A sheriff’s deputy is suing Los Angeles County and the wife of Sheriff Alex Villanueva, alleging her career has been derailed because a recruit she found to be physically unfit for hiring was a friend of the sheriff’s spouse.
Deputy Lina Pimentel’s Los Angeles Superior Court lawsuit allegations include retaliation, discrimination and harassment. Pimentel seeks unspecified damages in the suit brought Wednesday.
An LASD representative issued a statement on Thursday regarding the lawsuit.
“We are unable to comment on pending litigation, but what we can say is Sheriff Alex Villanueva has been the most transparent sheriff in history and he is confident these allegations will be proven false,” the statement said.
Pimentel was hired in January 2007, served as a patrol deputy and in August 2019, was given a highly regarded recruit training officer job at the Sheriff’s Academy, the suit states. She later took part in the decision to dismiss recruit Natalie Garcia, a close, personal friend of Vivian Villanueva, the spouse of the current sheriff and a retired LASD sergeant, the suit states.
Garcia, a longtime LASD custody assistant, was making her second attempt to complete the academy, but Pimentel, Garcia’s drill instructor, determined that she was physically unable to complete the course, the suit states.
“Garcia falsely claimed to plaintiff’s superiors that plaintiff had forced her to do additional physical training requirements in violation of her medical restrictions,” the suit alleges.
In retaliation for plaintiff dismissing her friend as unqualified, Vivian Villanueva “reported” to the academy and called the plaintiff two obscene names reserved for females, the suit alleges. Vivian Villanueva also warned others to keep Pimentel away from her because, “I will go off on that (epithet),” the suit states.
“This gross example of nepotism, abuse of office and workplace harassment has been ratified by current Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who allows his wife to call female deputies names … in the workplace,” the suit states.
Pimentel’s career progression “has now been effectively terminated” because of Vivian Villanueva’s personal attacks on her, according to the suit, which further alleges the sheriff’s spouse is “misusing her husband’s position as the apex employee of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department to do illegal favors for her friends and punish those who do not do favors for her friends.”
Garcia, upset because she was unable to meet the minimum physical standards for a deputy, filed a complaint against Pimentel because the plaintiff had told her, “The sheriff is not here to save you,” the suit states.
“Plaintiff expressed this to Garcia because (Pimentel) believed that Garcia would seek to abuse her influence with Sheriff Alex Villanueva, by and through his spouse Vivian Villanueva …,” the suit states.
Pimentel also believes Vivian Villanueva and Natalie Garcia have misused their ties to the sheriff to obtain a take-home vehicle and other benefits that are not available to non-sworn peace officers like Garcia, the suit states.
“This misuse of public resources has resulted in a tangible harm to the taxpayers of Los Angeles County,” the suit states.