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Sheriff's Department promotions manipulated, official says

In a sworn statement, a retired chief says some candidates' scores were inflated. Undersheriffs named in statement have no comment.

November 06, 2012|By Robert Faturechi and Jack Leonard, Los Angeles Times
  • Retired Sheriff's Chief Ronnie Williams said Los Angeles County Undersheriff Paul Tanaka, above, and former undersheriff Larry Waldie ordered him to manipulate the test scores of candidates for promotions.
Retired Sheriff's Chief Ronnie Williams said Los Angeles County… (Francine Orr, Francine…)

A retired Los Angeles County Sheriff's official says he was ordered by two top managers to manipulate the department's promotional process to benefit certain candidates, according to a sworn statement.

Retired Sheriff's Chief Ronnie Williams said that about 2004, Paul Tanaka and Larry Waldie — the current and former undersheriffs — ordered him "to make sure certain individuals were promoted to lieutenant and certain individuals were not promoted to lieutenant."

"Specifically, the scores of the favored individuals were superficially increased and those individuals were promoted," Williams added in a July 2011 declaration reviewed by The Times.

Williams' claims come as the Sheriff's Department is dealing with criticism over how it handles promotions. A blue ribbon commission that investigated allegations of violence in the county's jails reported in recent weeks that a perception exists within the department that loyalty to Tanaka, the current undersheriff, drives promotions rather than merit.

Among its concerns, the commission faulted Tanaka, who is also the elected mayor of Gardena, for accepting political contributions from sheriff's employees, saying the donations "furthered perceptions of patronage and favoritism in promotion and assignment decisions." In interviews, some commission members described Tanaka's conduct as poor management rather than official misconduct.

Williams' sworn declaration made no mention of campaign contributions, but instructing someone to improperly influence who gets promoted could amount to misconduct. Williams said in his statement that he was a commander at the time he was given the order by Tanaka and Waldie, who retired last year.

Tanaka and Waldie declined to comment. In a written statement, a sheriff's spokeswoman denied that there was misconduct in the promotions process, saying "all policies and procedures were followed in regards to promotions. There are protocols in place, including Civil Service rules, to ensure an impartial process."

Reached at home, Williams declined to comment for this story.

Contacted by The Times, a recently retired sergeant, Tommy Martinez, said Williams told him in January that he was among the candidates who were to be excluded from promotions. According to Martinez, Williams said Tanaka and Waldie passed him a slip of paper with the names of about six sergeants — some of whom were to get their scores inflated, and others who were to get points docked.

Martinez said he had applied for promotion to lieutenant several times but was always passed over.

"I did do all the things to be lieutenant. I earned that," Martinez said. "I am not asking for anything I have not earned."

Martinez said Williams' claims reinforced his long-held belief that he had been blackballed for promotion because of an incident in the 1990s, when he said he was a witness in a hostile workplace investigation against Tanaka.

The department's official watchdog, Michael Gennaco, declined to weigh in on Williams' allegation, but did confirm that in general, manipulation of promotional scores would be a department policy violation.

Williams' description of the orders that he was given to manipulate scores is brief and short on details. The declaration appears to have been prepared to be part of a court filing. The Times was unable to find the document in court records. In his declaration, Williams does not specifically say whether he was the one who altered the candidates' scores. The sworn statement also does not name the candidates.

Much of his declaration relates to an unrelated lawsuit filed by three sheriff's employees who claimed to be victims of discrimination and retaliation. That case was settled last month for $780,000. Martinez, who was not involved in that litigation but is considering whether to bring his own legal case, said that Williams told him the declaration was written in support of that lawsuit.

Bradley Gage, the attorney who represented those employees in the discrimination suit, said generally that when promotions are not based on merit, deputies' morale suffers.

"In a well-run organization where everybody is treated equally, those individuals who are most qualified get promotions. That motivates employees to do a good job," Gage said. "If, instead, employees are promoted because they engage in a code of silence or because of their race or because they're paying money as part of a political contribution to help get the boss elected, that hurts morale."

robert.faturechi@latimes.com

jack.leonard@latimes.com

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