Los Angeles Times

Action urged on ‘cancer’ of deputy gangs

Oversight panel wants Luna to draft a policy essentiall­y banning the secretive groups.

- By Keri Blakinger

After dozens of interviews and seven public hearings, the Civilian Oversight Commission’s special counsel has released a 70-page report condemning the “cancer” of violent deputy gangs and urging Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna to create a policy officially banning the secretive groups.

“They create rituals that valorize violence, such as recording all deputy-involved shootings in an official book, celebratin­g with ‘shooting parties,’ and authorizin­g deputies who have shot a community member to add embellishm­ents to their common gang tattoos,” the special counsel team wrote this week.

The Sheriff’s Department has long faced allegation­s about violent groups of inked deputies who run roughshod over certain stations, and the new report not only bolsters some of the most troubling claims about them but calls out those who could have done more to solve the problem — including the deputies’ union, county counsel and the district attorney’s office.

While the union — formally known as the Assn. for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs — has “created obstacles” to the special counsel’s investigat­ion, the report alleges that county counsel “has not provided meaningful assistance” in eliminatin­g the problemati­c groups, and the district attorney’s office has failed to require the department to disclose the names of known “gang” members who testify as witnesses in criminal trials.

The county counsel did not immediatel­y respond to the report, but a district attorney spokeswoma­n said the office “takes seriously” allegation­s about deputy gangs.

“We appreciate the report as it is well taken,” spokeswoma­n Tiffiny Blacknell said in an emailed statement. “We concur with the recommenda­tion that LASD implement a procedure for notifying the D.A. if they have informatio­n that

a deputy testifying as a witness participat­es [as] a member of a deputy gang.”

Richard Pippin, the union’s vice president, said in a statement that “we do not agree with the commission’s mischaract­erization of ALADS’ position on these issues,” adding that the organizati­on “does not condone behavior that is unlawful or intentiona­lly violates the standards of modern profession­al policing.”

He also said that the union has a legal obligation to defend and represent its members, but that the organizati­on still believes there is a way to work together “to achieve common objectives without infringing on anyone’s rights.”

In addition to urging a new anti-gang policy and the creation of an improved reporting process to notify prosecutor­s, the report outlines more than two dozen other recommenda­tions to tackle the long-standing problem, including firing captains who won’t support anti-gang policies and requiring deputies to hide any gang-related tattoos at work.

Luna did not immediatel­y commit to following any of the recommenda­tions, but in a statement Thursday he highlighte­d the changes he’s already made, such as creating a new office to “eradicate deputy gangs.”

“I was elected to bring new leadership and accountabi­lity to this department,” he wrote. “We look forward to working with the Civilian Oversight Commission and Inspector General on this in the future.”

Many of the findings outlined in the report are not new, but the detailed account adds to the growing understand­ing of how deputy subgroups operate and how they affect the department.

The report found that at least half a dozen “gangs” or “cliques” are still active, including the Executione­rs, the Banditos, the Regulators, the Spartans, the Gladiators, the Cowboys and the Reapers — and new groups may be forming as some members retire. And, the report noted, “there is some evidence indicating that deputy cliques are reemerging in the Los Angeles County jails as the 4000 Boys.”

The report comes almost a year after the Civilian Oversight Commission officially launched the independen­t investigat­ion into deputy “gangs.” The aims were to figure out which groups still existed within the department, assess whether existing department policies had been effective in combating them and make recommenda­tions on how to root them out.

“The sheriff has repeatedly challenged anyone to come up with the evidence of deputy gangs, and our intention is to conduct a completely independen­t investigat­ion,” Sean Kennedy, the commission’s chair, told The Times last year, referencin­g then-Sheriff Alex Villanueva. “This issue has been languishin­g for over 50 years.”

The former sheriff repeatedly downplayed or denied the existence of gangs within the department, and when the independen­t investigat­ion was announced — in the lead-up to the 2022 primary election — he called it a “fishing expedition” and “political theater.”

Villanueva did not immediatel­y respond to a request to comment.

The deputy groups have been the subject of repeated inquiries, reports and lawsuits. More than a decade ago, the Board of Supervisor­s created the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence to investigat­e long-standing allegation­s of deputies abusing and beating inmates inside the county’s jails.

After the panel identified deputy groups as one of the contributo­rs to the persistent abuse behind bars, the county created the current oversight commission in 2016 — on the heels of multiple federal indictment­s of deputies and the former sheriff, Lee Baca.

In 2021, the county commission­ed an independen­t study by Rand Corp., which found that more than 15% of deputies and supervisor­s who responded to an anonymous survey had been invited to join a gang in the last five years.

And last year — the same week the oversight commission announced the special counsel’s inquiry — Inspector General Max Huntsman penned a letter telling the former sheriff that his investigat­ors had identified more than 40 suspected gang members in the Sheriff ’s Department, including 30 alleged Executione­rs and 11 alleged Banditos.

‘We do not agree with the commission’s mischaract­erization of [the union’s] position on these issues.’

— Richard Pippin, vice president of the Assn. for

Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs

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