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L.A. sheriff targeted lieutenant for donating to opponent, lawsuit says

A Los Angeles County sheriff’s lieutenant filed a lawsuit Monday alleging sheriff’s officials targeted him with a trumped-up criminal investigation as retaliation after he made a campaign donation to one of Sheriff Alex Villanueva’s political challengers.

In the lawsuit filed Monday in L.A. County Superior Court against the county, Villanueva, and other sheriff’s officials, Lt. Joseph Garrido claims his $1,500 donation to retired Cmdr. Eli Vera’s campaign led to him being the subject of a bogus criminal probe into whether he misused his department-issued vehicle.

Garrido also alleges in the lawsuit that a coveted assignment that had been offered to him was rescinded because of his support for Vera.

Garrido’s attorney, Vince Miller, accused Villanueva of being behind the effort to punish his client.

“He’s forcing out somebody, ending someone’s career, destroying their reputation because they’re exercising their free speech rights,” Miller said. Miller currently represents more than a dozen department employees in lawsuits against the department.

A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, saying officials had not yet seen it.

The lawsuit also alleges the retaliation Garrido faced was due in part to his attempts to report misconduct by others in the department. Along with helping to expose a scheme by sheriff’s officials to withhold bonus pay owed to deputies with special training in explosives, which resulted in the county paying out more than $3 million in back pay, Garrido claims he called attention to the overheating death of a police dog.

Garrido, who has been a member of the department’s elite Special Enforcement Bureau since May 2018, is a close friend and supporter of Vera, who ran for sheriff in the June primary but did not get enough votes to advance to a runoff.

Campaign finance records show Garrido made his contribution to Vera in June of last year. In November, Garrido alleges he got a call from Carl Mandoyan, a former deputy who had a close relationship with the sheriff. On the call, Mandoyan repeatedly pressed Garrido to explain why he donated to Vera’s campaign, the lawsuit says. Mandoyan became a controversial figure in the department when Villanueva fought unsuccessfully to rehire him after he’d been fired over allegations of domestic violence and dishonesty.

Mandoyan told The Times Monday that Garrido called him asking for help to get into the department’s arson and explosives unit and offered up the information himself about donating to Vera.

“I said ‘OK, you’re free to do so,’” Mandoyan said.

After the call, Villanueva allegedly asked his staff to compile information on candidates for an assignment overseeing the department’s arson unit — a job Garrido says in the lawsuit he had already been given.

According to the lawsuit, Asst. Sheriff Bruce Chase heard Villanueva bring up the fact multiple times that Garrido was supporting Vera and had given to his campaign. During one of the encounters, the lawsuit says, Chase told Villanueva that he believed Garrido was the most qualified person for the arson unit job.

Villanueva selected someone else for the position, the lawsuit says.

Chase did not respond to a request for comment.

Earlier this year, the lawsuit says, Garrido got wind of false allegations circulating in the department that he had been seen hauling a boat with his department-assigned Chevrolet Tahoe.

In May, Garrido wrote a memo to a supervisor rebutting the false accusations against him, according to the lawsuit. The day after he sent the memo, a sergeant showed up on his block to interview neighbors, the lawsuit alleges.

Garrido confronted Sgt. William Morris, who confirmed he was carrying out a criminal investigation into Garrido, according to a recording of the conversation Garrido made that was reviewed by The Times.

During the conversation, Garrido pointed out a “Vera for Sheriff” campaign sign at his house, which he suggested was the reason behind the investigation.

“Probably so,” Morris said, according to the recording.

Morris on Monday told The Times that the comment was “just a reaction to what he was saying.”

“I have no idea why this case came about,” Morris said.

Morris said he had “no idea” who made the initial allegation about Garrido. Asked if there was any merit to the claim, he declined to comment, saying the case is still under investigation.

The lawsuit also says that the sergeant offered one of Garrido’s neighbors $300 for the username and password to her security video system.

The Sheriff’s Department for months has refused to answer questions from The Times about the death of the police dog that Garrido’s lawsuit alleges he reported. Garrido’s lawsuit says that the dog, named Spike, overheated after a sergeant left him in a car for more than four hours.

Lt. Oscar Martinez, a spokesperson for the department, confirmed that the 6-year-old dog, trained in detecting accelerants used by arsonists, died in East L.A. in 2020 but refused to provide details of how the death occurred.

He said that the incident was investigated and “found no employee misconduct or negligence was involved in the death.” He also said “medical personnel” had been unable to determine the cause of death.

A source, who requested anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter, told The Times there’s no record of an investigation being conducted into the dog’s handler.

The Times reviewed an email around the time of the dog’s death in which a sheriff’s official advised dog handlers to check the warning system in their cars.

“Do NOT, under any circumstances, place any canine in a vehicle without first inspecting and ensuring the heat alarm system is functioning as intended. Do NOT, under any circumstances, place any canine in a vehicle with an inoperable or malfunctioning heat alarm system,” the email said.

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