A deputy district attorney in Los Angeles is accusing her boss of strategically withholding information from the public about ousted former Sheriff Alex Villanueva until after he lost in his reelection bid last year, according to a new whistleblower retaliation lawsuit.
Deputy District Attorney Amy Pellman Pentz, a former leader in the justice system integrity division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, is alleging that progressive DA George Gascon’s office reassigned and demoted her after she took issue with how the events unfolded.
The lawsuit names Los Angeles County in addition to dozens of unnamed officials.
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Central to the issue was a use-of-force case that involved a Los Angeles sheriff’s deputy who was shown on video as he kneeled on an inmate’s neck, according to the lawsuit. Although investigators cleared deputies of wrongdoing in the incident in June 2022, Gascon is accused of concealing their innocence until after Villanueva, a vocal critic of his controversial policies, lost the election months later.
Video of the incident “was illegally released to the public, and was used by Villanueva’s detractors to spread the false narrative that the use of force was illegal and that Villanueva attempted to cover it up,” the lawsuit alleges.
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Typically, according to the lawsuit, once the DA’s office determines that charges will not be filed, it immediately notifies the relevant law enforcement agency. In this case, however, “the Declination was not provided to the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department or any other law enforcement agency.”
According to the lawsuit, one of Pentz’s supervisors called the move “total BS” and indicated that the office didn’t want to give Villenueva “any good news” in the weeks before Election Day.
Villanueva, a Democrat who opposed vaccine mandates and the “defund the police” movement, was attempting to fend off a challenge from Robert Luna, who is described in the lawsuit as a close Gascon ally.
When the former sheriff became aware that the declination was being kept secret, county officials blamed Pentz and retaliated by removing her from her watchdog position, according to the lawsuit.
Gascon and Villanueva tangled in several high-profile feuds.
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After off-duty LAPD Officer Fernando Arroyos was murdered in an apparent gang robbery, the former sheriff brought his case to federal prosecutors rather than Gascon’s office, telling Fox News that the DA “cannot be counted on to hold people accountable.”
And in June 2022, Gascon said that lightweight charges for a suspect who drove a stolen car under the influence and struck a mother while walking her baby in a stroller had the sheriff’s stamp of approval.
“Stop empowering and encouraging criminal behavior,” Villanueva wrote on X, which was still called Twitter at the time, as he noted his county deputies had no involvement in the case, which city police had investigated.
The juvenile suspect got a slap on the wrist, served a few months in “probation camp” and was murdered after his release in a drive-by shooting. He died before his 18th birthday.
The retaliation lawsuit alleges additional misconduct on behalf of the county outside of alleged election interference.
Two open positions in the watchdog division were given to former public defenders who were not qualified for the jobs, according to the lawsuit, and one of them went on to try and indict a sheriff’s deputy on murder charges without sufficient evidence.
Neama Rahmani, a Los Angeles-based attorney and former federal prosecutor, said the lawsuit will hinge not on Gascon’s conduct surrounding Villanueva’s failed reelection but on whether Pentz can prove she was the target of retaliation.
“There is no legal requirement that he announce the results of an investigation by a specific time or at all, even though it is typically done right away,” he told Fox News Digital. “If Gascon did delay the announcement until after the election to hurt Villanueva’s chances, that’s dirty politics, but it’s not actionable.”
However, that doesn’t mean Pentz doesn’t have a retaliation case, he said.
“If Pentz was retaliated against for speaking out, that’s a different question,” he said. “Her employment lawyers need to tie her removal from her position or commission to a protected right, such as free speech, to prevail.”
For example, if she called her superiors out under California’s Government Code 19990, which governs state officers on conflicts of interest, and they demoted her as a result.
“California employees can’t engage in political activities in the workplace or use government resources or their title to fundraise,” Rahmani said.
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