A former Los Angeles County assistant sheriff is suing Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his department over what she claims was a demotion of her position done in retaliation for complaining about a deputy kneeling on an inmate’s head in March.

Robin Limon, who served on the command staff just below Villanueva, filed the lawsuit in the Los Angeles Superior Court on Wednesday. Limon alleges retaliation, intentional infliction of emotional distress, defamation and violations of the Public Safety Officer’s Bill of Rights. She is seeking at least $3 million in damages.

“The facts and evidence do not support the plaintiff’s claims, and the case will be vigorously defended in court,” the Sheriff’s Department said in a statement to The Times on Thursday.

Limon’s lawsuit claims that Villanueva retaliated against her and other whistleblowers within the department for exposing his coverup of an incident involving Deputy Douglas Johnson kneeling on the head of a handcuffed inmate, Enzo Escalante, at the San Fernando Courthouse in March 2021.

Limon alleges that she was falsely blamed by the sheriff for covering up the incident, and was forced to retire early from the department on March 29.

“Villanueva’s legacy as sheriff will be known as much for incompetence as corruption,” the lawsuit states. “It will take years for any future sheriff to clean up the mess.”

According to the suit, Villanueva spared Johnson from discipline if he promised to destroy the footage of the incident, which was recorded on security cameras at the courthouse and obtained by The Times in late March.

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Johnson is also currently involved in a separate trial for a lawsuit filed by the widow of Lakers legend Kobe Bryant, Vanessa Bryant, for allegedly disseminating photos of the helicopter crash that killed Bryant and eight others, including their 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, in January 2020.

Limon’s lawsuit states that Villanueva was trying to avoid “bad media” coverage of the department, and was concerned over potential public scrutiny over failing to hold Johnson and other deputies accountable.

Limon also claims that the sheriff blocked a criminal investigation into the incident with Escalante at the courthouse and lied about his awareness of what took place by claiming to not have seen the video until months later, in order to “fit a fake timeline.”

“Whistleblowers are supposed to be protected by state and federal statutes and are supposed to be safe from retaliation,” Limon’s suit states. “However, the whistleblowers are not safe in LASD and are not protected by the county.”

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