Former LA County Sheriff Alex Villanueva sues over placement on `do not rehire' list

Former Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva sued the county Thursday over his placement on a "do not rehire" list, alleging that he was investigated for harassment without being informed or given a chance to respond.

Villanueva, who lost his bid for re-election in 2022, was investigated by an oversight panel looking into harassment and retaliation complaints stemming from comments the controversial former sheriff made about Inspector General Max Huntsman and for allegedly targeting and harassing women of color.

County officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The suit -- which alleges civil rights violations, defamation, and intentional infliction of emotional distress -- alleges that the allegations against Villanueva had already been determined to be unfounded, but the county went forward anyway with an investigation "without ever notifying Villanueva or providing him with notice of any type."

Villanueva contends he was never able to address the allegations, nor was he made aware of the findings. The results of the probe, Villanueva would learn, "placed him on a `Do Not Hire' list that severely affects, limits, and otherwise precludes Villanueva's employment opportunities in the county government, as well as directly and indirectly detrimentally affecting Villanueva's employment prospects across the board," according to the 248-page filing in L.A. federal court.

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The complaint also names as defendants the county Board of Supervisors, the Sheriff's Department, the Equity Oversight Panel, the Office of Inspector General, Huntsman and others.

Villanueva argues that the county's actions were politically motivated and lacked transparency and due process.

Carney Shegerian, Villanueva's attorney, said the lawsuit aims to have the "no rehire" notation removed from the former sheriff's record and seeks $25 million compensation for alleged damage to his reputation.

According to a Los Angeles Times story, Huntsman had accused Villanueva of "dog-whistling to the extremists he caters to" when he repeatedly referred to the inspector general by his foreign-sounding birth name, Max-Gustaf. Villanueva denies that his use of the name "Max-Gustaf" is discriminatory or harassing.

A few weeks later, Villanueva publicly accused Huntsman of being a Holocaust denier -- purportedly without any evidence.

Around the same time, a justice deputy for county Supervisor Hilda Solis filed a complaint accusing Villanueva of targeting and harassing women of color. Last fall, the County Equity Oversight Panel sustained complaints in both cases and recommended Villanueva -- who had been voted out of office by that point -- be deemed ineligible for rehire.

In addition to losing his bid for re-election as sheriff, Villanueva lost the March 5 primary election against incumbent Fourth District county Supervisor Janice Hahn.