By 2UrbanGirls, Contributing Writer
LOS ANGELES — Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he will take disciplinary action against deputies accused of being part of secret cliques that engaged in violent or criminal behavior.
During a press conference Aug. 13, Villanueva disclosed that 26 notices of disciplinary action were given out, including terminations, to deputies believed to be involved in these so-called gangs. Most of those being disciplined were involved in a clique called the Banditos working out of the East Los Angeles Sheriff’s Station, but Villanueva and two of his key aides said cliques at other stations also would be targeted.
Compton officials held a press conference Aug. 4 to demand an investigation into a deputy’s claims of “internal gangs” working inside the Compton Sheriff’s Station and Mayor Aja Brown’s assertions that deputies violated her rights.
“My family was pulled over by Compton deputies for proceeding forward and not stopping at the limit line,” Brown said. “My rights were violated and I was disrespected by deputies with no knowledge or respect for Compton residents.”
Sheriff Villanueva previously shared with 2UrbanGirls that the investigations began shortly after the department was made aware of allegations that a group called “The Executioners” had formed inside the Compton station.
“When we had the first claim that had an issue to do with a sub-group, we conducted an investigation and the district attorney declined to prosecute,” Villanueva said. “And we immediately went to the FBI and asked them to participate in our investigation.”
Last week’s disciplinary letters stemmed from an internal investigation into the East L.A. Sheriff’s Station clique. The Banditos reportedly brand themselves with matching tattoos of a skeleton outfitted in a sombrero, bandolier and pistol.
In September 2019, eight deputies filed a lawsuit against L.A. County, claiming they were beaten, harassed and forced to pay off members of the Banditos. Those who didn’t were denied backup on dangerous calls.
Villanueva stressed he has adopted a “zero-tolerance” policy when it comes to addressing the formation of groups inside the department.
“If you form a group, you mistreat people, yes, we will seek to make sure you are no longer a member of the department,” Villanueva said.
Deputy gangs have plagued the Sheriff’s department for decades and Villanueva continues to work towards restoring the public’s confidence in the department by being transparent with the outcomes of these investigations.
Matthew Burson, chief of the department’s professional standard division, is leading the charge against alleged deputy subgroups that he said are commonly referred to as “deputy gangs,” with names such as Vikings, Reapers, Regulators, Little Devils, Cowboys, 2,000 and 3,000 Boys, Jump Out Boys, and most recently Banditos and Executioners.
“I take the utmost pride in this profession,” Burson said. “I am absolutely sickened by the mere allegation of any deputy hiding behind a badge to hurt anyone. As you have heard for decades, [the sheriff’s department] has been under intense scrutiny as a result of these groups surfacing in various sheriff’s stations around the county. [The groups’] have not only caused great embarrassment and concern to the department but to the community as well.”
Burson said he has reached out to the FBI to help with the investigation. The department has also adopted a new policy prohibiting deputies from participating in any subversive group.
“Our mission under Sheriff Villanueva’s administration is to eradicate this malicious ideology and restore the department to prominence using the first pillar of the 21st Century policing strategy where we build public trust and legitimacy,” Burson said.
Sheriff Cmdr. April Tardy, who oversees the department’s Central Patrol Division, outlined the administrative investigation process and how the numerous investigations are also reviewed by outside agencies including the District Attorney’s Office and the Office of Inspector General.
City News Service also contributed to this story.