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Sheriff’s captain transferred amid bias, retaliation probe

The captain tasked with overseeing the troubled East Los Angeles sheriff’s station has been reassigned amid a probe into accusations of racial bias and whistleblower retaliation.

Last weekend, The Times reported on a memo claiming that Capt. Pilar Chavez allegedly schemed to give valued detective bureau positions to Latino sergeants to avoid promoting an “angry black” sergeant who had testified about the presence of deputy gangs at the station.

This week, an internal message sent to L.A. County Sheriff’s Department staff showed Chavez is now slated for transfer to the Court Services West Bureau starting Sunday. The reassignment is a lateral move, albeit to a less-coveted post. Chavez did not respond to a request for comment.

Officials confirmed she will be replaced at the East L.A. station by Capt. Brandon Dean, who is currently a captain in the detective division of the Narcotics Bureau.

“Captain Dean has demonstrated experience and leadership which will benefit the cities of Commerce, Cudahy, Maywood, along with the unincorporated communities of East Los Angeles,” said department spokeswoman Lorena Rodriguez.

In taking over the East L.A. station, Dean faces a daunting task. The station has become a magnet for scandal, in part because it is home to a group of deputies known as the Banditos, whose members sport matching skeleton tattoos and have been implicated in lawsuits, shootings and one infamous brawl at an off-duty station party in 2018

Some of the key allegations raised in the memo about Chavez that was reviewed by The Times stem from Sgt. Reginald Hoffman’s efforts to bring to light gang activity at the station, both by testifying as a whistleblower and by later filing suit.

On Jan. 24, according to the memo header, Lt. Shawn O’Donnell, who worked under Chavez in East L.A., sent the eight-page message to Cmdr. Richard Mejia, who oversees several stations.

“In late August 2022, I received a phone call from Captain Chavez on my personal cellular phone,” the memo begins. “Captain Chavez asked me if I heard about the drama going on at the station.”

When O’Donnell said he hadn’t, Chavez went on to tell him that higher-ups had ordered her to interview sergeants for a position in the detective bureau. But Chavez allegedly said she wanted to pick her own sergeants, according to the memo, and that she already had two candidates in mind — neither of whom was Hoffman.

“Captain Chavez also told me Sergeant Reginald Hoffman was the anonymous caller who gave testimony at the Civilian Oversight Committee hearing on May 24, 2022,” the memo continues, referencing one of the seven public hearings the oversight body held last year as part of a probe into into the impact of deputy gangs within the department.

According to the January memo, Chavez allegedly went on to say that Hoffman had “nothing coming to him at East Los Angeles station” and that she’d already given an edge to her preferred detective sergeant candidates by telling them which questions she planned to ask during their interviews.

“Captain Chavez stated they were Hispanic and they were the ones she could trust out of the sergeants who wanted the position,” the memo says. “She also told me there was no way she was going to allow Sergeant Hoffman to get the position because he was an angry black guy who filed a claim and for being the anonymous caller at the COC hearing.”

In the end, Hoffman did not get the job. But a few weeks later, according to the memo, Chavez reached out to O’Donnell again, this time to talk about getting Hoffman sent to another station.

“I asked her why she wanted him removed from the station,” the memo reads. “Captain Chavez told me he is a pain in her ass and he was acting like an angry black.”

Ultimately Hoffman was never moved, but a few weeks later he sued.

The lawsuit alleged that Hoffman had been denied promotions and subjected to racial discrimination and whistleblower retaliation by Latino gang members and their allies at the East L.A. station.

When lawyers for the county filed a response to the suit in January, they said that the problems Hoffman described were hearsay or “unrelated to his protected status as an African American.” The case is still pending.,

Meanwhile Robert Glassman, the attorney representing O’Donnell, said last week that his client may have penned the memo after he was denied a promotion himself and that he is now preparing to sue the county over claims of political retaliation.

News of Chavez’s transfer follows a series of other developments stemming from past problems at the East L.A. station.

In January, another lawsuit alleged that a new “gang” had begun forming in the station.

Last month, the Civilian Oversight Commission hosted a town hall where grieving families of people killed by East L.A. deputies gathered to air their criticisms of the department and demanded change. Days later, a federal judge declared a mistrial in a lawsuit filed by one of those families after jurors could not agree on a verdict. An attorney for the family of Anthony Vargas said they hope to continue pursuing the case in state court.

Then Wednesday, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu denied the county’s request to throw out an $80-million lawsuit filed by eight former East L.A. deputies who say they were harassed and abused by alleged Banditos. The case, which centers on allegations regarding the 2018 off-duty brawl, will go forward, but with a slightly narrower scope.

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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