Deputy alleges Sheriff Villanueva's wife derailed her career

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LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 08, 2019 -- Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva, right, and his Vivian at LASD Recruits graduation ceremony of Academy Class No. 441, held on Friday November 08, 2019 at East LA College in Los Angeles. Sheriff's son Johannes Villanueva one of 70 who graduated this day. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his wife, Vivian Villanueva, at an academy graduation ceremony in 2019. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

A Los Angeles County sheriff's deputy has filed a lawsuit alleging that her career was thwarted after she decided a close friend of Sheriff Alex Villanueva's wife was unfit to serve as a deputy.

Deputy Lina Pimentel claimed her "career progression has now been effectively terminated because of Vivian Villanueva’s personal attacks on her," according to the lawsuit filed in L.A. County Superior Court this week.

Alex Villanueva did not immediately respond to a text message seeking comment. When reached by phone, Vivian Villanueva said she was not aware of the lawsuit. "I'll get back to you," she said and hung up.

Citing the pending litigation, sheriff's officials declined to comment about the allegations in the lawsuit beyond a statement that praised the sheriff for being "the most transparent sheriff in history" and said "he is confident these allegations will be proven false."

Pimentel was a recruit training officer when the recruit, who had worked for two decades in the Sheriff's Department as a custody assistant, entered the academy, the lawsuit states.

It was the recruit's second attempt to become a deputy and Pimentel determined she was physically unable to complete the academy's demanding program, the lawsuit states.

The recruit then allegedly falsely told Pimentel's superiors that the training officer had forced her to do extra physical training requirements in violation of her medical restrictions, the lawsuit said.

In March 2020, Pimentel learned that Vivian Villanueva, who retired as a deputy in January 2018, had been criticizing her and describing her to others using gendered slurs. The lawsuit alleges that Vivian Villanueva warned others to keep Pimentel away from her because “I will go off on that b—.”

Pimentel alleges that she was subsequently moved and demoted multiple times.

"This lawsuit is another example of a sheriff who has little regard for his deputies and instead will always put his selfish self-interest first," said Alan Romero, an attorney representing Pimentel.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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