As Election Day nears and the cinematic showdown for the L.A. County sheriff position between incumbent Alex Villanueva and Long Beach Police Chief Rober Luna comes into its final chapter, the department is denying allegations made in a lawsuit filed earlier this week that the sitting sheriff wrongfully demoted a Black sheriff’s lieutenant in 2021.
In a lawsuit filed Monday by Lt. John Lindsay, the sheriff’s lieutenant alleges discrimination, retaliation and failure to prevent harassment, discrimination or retaliation. The claims are the latest in a stampede of allegations and controversies Villanueva has faced that include the recent supervised raid of County Supervisor Sheila Keuhl’s Santa Monica home to a third lawsuit alleging he was involved in a cover-up. This most recent suit states that under his direction, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department “has engaged in systemic racial discrimination against African-Americans by decreasing the number of African-American employees to accommodate an increase in Hispanic applicants and promotional candidates in the department.”
The LAPD rejected Lindsay’s claims in a statement on Wednesday, calling the complaint “yet another frivolous lawsuit” and likening his allegations to those of other department members who have “failed in their leadership duties,” and then filed individual suits. These legal filings include a whistleblower lawsuit filed by the sheriff’s former top advisor, Robin Limon, in May alleging the sheriff attempted to cover up a 2021 video of a deputy kneeling on an inmate’s head.
“The allegations by Mr. Lindsey are completely without merit and we look forward to exposing this in court,” the statement from the department reads. “Clearly, this series of lawsuits is a desperate attempt to influence the outcome of the election.”
According to Lindsay’s suit, Villanueva has “made it clear in public statements that he harbors a racial animus towards African- Americans, engaging in racist generalizations about African-Americans, having cast blame upon African-Americans within the department for allegedly interfering with his promotability in a lawsuit he filed against his own department.”
The suit goes on to state that over the past three years, Villanueva, saying he wanted to “mirror the communities of Los Angeles county,” has directed recruitment, hiring and promotional efforts that have “materially lowered the number of African-American employees while raising the number of Hispanic employees on the department.”
According to his suit, Lindsay has worked in custody and patrol duty as well as in community-oriented policing. As a lieutenant, he has been the Civic Center liaison, supervising tactical planning and logistics for large-scale events and protests in the downtown Los Angeles area.
Lindsay was picked in January 2021 by Undersheriff Timothy Murakami for the position of executive aide, a highly desirable and promotable job. According to the suit, however, two days later, Villanueva, while in Murakami’s office, allegedly looked at Lindsay and said, “So you’re the new guy.” Immediately after Villanueva left the office, Murakami told Lindsay that he was being demoted to his previous position. Murakami was unable to provide an explanation, saying it was out of his hands, but that he admired the plaintiff’s work performance.
The suit further states that Lindsay’s replacement was not Black and lacked the education and experience the sheriff’s lieutenant would have brought to the role.
Subsequent to Lindsay’s demotion, Villanueva has denied the plaintiff multiple promotions in the Court Services Division for which he was well-suited; instead, the sheriff had a habit of promoting Latinos who had “zero knowledge” of division operating procedures, the suit states.
Early mail-in voting in the elections is already taking place ahead of in-person voting on Nov.8. According to the latest UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies poll, 40% of likely voters and those who have already voted said they’ve chosen Luna; 32% said they are voting for Villanueva.
City New Service contributed to this report