervisor Hilda Solis filed a complaint accusing Villanueva of attacking and harassing women of color. Last fall, the County's Equity Oversight Panel accepted complaints in both cases and recommended that Villanueva, who at the time had been removed from his position, be deemed ineligible to be rehired.

Villanueva's attorney called the recommendation, which the department ultimately adopted, a “lethal blow” to the former sheriff's long career in a 196-page grievance letter dated Wednesday. The letter accused the county of “scarlet letters” to Villanueva with “defamatory accusations” during a secret legal process that gave him no opportunity to respond.

“The county spent five years smearing me and trying to convince the public that I was a horrible human being,” Villanueva told The Times on Wednesday. “The reality was exactly the opposite.”

He and his attorney, Carney Shegerian, also said the county violated time limits set out in the state's Public Safety Officers' Procedural Bill of Rights by placing a “Do Not Rehire” notation on his record for more than a year. after receiving complaints about him.

The Sheriff's Department had no immediate comment.

In an emailed statement Wednesday evening, county attorneys said they had not yet evaluated the claim.

“At this point, however, we can say that the County takes seriously its legal requirement to be transparent about the actions of its law enforcement officers, including the type of sustained misconduct that led to a 'Do Not Rehire' recommendation. 'for former Sheriff Villanueva,” the statement said.

The tensions that led to the formal equity complaints began shortly after Villanueva took office. After unseating his predecessor in 2018, Villanueva repeatedly clashed with county oversight officials as well as the Board of Supervisors. He launched personal attacks against Huntsman, asked county supervisors to remove him from his surveillance position and eventually expelled him from department facilities and databases, saying he was a suspect in two criminal cases.

Huntsman was highly critical of the sheriff's handling of the department. He published several investigative reports accusing Villanueva of “unlawful conduct” and issued subpoenas to try to force his cooperation in oversight investigations.

In March 2022, Huntsman filed a complaint accusing Villanueva of sending an email “to the entire Sheriff's Department that was a racially biased attack.” In the email, Villanueva allegedly referred to Huntsman by his full name.

When Villanueva learned of Huntsman's complaint that month, he in turn he told the Times editorial board about itadding the new claim about Huntsman's alleged Holocaust denial.

“You realize that Max Huntsman is a Holocaust denier,” Villanueva told the board. “I don't know if you're aware of that. I have it from two different sources.”

The editorial board operates independently of the Times newsroom, and the interview, during Villanueva's re-election campaign, occurred as part of the board's regular endorsement process in the 2022 election cycle.

At that time, Huntsman wrote a letter to the Board of Supervisors, alerting them to the sheriff's allegations and offering a response. He denied the accusation and wrote that Villanueva was “hissing at his most extreme supporters that I am German and/or Jewish and therefore anti-American.”

Huntsman declined a request for further comment Wednesday.

Esther Lim, Solis' deputy justice, filed her own complaint the same week as Huntsman in 2022. Noting comments the former sheriff made on Facebook live broadcasts, Lim alleged a pattern of age discrimination and harassment of women. asian women Lim did not respond to a request for comment this week.

Near the end of 2022, Villanueva lost his bid for re-election. Afterward, he said, he heard nothing more from the county about the complaints or their outcome until The Times published an article about it this year.

At the time, Villanueva was running for a seat on the Board of Supervisors, a race she lost in the primary to incumbent Janice Hahn. In emails to The Times earlier this year, she called the “Do Not Rehire” designation a “blatant attempt” at “electoralism.” Her attorney repeated those allegations in this week's complaint.

The lawsuit also defended Villanueva's use of the inspector general's full name, noting that his longer, hyphenated name is included on some public records websites as well as on his desk badge. The claim did not address the former sheriff's description of Huntsman as a Holocaust denier.

But by phone Wednesday afternoon, Villanueva and his attorney reiterated the allegation about Huntsman, which the former sheriff said arose from a lengthy investigation. “We trusted the source,” Villanueva said, adding that it was “not surprising” given Huntsman's “family history.” (Previously, the inspector general has said that his grandfather was recruited into the Nazi army and that “the way the Nazis operated” caused great harm to his family.)

The former sheriff continued to allege that investigations into his conduct were retaliation for complaints he had made to county supervisors. He and his attorney raised questions about the timing of the panel's decision in October, which came a month after Villanueva announced his candidacy for the Board of Supervisors.

The lawsuit said Villanueva's “long and historic career” had been “paralyzed” without adequate transparency or due process.

Although Villanueva is no longer employed by the Sheriff's Department, he told the Times he feared the “Do Not Rehire” designation could hurt his ability to get other jobs in law enforcement. In addition to the $25 million payment, he is asking the court to order the designation to be rescinded.

He said he hasn't made a decision yet on whether he might run for sheriff again.

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