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Home / John Burcher

Lawsuit: 2 deputies allegedly harassed by boss in Office of Sheriff

By BILL HETHERMAN

Two female sheriff’s deputies are suing Los Angeles County, alleging a commander sexually harassed them and that they were subjected to retaliation by both him and the county when they complained.

Deputies Carrie Robles and Gisel Del Real allege harassment, retaliation, discrimination and failure to take corrective action to prevent harassment in the Los Angeles Superior Court suit filed Thursday that also names Cmdr. John Burcher as a defendant. The plaintiffs seek compensatory damages from both defendants and punitive damages from Burcher.

A sheriff’s department representative said a request for comment was being reviewed.

Del Real was hired by the department in June 2007 and Robles in March 2014.

Former Sheriff Alex Villanueva assumed duties in December 2018 and Del Real began working in the Office of the Sheriff the next year, followed by Robles in 2020, the suit states. Robles and Del Real were members of the sheriff’s executive projects team along with civilian employee Natalie Garcia and retired sheriff’s Sgt. Danny Batanero, and both women reported directly to Burcher, the suit states.

Burcher met with Del Real and Robles daily and his office was located adjacent to Villanueva’s in the Hall of Justice, according to the suit.

From the first days in their assignments, Burcher, then a captain, sexually harassed the deputies by glaring at portions of the plaintiffs’ bodies when they reported to him while not making eye contact with them, according to the suit.

Burcher allegedly further harassed the deputies when he caressed the their hands for long periods during handshakes, according to the lawsuit.

Robles and Del Real became so self-conscious they checked each other’s clothing in the restroom before meeting with Burcher to ensure they looked professional and showed as little flesh as possible, the suit states.

Villanueva himself once told Del Real that her attire made her “look like Mary Poppins” and the then-sheriff’s wife, Vivian Villanueva, one of several people present, told her husband, “Oh Alex, you shouldn’t say that,” the suit states.

Del Real felt embarrassed and uncomfortable because everyone in the group laughed at her, according to the complaint.

Robles typically dressed in business suits with scarves and bow ties, which prompted Villanueva to call her “Mary Poppins II,” the suit states.

Vivian Villanueva dismissed the plaintiffs’ concerns about Burcher, saying he was “a good guy and harmless” as well as “a mentor … he means well … you are both to listen to him as he knows what’s best for Alex (Villanueva),” according to the suit

Burcher was reassigned for unrelated reasons in July 2020, but kept telling Villanueva that the deputies were incompetent and insubordinate, the suit states.

When Robles complained directly to Villanueva about Burcher, the then-sheriff replied, “Don’t worry about John Burcher. He’s harmless. He’s on medication, so he is not always aware of what he’s doing.”

Burcher was promoted to commander in March 2021, the suit states. In March 2022, Del Real and Robles filed a formal complaint against Burcher, telling a lieutenant about his alleged sexual advancements, harassing conduct, false accusations, threatening behavior and degrading actions towards them, according to the suit, which further states that the two women provided a timeline of the interactions they had with Burcher.

In September, a television station aired a story with pictures and videos of Del Real and Robles, stating they had been relieved of duty related to a corruption investigation related to concealed weapons permits, causing both stress, anxiety and embarrassment, the suit states.

As part of their duties, the plaintiffs helped process applications permits to carry concealed weapons, also known as CCWs, the suit states.

In an incident unrelated to the lawsuit allegations, Robles was driving a department SUV to a call in November 2017 when she collided with another car at the East Los Angeles-Boyle Heights border, causing her vehicle to go onto a sidewalk, where she struck and killed two children, aged 7 and 9, who were standing with their mother, who was injured.

In November 2018, the District Attorney’s Office found that although Robles was at fault in the accident, there was insufficient evidence to prove she had committed vehicular manslaughter. The Board of Supervisors in September 2020 voted to approve a $5 million settlement of the case.

Burcher referred to Robles as a “kid killer” who would “ruin the reputations of those who associated with her,” the plaintiffs’ court papers state.

Upon finding out about Burcher’s remarks from Del Real, Robles consulted her psychologist to deal with the trauma it caused her and the commander’s alleged statements prompted Del Real have a panic attack and cry, the suit states.

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