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Deputy gangs a 'cancer' within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, scathing report says

The 70-page report by the Civilian Oversight Commission’s special counsel accused the department of harboring secretive groups that must be immediately "excised."
Image: Robert G. Luna
Los Angeles County Sheriff Robert Luna speaks at the Hall of Justice on Feb. 20. Damian Dovarganes / AP

LOS ANGELES — The embattled Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department is under fire once again, this time in a scathing 70-page report by a special counsel tasked with investigating secretive groups, or deputy gangs, that have operated within the agency for decades.

The report by the Civilian Oversight Commission condemned the groups, whose members engage in “egregious conduct” like using excessive force and threatening colleagues, as a “cancer” that must be banned immediately. It also accused the union that represents the sheriff's deputies of failing to stop the gangs and protecting alleged members.

The report said that although the groups may have started decades ago with "benign intentions," they have evolved into deputy gangs "whose members not only use gang-like symbols but engage in gang-type and criminal behavior directed against the public and other Department members," the report stated.

"They create rituals that valorize violence, such as recording all deputy involved shootings in an official book," the report continued, "celebrating with 'shooting parties,' and authorizing deputies who have shot a community member to add embellishments to their common gang tattoos."

Sheriff Robert Luna said in a statement Friday that he was elected in November to "bring new leadership and accountability to this Department" and thanked the commission for its work but stopped short of committing to immediately ban the cliques.

"The vast majority of the Department personnel are hardworking and dedicated professionals who are committed to humbly serving the community," Luna said. "We look forward to working with the Civilian Oversight Commission and Inspector General on this in the future."

Luna announced last month that he was creating an Office of Constitutional Policing to eradicate deputy gangs, comply with consent decrees, and ensure the department’s policies and procedures uphold the public’s constitutional rights. The office will be led by former U.S Attorney Eileen Decker and staffed with attorneys, investigators and auditors.

Luna defeated incumbent Alex Villanueva last fall to become the county’s 34th sheriff. He vowed to usher in an era of integrity and collaboration after his predecessor’s tenure was marked by clashes with other public officials and allegations that deputy gangs ran amok within the agency.

Much like street gangs, the deputy gang members identify themselves by code names, such as the Banditos, Executioners, Regulators, Spartans, Reapers, Wayside Whities and 3000 Boys, according to the report. Members often sport matching tattoos and use language and gestures associated with street gangs.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents more than 8,000 deputies, said in a statement that it has "always been a willing partner to assist the department to improve its performance and strengthen public trust — dealing with the department’s culture is no different."

The union "does not condone behavior that is unlawful or intentionally violates the standards of modern professional policing," Vice President Richard Pippin said in the statement. "ALADS members are hardworking peace officers who risk their lives each day to protect others, and it is our hope that under Sheriff Robert Luna, ALADS can actively participate to help enhance the department’s ability to create a safer Los Angeles County."