'They are a cancer:' Deputy gangs still operating within LA County sheriff's department, report says

The report also determined that new deputy cliques form as members of existing groups retire or otherwise leave LASD.

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Saturday, March 4, 2023
Deputy gangs still operating within LASD, report says
A scathing report issued by the Civilian Oversight Commission shows members of such deputy gangs "run'' many of the county's patrol stations.

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A scathing report issued Friday by the Civilian Oversight Commission revealed there are deputy gangs and cliques still operating within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, including at several stations such as East Los Angeles and Compton.

According to the special counsel's 70-page report, members of such deputy gangs as the Executioners, the Banditos, the Regulators, the Spartans, the Gladiators, the Cowboys and the Reapers "run'' many of the county's patrol stations, as opposed to the sergeants, lieutenants and captains ostensibly in charge.

The report also determined that new deputy cliques form as members of existing groups retire or otherwise leave the sheriff's department. There is evidence to suggest that gangs are now re-emerging in Men's Central Jail after efforts over the years to eradicate the problem of excessive force behind bars, the special counsel found.

"Contrary to the statements of the prior sheriff, deputy gangs exist and operate in the department, as they have for the last 50 years. They are a cancer," said Bert Deixler, the special counsel who led the investigation.

"Many of the people with whom we spoke expressed fears of personal or professional harm, not just for themselves, but often for spouses and children who serve in a department," he added.

Most troubling, the report said, the gangs "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.''

Hans Johnson, who is on the Civilian Oversight Commission, called the report "50 years of denial, obfuscation, foot dragging and stonewalling about the reality that is documented in this report."

The commission came up with a number of recommendations, including rotating deputies to different stations and outlawing gang-related tattoos.

Deputies sued in civil lawsuits arising from the alleged use of excessive force cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in judgments and settlements, the report said, estimating that the additional cost to the county in such cases is upwards of $55 million.

Meanwhile, past administrations such as that of disgraced former Sheriff Lee Baca have promoted tattooed deputy gang members to the highest levels of leadership in the LASD, the report contends.

"Promoting deputy gang members into leadership positions reinforces the power of deputy gangs and deputy cliques and undermines the ability of officials to implement reforms aimed at eliminating them within the department,'' the special counsel team wrote this week.

While not addressing the report directly, Sheriff Robert Luna said Friday that he was elected to "bring new leadership and accountability'' to the department, and has created an office for "constitutional policing,'' led by former U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker.

That office, Luna said in a statement, "will be staffed with attorneys, investigators, and auditors, and it will be tasked with helping to eradicate deputy gangs from this department. The vast majority of the department personnel are hardworking and dedicated professionals who are committed to humbly serving the community.''

"We look forward to working with the Civilian Oversight Commission and Inspector General on this in the future.''

Inspector General Max Huntsman said, "We're going to start moving the culture right now. It's already begun since the election. The new sheriff has a totally different approach and I've seen change within the sheriffs department in response to that."

In the hearing Friday at which Diexler presented the report, the Civilian Oversight Commission approved the document and adopted its guidance. The report's recommendations will be sent to Luna, with the commission's urging that he adopt, implement and start enforcing them immediately. The document will also be sent to the Board of Supervisors to fulfill their September 2021 directive to develop a plan to address the problem.

"We have faith that Sheriff Luna's administration understands the damage that deputy gangs cause,'' Danielle Butler Vappie, interim executive director for the commission, said in a statement. The gangs "put a stain on all the positive work that is being done by honorable deputies each day,'' she added.

Meanwhile, some people told ABC7 they're skeptical that there will be any actual changes.

"What there isn't is the testimony from family members that are faced with retaliation by these deputy gang members on a daily basis," said one speaker.

The investigation involved eight hearings that included witness testimony and public comments. The special counsel's team also interviewed nearly 80 anonymous witnesses.

Supervisors voted to implement the commission in January 2016 with the mission to oversee and improve public transparency and accountability with respect to the Sheriff's Department. The long history of documentation on deputy gangs includes the 2012 Citizens' Commission on Jail Violence Report, the Inspector General's analysis of the Banditos, Loyola Law School's study of the deputy gang issue, Knock LA's investigative series, and most recently a 2021 Rand study.

City News Service, Inc. contributed to this report.