On Thursday, March 24, Sean Kennedy, the chair of Los Angeles County Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission or COC, announced that the commission will launch a full-scale investigation into the deputy gangs that have plagued the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, and many of the communities it polices, for around 50 years.
The COC-launched investigation will include a team of high-profile lawyers who will conduct the probe on a pro bono basis.
Its purpose, according to Kennedy, is to “analyze the continued existence and impact of deputy gangs and evaluate what is needed to eradicate them.”
To make sure the attorney/investigators will get the cooperation they need, the commission, Kennedy said, will use its “full subpoena power,” in order to procure critical testimony for the new probe, which will likely include interviews conducted at the COC’s regular monthly meetings, and also during specially scheduled public hearings.
“Deputy gangs have fostered and promoted excessive force against citizens, discriminated against other deputies based on race and gender, and undermined the chain of command and discipline,” he said regarding why a the investigation is needed.
In addition to his work on the COC, Sean Kennedy is the director for Loyola Law School’s Center for Juvenile Law & Policy Executive Director, and the former federal Public Defender for the Central District of California.
Together with a smart and determined team of law students, Kennedy is also the author of Loyola Law School’s excellent and exhaustive 50 Years of Deputy Gangs Report.
Yet, “despite years of documented history of this issue,” wrote Kennedy in Thursday’s announcement, “the Department has failed to eliminate the gangs.”
Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva vehemently disagrees.
“There are no facts to present, just a ‘fishing expedition’ and political theater,” Villanueva wrote on Thursday afternoon in response to Kennedy and the COC’s announcement.
“The law clearly states,” the sheriff wrote, “‘Law enforcement gang’ means a group of peace officers within a law enforcement agency who may identify themselves by a name and may be associated with an identifying symbol, including, but not limited to, matching tattoos, and who engage in a pattern of on-duty behavior that intentionally violates the law or fundamental principles of professional policing’ must exist.”
According to Villanueva, based on that description, the LASD has no gang problem.
The sheriff went on to describe the COC’s announcement as “the weaponization of government in order to influence the outcome of an election, nothing more.”
Kennedy, the COC, and a long list of high-ticket payouts by LA County taxpayers, with more likely on the way, suggest that, despite what the head of the nation’s largest sheriff’s office continues to maintain, at certain stations in his department, deputy gangs are alive and well.
And not in a good way.
50 years of gangster with badges
The past leadership of the department—from former sheriffs Sherman Block, Lee Baca, and Jim McDonnell—made minor gestures in the direction of doing something about the toxic deputy gang culture that has long plagued the LASD, but little more.
Villanueva, however, has arguably taken this unwillingness to root out the problem to extravagant heights.
Prior to Thursday, the most recent example of Sheriff Villanueva’s refusal to deal with the issue of deputy cliques occurred on Wednesday March 23, after LA County Inspector General Max Huntsman sent Villanueva a letter two days earlier, asking for the department to send him a list of deputy gang-related documentation, to which the IG and his office are legally entitled, and that Huntsman said he requested two months ago.
“We have read the letter from Mr. Huntsman, and it is consistent with his unhealthy obsession to attack the department….”
The Rand Corporation, multiple reports, and lots and lots of lawsuits
Last fall, the sheriff was similarly dismissive when the nonprofit RAND Corporation released their long-awaited 230-page report on the LASD’s deputy “subgroups.”
The RAND report was commissioned by the LA County Board of Supervisors, who have long been fed up with the deputy gang issue.
In the course of their deep-dive research, the RAND team conducted an anonymous survey of the LASD’s roughly 10,000 sworn personnel, out of which they received responses from 1,608 deputies and supervisors.
“At their worst,” the authors wrote, these “sub-groups encourage violence, undermine the chain of command, and gravely harm relationships with the communities that LASD is dedicated to serve.”
After the release of the RAND research, the sheriff held a press conference at which he predictably slammed the investigation.
Deputy gangs or subgroups, said Villanueva of the report, are a “problem of perception but not reality.”
As for the members of these same so-called deputy gangs, or sub groups, such as those affiliated with the Banditos of the department’s East LA station, the Grim Reapers originally out of the Lennox station, and the Executioners who are associated with the LASD’s Compton station, Sheriff Villanueva had this to say:
“They’re a glorified bunch of people who go to the river on the weekend and party. That’s all they are.”
The Rand report’s authors, “were not interested in the truth,” he said.
A team of investigators
Since its formation in 2017, the COC has been tracking the issue of deputy gangs at the request of members of certain communities, particularly those policed by the East Los Angeles and Compton sheriff’s stations.
Yet the problem remains.
The new bigger and badder COC inquiry is expected to proceed for “the next 5-6 months,” and will be led by attorney Bert H. Deixler, who was also a lead attorney in investigation conducted in 2011-2012 by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, the blue ribbon commission created by LA County Board of Supervisors to investigate the notorious level of corruption and brutality occurring in the county’s jails.
Deixler will be supported by an array of high profile lawyers including Bart Williams and Susan L. Gutierrez of Proskauer; Anthony Pacheco of Vedder Price and former member of the LA Police Commission, Carolyn Kubota of Covington and Naeun Rim of Manatt, Phelps & Phillips.
The Commission will also coordinate IG Huntsman.
The Executioners insignia in the photo at the top is reportedly at a member’s desk, courtesy of Attorney Alan Romero