At least a half dozen deputy gangs or cliques are currently active throughout the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and misbehavior by members has already cost taxpayers more than $55 million, according to a scathing report by the Civilian Oversight Commission.
According to the special counsel’s 70-page report, which was released Friday, members of such deputy gangs as the Executioners, the Banditos, the Regulators, the Spartans, the Gladiators, the Cowboys and the Reapers “run” many of the county’s patrol stations, as opposed to the sergeants, lieutenants and captains ostensibly in charge.
The report also determined that new deputy cliques form as members of existing groups retire or otherwise leave the Sheriff’s Department. There is evidence to suggest that gangs are now re-emerging in Men’s Central Jail after efforts over the years to eradicate the problem of excessive force behind bars, the special counsel found.
“Merely transferring members of deputy gangs or deputy cliques has not proved particularly effective,” the report states.
Most troubling, the report says, the gangs “create rituals that valorize violence, such as recording all deputy involved shootings in an official book, celebrating with ‘shooting parties,’ and authorizing deputies who have shot a community member to add embellishments to their common gang tattoos.”
Deputies sued in civil lawsuits arising from the alleged use of excessive force cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in judgments and settlements, the report said, estimating that the additional cost to the county in such cases is upwards of $55 million.
Meanwhile, past administrations such as that of disgraced former Sheriff Lee Baca have promoted tattooed deputy gang members to the highest levels of leadership in the LASD, the report contends.
“Promoting deputy gang members into leadership positions reinforces the power of deputy gangs and deputy cliques and undermines the ability of officials to implement reforms aimed at eliminating them within the department,” the special counsel team wrote this week.
While not addressing the report directly, Sheriff Robert Luna said Friday he was elected to “bring new leadership and accountability” to the department and has created an office for “constitutional policing,” led by former U.S. Attorney Eileen Decker.
That office, Luna said in a statement, “will be staffed with attorneys, investigators, and auditors, and it will be tasked with helping to eradicate deputy gangs from this department. The vast majority of the department personnel are hardworking and dedicated professionals who are committed to humbly serving the community.”
“We look forward to working with the Civilian Oversight Commission and Inspector General on this in the future.”
In a hearing Friday where Special Counsel Bert Diexler presented the report, the Civilian Oversight Commission approved the document and adopted its guidance. The report’s recommendations will be sent to Luna, with the commission’s urging that he adopt, implement and start enforcing them immediately. The document will also be sent to the Board of Supervisors to fulfill their September 2021 directive to develop a plan to address the problem.
“We have faith that Sheriff Luna’s administration understands the damage that deputy gangs cause,” Danielle Butler Vappie, interim executive director for the commission, said in a statement. The gangs “put a stain on all the positive work that is being done by honorable deputies each day,” she added.
The investigation involved eight hearings that included witness testimony and public comments. The special counsel’s team also interviewed nearly 80 anonymous witnesses.
Supervisors voted to implement the commission in January 2016 with the mission to oversee and improve public transparency and accountability with respect to the Sheriff’s Department. The long history of documentation on deputy gangs includes the 2012 Citizens’ Commission on Jail Violence Report, the Inspector General’s analysis of the Banditos, Loyola Law School’s study of the deputy gang issue, Knock LA’s investigative series, and most recently a 2021 Rand study.