Sheriff-elect cleans house, prepares to fire more than a dozen top staff

Newly elected Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva will dismiss more than a dozen top-ranking administrators at the department when he takes over the job Monday, according to an email obtained by the Long Beach Post.

The list of staff to be purged includes Undersheriff Jacques A. La Berge, all four assistant sheriffs and seven division chiefs, essentially gutting the current top-level management at the department.

During the campaign, Villanueva promised to change a system at the sheriff’s department he said was driven by cronyism and corruption put in place by disgraced former Sheriff Lee Baca and Undersheriff Paul Tanaka and continued by current Sheriff Jim McDonnell.

“All of the problems we have today are a direct result of (McDonnell’s) decisions and the command staff that still remains intact from the years of Lee Baca and Paul Tanaka,”  Villanueva said in an October interview with KPCC’s Larry Mantle. “Paul Tanaka’s foot soldiers are Jim McDonnell’s command staff.”

He promised to “clean house” in the ranks of division chief and above.

Villanueva apparently made good on that promise shortly after McDonnell conceded the race Monday in a stunning upset.

On Tuesday, a member of Villanueva’s transition team told La Berge, the No. 2 at the department, that his services and those of 16 others “will no longer be required as of 12/3/18,” the day Villanueva takes office, according to the email from his transition team.

The list of names also includes McDonnell’s chief of staff and several top-level civilian employees such as communications director Carol Lin and community outreach director Gymeka Williams.

The sudden dismissals contrast with how McDonnell came into office.

“It’s not unusual to get rid of your predecessor’s command staff, but it’s usually done a little gentler,” former County Supervisor Don Knabe said in an interview Wednesday.

McDonnell replaced a lot of Baca’s loyalists, according to Knabe, but it was a slow process.

McDonnell came into the Sheriff’s Department’s top job after running the Long Beach Police Department. Villanueva’s highest rank before being catapulted to sheriff was lieutenant, something Knabe alluded to.

“You want to pick your own people,” he said. “But you want to give them some time to work with the people whose jobs they’re taking so they can be trained, but, when you’ve never commanded an office before and you haven’t had any management experience, ‘transition’ might be a foreign word to you.”

Among the dismissed departmental executives is Assistant Sheriff Kelly Harrington, who as head of the custody division, oversees the largest local jail system in the world, with the Sheriff’s Department responsible for the incarceration of nearly 200,000 inmates throughout each year and approximately 18,000 inmates on any particular day.

Harrington joined the department in March 2016, after serving as acting-Director of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, with oversight of the state’s adult inmate population.

Also dismissed were patrol division chiefs Joseph Gooden and Kelly Fraser, responsible for stations and local policing in the central and southern areas of Los Angeles County, including stations in Carson, Compton, Lomita, Lakewood, Cerritos and Catalina Island.

A full list of people to be dismissed, according to the email:

Undersheriff Jacques LaBerge (No. 2 in command at LASD)

Assistant Sheriff Kelly Harrington (head of custody operations)

Assistant Sheriff Jill Serrano (head of administrative and technology operations)

Assistant Sheriff Bob Denham (head of patrol operations)

Assistant Sheriff Eddie Rivero (head of countywide operations)

Chief Warren Asmus (chief of staff to Sheriff Jim McDonnell)

Carol Lin (director of strategic communications to McDonnell)

Gymeka Williams (director of community outreach to McDonnell)

Secretary Martha Reyes (executive secretary to McDonnell)

Division Chiefs

John Stedman (head of special operations division, oversees emergency operations, Aero bureau, Metrolink security, transit services bureau and more)

Stephen Johnson (head of detective division)

Eric Parra (head of East Patrol Division—stations in San Gabriel Valley)

Kelly Fraser (head of South Patrol Division—stations in Southern LA County, including Lakewood, Catalina Island, Lomita, and Cerritos)

Joseph Gooden (head of Central Patrol Division—stations in Central LA County)

Christy Guyovich (head of Custody Division Specialized Programs)

Jody Sharp (head of Custody Division General Population)

Tim Grobaty contributed to this report.

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Jeremiah Dobruck is the breaking news editor for the Long Beach Post. He began his journalism career in 2007 as an intern at Palos Verdes Peninsula News and has worked for The Forum Newsgroup in New York City, the Daily Pilot and the Press-Telegram. He lives in Torrance with his wife, Lindsey, and their two young children, Paul and Simon.
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