Hearing held into allegations of deputy gangs in LA County Sheriff's Department

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- The civilian commission that oversees the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department opened hearings Tuesday into allegations of deputy gangs. Witnesses told them the gangs exist and have a lot of power within the department.

For 50 years, investigators, families and people from within the L.A. County Sheriff's Department have accused deputies of forming gangs for status and schedule, glorifying a defiance that breaks the chain of command.

Inspector General Max Huntsman, whose office is investigating 41 deputies for being part of active gangs, led testimony Tuesday that focused on the alleged Banditos group at the East Los Angeles station and the Executioners group at the Compton station.

Testimony states all members are men and none are African American.

Membership is marked with tattoos, often skulls and rifles. The Banditos include sombreros. A smoking gun, Huntsman said, is anecdotally known to represent an officer who killed someone while on duty.

LASD 'Executioners': Compton mayor says deputies have 'terrorized the community for decades'
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Compton's mayor and city activists shared stories of mistreatment by sheriff's deputies as they called for an investigation into a rogue deputy gang nicknamed the "Executioners."



Roughly half of those in the room Tuesday lost someone in a police shooting, including Stephanie Luna, who shared public comments on behalf of her nephew Anthony Vargas.

"People aren't afraid to come forward," Luna said. "The inspector general isn't afraid to challenge the sheriff's department and that's something we've needed the whole time."

READ MORE: Autopsy report reveals East L.A. man was shot 13 times in back by deputies
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It's been nearly a year since Anthony Vargas was shot and killed following an encounter with two East Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department deputies.



She told us her family's civil case is still pending. So far the county has paid more than $50 million in settlements to other families regarding deputy gangs.

In his testimony, Huntsman accused the department of a cover up.

He pointed to a 2018 fight where Banditos members assaulted colleagues at a work party.

In the internal investigation log, the investigator says he was told by the captain that he does "not need to ask about subculture groups" at the East L.A. Station. And so he didn't.

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Sheriff Alex Villanueva unveiled a new policy on department cliques or gangs as one deputy describes an attack that sent two colleagues to the hospital.



LASD Lt. Larry Waldie also testified, focusing on the Executioners at the Compton station where he was captain from 2018 to 2019.

He described one of his colleagues as a so-called "shot caller" that called the shots. When that colleague didn't get what he asked for, he initiated what's known as a work slowdown.

"Only taking calls for service and when you do take calls of service, you ensure that your service is diminished by longer response times for non-priority calls, non-emergency calls, as well as not having a police presence and allowing crime to rise," Waldie said.

Evidence presented showed crime went up in Compton during the same time period as the slowdown.

What evidence could not show was context from current Sheriff Alex Villanueva.

The commission asked him to testify, to which his office replied that he would not be able to attend.

"And I just want to say, yes Sheriff Villanueva, it is unfortunate you're not here," said Robert C. Bonner of the Civilian Oversight Commission.

ABC7 spoke with the sheriff later in the day, Tuesday. The invitation and its timing were not of interest.

"Imagine that, we are two weeks before the election, and they're holding a political, kabuki theater," Villanueva said.

READ MORE: LA County Sheriff Villanueva must testify under oath about 'deputy gangs,' judge rules
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Sheriff Alex Villanueva will have to appear before the Office of Inspector General and answer questions about so-called deputy gangs while under oath.



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