Sheriff trying to rid East L.A. station of rogue deputy group

EAST LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says measures are underway at the East Los Angeles sheriff's station to rebuild the leadership team and address rogue activity by a deputy clique called "Los Banditos."

Between 34 and 38 deputies have transferred out or retired and the sheriff has appointed a new captain who is implementing a program to hold supervisors accountable for behavior that is out of policy.

"We want to make sure that everything they see that is right and what they see is wrong they either correct or praise," says Capt. Ernie Chavez, who took over the station in January.

The shakeup follows allegations by seven junior deputies that they were attacked by members of the Banditos, an exclusive clique known by their tattoos of a skull wearing a sombrero.

Four alleged Bandito deputies are on paid administrative leave and the district attorney is now weighing potential criminal charges. The alleged victims are suing L.A. County.

The sheriff says that previous supervisors at the East L.A. station failed to rein in deputy power players.

"It became toxic - and they did not do their job as supervisors. They just kind of looked the other way," says the sheriff.

In a casual tour of the station by an Eyewitness News crew, some personnel spoke about pride, the amount of work done by deputies, their commitment to public safety and the number of employees who live in East Los Angeles. Yet they say negative stories seem to dominate the headlines.

The crew also observed a controversial station emblem which has raised questions for years about the culture at the station.

The logo is a circle with the station's adopted name, "Fort Apache." In the lower part it says "Low Profile." A Spanish phrase encircles the center "Siempre Una Patada En Los Pantalones," which means "Always a kick in the pants." A boot and helmet are in the center.

"Fort Apache" is the name of a John Wayne Western movie about the cavalry defending territory against the Apaches.

Defenders of the emblem say the logo is not about conflict but about history. The East L.A. station is the oldest sheriff's station in existence and at one time was a lone outpost.

The "low profile" is said to refer to the 1970 East Los Angeles moratorium in which deputies were urged to stand back.

The "kick in the pants" is said to be comic relief meant as fun, not a threat.

Capt. Chavez says he is still learning the history of the logo but says the station needs to do a better job of explaining its true message to the community.

He stresses that the key to success at the station is building community trust and supporting supervisors who will blow the whistle on deputies who are engaging in misconduct.

"We are all in it together. I know they feel that I am committed to them as they are committed to me. Which in turn, we are all committed to the community."
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