L.A. Sheriff Unable to Fire Dishonest Deputies

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Mired in corruption and federal investigations, the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department continues to employ deputies guilty of making false statements and committing other lewd crimes. Although the sheriff is fighting to fire these dishonest deputies, they continue to receive paychecks due to contractual protections.

After taking office in December, Los Angeles Sheriff Jim McDonnell has been working to reform a department plagued with federal investigations into prisoner abuse, corruption, and obstruction. His predecessor, former Sheriff Lee Baca, recently admitted to covering up jail abuse while obstructing a federal investigation into his deputies. Last month, Baca pleaded guilty to making false statements to FBI agents and federal prosecutors.

Instead of firing his dishonest deputies, Baca gave them a more lenient punishment by sending many deputies caught lying to remedial classes. Due to the fact that prosecutors must hand over exculpatory evidence to the defense, deputies with credibility issues can have their testimony undermined by defense attorneys arguing criminal cases. In an effort to promote honesty among his deputies, McDonnell has attempted to fire deputies who have a history of lying.

On May 6, 2010, Deputy Daniel Genao arrested Anthony Valdez and wrote in his police report that he found a gun inside Valdez’s waistband. According to Valdez’s girlfriend and the hotel manager who witnessed the arrest, Valdez had tossed the gun into a nearby planter before Genao approached him and took Valdez into custody. Although Genao pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false police report, the Los Angeles County Civil Service Commission decided to reinstate him.

On June 14, 2011, Deputy Steven Stroble was on duty and in uniform at the Alhambra Courthouse when he placed his cell phone beneath a woman’s skirt without her knowledge and attempted to take a photo under her dress. Samantha Paoletto, a court reporter who witnessed the incident, immediately reported Stroble’s behavior to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, but Stroble repeatedly lied about the incident until faced with the fact that the courthouse surveillance cameras had caught him in the act. Although the Sheriff’s Department fired Stroble after he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of photographing under a person’s clothes for the purpose of sexual gratification, the Civil Service Commission reinstated him because he admitted to lying and did not actually take the photo.

On September 27, 2010, Deputy Mark Montez stood watch as a fellow deputy viciously beat an inmate, Dequan Ballard, at the Men’s Central Jail in Downtown L.A. Although Montez initially claimed that he neither heard the unprovoked beating nor saw Ballard’s blood smeared across the wall, video surveillance proved Montez had been lying to cover up the incident. After the Sheriff’s Department fired Montez, the Civil Service Commission reinstated him because the other deputies involved in the incident received more lenient punishments.

“My question is, for someone who is proven to be untruthful or lacks integrity or committed acts of theft, insubordination, those kinds of things, where can I put someone like this?” McDonnell asked. “Where can I comfortably deploy people where we don’t have that level of trust?”

Deputies Genoa, Stroble, and Montez remain on leave with pay as the Sheriff’s Department struggles to terminate these dishonest deputies. Appointed by the L.A. County Board of Supervisors, the Civil Service Commission is a five-member body that adjudicates discipline cases of county employees. As McDonnell attempts to remove deceitful deputies from the Sheriff’s Department, the Civil Service Commission often reinstates these deputies because others who committed similar offenses have kept their jobs.

After Baca retired in 2014, his former undersheriff and sheriff’s captain were arrested a few months later on obstruction and conspiracy charges. Accused of corruptly influencing and impeding an FBI investigation into abuse and bribery within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department, former Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and retired Captain William “Tom” Carey were indicted in May 2015. In August 2015, former Capt. Carey pleaded guilty to lying under oath and is expected to testify against Tanaka. Baca may also be called to testify at Tanaka’s trial.

According to McDonnell’s top aide, Executive Officer Neal Tyler, the number of deputies with documented histories of dishonesty could be in the dozens or hundreds and possibly includes some high-ranking supervisors. Even if McDonnell fired them all, the Civil Service Commission could reinstate them. And as their cases proceed through the appeals process, these dishonest deputies keep accumulating paychecks from the city.

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