The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors is looking to make it easier to fire sheriff’s deputies who have been found to be dishonest in the past.
The move comes amid promises by Sheriff Jim McDonnell to clean house in his department. Since taking office three years ago, McDonnell has moved to fire significantly more deputies than his predecessors, according to department spokeswoman Nicole Nishida.
Yearly terminations are up 76 percent under McDonnell compared to the average during the previous 14 years, according to attorney Richard Shinee, whose firm represents virtually all deputies who get fired. Nishida could not confirm that number.
The firings don’t always hold up. Deputies almost always appeal to the county’s civil service commission, which often overturns a termination after the deputy’s attorney argues that any act of dishonesty was inconsequential or a first offense.
That’s a problem, said Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas. He wants the commission to more often uphold McDonnell’s decisions to fire deputies and to consider previous acts of dishonesty.
"We have issues of consequence with sheriff’s deputies and we cannot in good faith ignore those things," said Ridley-Thomas. "The job of peace officer simply cannot be entrusted to anyone who is not scrupulously honest."
As proof of honesty problems at the sheriff’s department, Ridley-Thomas pointed to the recent scandal in which deputies lied about beating up jail inmates and tried to block an FBI investigation into the abuses.
Ten sheriff’s officials were convicted in the scandal, including former Sheriff Lee Baca and his undersheriff Paul Tanaka.
"The fundamental challenge that we faced with the jail violence was the veracity of the representations of sheriff’s deputies – and it just takes a handful of them," said Ridley-Thomas.
Shinee criticized Ridley-Thomas’ motion as a "witchhunt" – and blamed any dishonesty at the department on the failure of Baca to set a good example.
"If your management acts with integrity, it will be reflected in the employees," said Shinee. "Their agenda is to make it more difficult for employees in the county to get a fair hearing."
McDonnell has gone too far in his firings, said Shinee.
The sheriff declined to comment. A spokesperson for the civil service commission did not return calls for comment.
Ridley-Thomas’ motion asks county staff to look at how to tighten rules against dishonesty not just at the sheriff’s department but at the Probation Department and at the Department of Children and Family Services.
The motion also asks for a review of which deputies should be listed as dishonest or engaged in previous misconduct for the purpose of providing their names to the district attorney. If a deputy listed as dishonest is involved in the arrest of a criminal defendant, the DA is obligated to make that known to the defendant’s attorney.
Earlier this year, McDonnell attempted to provide a list of 300 names to the DA but was blocked by the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriff’s, the union that represents rank and file deputies. It argued in a lawsuit that providing the currently secret list to the DA would violate privacy laws. A judge agreed to temporarily block McDonnell's move.
The board of supervisors is expected to consider the motion at its meeting next Tuesday.