Last week eight Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies, represented by attorney Vincent Miller, filed a 64-page civil complaint that describes a reign of terror by members of the Banditos, the now-notorious deputy clique based at the department’s East Los Angeles Station.
The filing of the lawsuit, while not unexpected, has again focused attention on the serious concerns about the LASD’s deputy gangs, despite claims by Sheriff Alex Villanueva, that they are no longer really a problem.
The complaint details how the members of the Banditos engaged in a pattern of intimidation and retaliation against those who didn’t go along with their actions, or worse, became whistleblowers, as at least two of the lawsuit’s plaintiffs reportedly did in desperation.
The retaliation that resulted for those who ran afoul of the Banditos, according to the lawsuit, consisted of escalating harassment, ranging from verbal taunts, or keying someone’s car, and the like, to putting deputies in physical danger by failing to provide support on potentially perilous work call outs, several instances of which the complaint details.
One of the worst of these episodes reportedly occurred on September 19, 2018, and resulted in two deputies from the East LA station being shot while on duty (albeit, fortunately, not fatally), “because of the intentional failure of the Banditos to provide back up,” states the complaint.
The lawsuit also describes incidents of physical assault, most dramatically the assaults that occurred in wee hours on September 29, 2018, when a violent brawl broke out at Kennedy Hall, a rentable event venue, where those who worked at the East LA station, were holding an “end-of-training” after-hours party.
The fight started when members of the Banditos attempted to intimidate, then attacked multiple other non-Bandito deputies (who are among the lawsuit’s plaintiffs) choking one into unconsciousness with his own shirt, knocking down and kicking a second deputy plaintiff also into unconsciousness, reportedly causing a concussion, beating and kicking still others, who tried to come to the rescue of the first deputies. And all of this done in front witnesses.
The brutality reportedly didn’t stop there. After some of the plaintiffs managed to get their injured fellow deputies into a car in order to escape their attackers, Bandito “shot caller,” Silvano “Cholo” Garcia, and others whom the complaint identifies—both by their given names and gangster nicknames, G-Rod, Big Listo, and Silver—all got into Cholo’s car and with Cholo driving, went looking for the lawsuit’s plaintiffs to further attack them. The four Banditos reportedly even drove to the East Los Angeles Station, where they went from car to car, hoping to locate their victims.
“But fortunately all of the Plaintiffs had fled elsewhere, and not to the station where they would have been sitting ducks for further attack.”
The lengthy, and anecdote-filled text of the newly-filed complaint makes for genuinely harrowing reading.
(WLA readers are already familiar with many of the lawsuit’s allegations since we broke the story about the Kennedy Hall assaults, and have written additionally about the expanding allegations as the lawsuit was developing.)
The new lawsuit also adds fuel to the already serious concerns about department’s deputy cliques held by the department’s Civilian Oversight Commission (COC), the Office of the Inspector General (OIG), the LA County Board of Supervisors, plus many department members.
Even some of its minor points are troubling, such as its report that the video of the Kennedy Hall fight provided to the sheriff’s department by the venue, has now magically vanished from the LASDs keeping.
And while again pointing to the gravity of the LASD’s toxic problem with deputy cliques, the complaint lists a variety of incidents in which Sheriff Alex Villanueva has either downplayed the problems posed by deputy gangs, or appears at times to be, as the lawsuit puts it, “protecting the gangs from proper scrutiny and disciplinary action.”
Only in LA
Sheriff Villanueva is not alone in his resistance to addressing the issue of deputy gangs. Every LA County Sheriff from Sherman Block forward has failed to take on the corrosive deputy cliques that have plagued the LA County’s Sheriff Department for at least 50 years.
In part for that reason, deputy gangs are a problem that appears to be specific to Los Angeles.
“It’s truly a homegrown phenomenon. We’re unique,” said Sean Kennedy, who is one of the L.A. County Civilian Oversight Commissioners, the former Federal Public Defender for California’s Central District, and now the Executive Director of the Center for Juvenile Law & Policy at Loyola Law School.
Kennedy is also a member of the ad-hoc committee of the COC, which has been specifically looking into “secret deputy subgroups.”
Together with a team of Loyola Law School student researchers, Kennedy has found, among other discoveries, that there were, for a time, “racial gangs” in the New Orleans Police Department. “But they took care of them,” he said. The same occurred in Oakland.
Only LA continues to let deputy gangs thrive, according to Kennedy and his researchers.
“LASD management often states that law enforcement gangs exist in many other departments,” Kennedy told WitnessLA, “but my students and I have canvassed national newspapers and have not found reporting about law enforcement gangs in other jurisdictions, except for shorter periods of time in New Orleans and Oakland.”
This suggests, he said, “that the problem is more unique to LASD than their management would like to admit.”
Furthermore, Kennedy said, “the failure of elected L.A. Sheriffs to do anything affirmative to investigate the internal gangs is likely one of the major reasons that they have persisted for so long.”
Yes, the LAPD had its notorious Rampart division in the early 1990s, a massive scandal that produced a sharp-toothed federal consent decree. But, while the LAPD still has its challenges, worrying about gangster cops on the street isn’t one of them. After the Rampart debacle, certain department leaders, including former LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, during his tenure, used the consent decree as a tool to push through many badly needed reforms.
Yet, decade after decade, under administration after administration, the LASD has declined to face its own even more urgent need for such reform, when it comes to deputy cliques.
Tattoos, creeds, and a glorification of violence
According to a memo resulting from research by the COC’s ad-hoc committee, which WLA has obtained, there are a number of elements that LASD’s deputy gangs have in common, which differentiates them from work-based social groups, affinity groups found in the military, or simple expressions of station pride.
“Canvassing the decades-long reporting on different LASD gangs,” the memo says, “reveals stark commonalities.” Among them are tattoos that depict “menacing” images, secrecy, distrust of LASD management, “an us-against-them mentality, “othering” minorities, and “lauding uses of force, especially shootings.”
The part about deputy cliques “lauding uses of force,” has repeatedly been denied by department, but documentation, and anecdotal observation by veteran supervisors clearly says otherwise.
In May 2012, the accidental discovery of the existence of the deputy clique, the Jump Out Boys, occurred when an LASD supervisor found a printed copy of the group’s creed in the trunk of a patrol car last used by a member of the Gang Enforcement Team (GET). The rules stated, among other things, that members would receive a tattoo, or an addition to their tattoo, after being involved in a shooting.
Documentation of a similar ethic turned up in a 2007 memo detailing the behavior of the Regulators, which at that time operated out of Century Station where, according to the 2007 memo, they controlled overtime assignments and promotions for the station and ‘boldly used’ the station’s facilities “for their meetings, with no regard for supervision,” or respect for rank
Five years later, the September 28, 2012, report released by the Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence, explained how a breaking a bone of a jail inmate, often the orbital bone, was the price of admission to the “2000 Boys,” one of the two deputy gangs that then operated in Men’s Central Jail.
And then, of course, there were the infamous Lynwood Vikings, the Grim Reapers, the Cavemen, the Pirates, and so on.
“The groups also demand a code of silence, violence, and loyalty to fellow members” that denies, ignores or minimizes deputy misconduct,” and has made “investigation difficult and dangerous,” states Supervisor Sheila Kuehl’s April 30 motion, which asked for a list of all claims and lawsuits since 1990 in which the claim involved allegations that a member of one of the department’s secret societies or cliques. was involved.
The actions of these groups, concluded the motion, “have actively harmed” residents of the county, other sheriff’s deputies, “and have cost” the county “millions of dollars in lawsuits and settlements.”
There are many such examples, of course, such as the July 2016 settlement, in which LA County paid out $10.1 million because two decades before, an LA Sheriff’s deputy named Craig Ditsch, who was an active member of the Lynwood Vikings, and a close supporter—according to Ditsch —of former LASD undersheriff Paul Tanaka, who described his mentor’s controversial use of the term “gray area” as proactive policing, influenced witnesses to identify then 16-year-old Franky Carrillo as a killer. Carrillo, a teenager with no previous criminal record, who never stopped maintaining his innocence, to go to prison for 20 years on a wrongful conviction.
Ditsch—-and Roy Luna, who was also named in Carrillo’s civil lawsuit—were named multiple times in the huge and influential class action lawsuit of 1990, Thomas, et al v. the County of Los Angeles, about which both a U.S. District Court Judge, and the 9th Circuit Court of appeals wrote as a finding of fact:
“The actions of many deputies working in the Lynwood sub-station are motivated by racial hostility; these deputies regularly disregard the civil rights of individuals they have sworn to protect. Many of the incidents which brought about this motion involved a group of Lynwood area deputies who are members of a neo-Nazi, white supremacist gang—the Vikings—which exists with the knowledge of departmental policymakers.”
According to a COC memo on the topic, written by Sean Kennedy, the greatest danger of deputy gangs is to due process.
“The elected sheriff’s failure to deal with deputy gangs creates a ripple effect that negatively impacts the entire criminal justice system,” writes Kennedy.
Because the department’s management has declined to find out which employees are in deputy gangs, the memo explains, the LASD, in turn, doesn’t tell the district attorney’s office if a department member they’ve subpoenaed to testify is a member of a deputy gang. This means that deputy district attorneys subsequently never notify defense counsel about impeachment evidence relating to their sheriff witnesses—all of which, according to Kennedy, undermines the “fundamental fairness in criminal trials and increase wrongful convictions.”
After the release of the new lawsuit, Inspector General Max Huntsman, who usually avoids on-the-record statement to reporters, made an exception, and sent WitnessLA, along with three other news outlets, a statement outlining some of the dangers he perceived the present deputy gang situation presented.
“When law enforcement management condones behavior that violates constitutional rights over decades,” Huntsman wrote, “the people engaging in that behavior become emboldened.”
The Banditos, the 2000 Boys, the 3000 Boys, and the Jump Out Boys, “have all used violence and intimidation. A rather famous Viking even sent armed Sheriff’s Deputies to attempt to intimidate an FBI agent who ran afoul of him by investigating.”
Huntsman was, of course, referring to former undersheriff, Paul Tanaka, who is now doing a five-year sentence in federal prison.
“If LASD exhaustively investigated allegations of misconduct by secret society members and compelled secret society members to provide statements in such cases, some of these acts of violence and intimidation might not have occurred.”
He then pointed to how the LASD gang situation had recently affected him personally.
“I will say that the Sheriff’s public designation of me as a criminal target, in response to my public reporting on a secret society member’s rehiring and with investigations of secret societies pending, was indeed dangerous because the secret society members listen.
(Regarding the “secret society member’s rehiring,” Huntsman meant his exhaustively-researched analysis of the sheriff’s so-called Truth and Reconciliation Program—specifically looking at how the program worked when it came to the controversial re-hiring of Deputy Caren Carl Mandoyan, which included a copy of the transcript of the recording of Mandoyan’s phone call to his ex-girlfriend, in which he threatens her with retaliation by his well-connected Grim Reaper pals. “It’s gonna be real funny when you fuckin’ see just how much influence I have,” he says.)
“Deputy sheriffs join the department to be peace officers, but their job is difficult and can feel thankless,” wrote Huntsman as he concluded. “Some can lose sight of their role if not properly supervised. Dog whistling that small group is dangerous.”
So it would seem.
According to a former high ranking veteran department member who testified before the COC, 15 to 20 percent of the sworn members working right now in the Sheriff’s Department are members of deputy gangs.
Another experienced department member WLA spoke with over the weekend puts the number lower, at closer to 10 percent.
If either or both are reasonably correct, that means between 80 to 90 percent of the LASD’s sworn department members, the men and women who work day-in and day-out to keep Los Angeles County’s communities safe, are not members of deputy gangs And presumably, that majority of LA County Sheriff’s deputies who are not gangsters would prefer to go to work without worrying about whether or not their inked fellow deputies will be willing to have their backs when it counts.
Editor’s note: This story was corrected at 2 p.m. on September 25, 2019, and several additions were made at that time as well, prominent among them, the introduction to the section pertaining to Inspector General Max Huntsman, which somehow got lopped off in one round of editing.