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L.A. County Watchdog Takes Aim at “Deputy Gangs”

by Douglas Ankney

In a letter sent to 35 deputies withtheLos Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (LASD) on May 12, 2023, county Inspector General Max Huntsman demanded they report for questioning about their involvement in deputy “gangs,” including showing their gang tattoos and giving up the names of other gang members.

Huntsman said that LASD “conducted incomplete internal affairs investigations” into two of the groups, the Banditos and Executioners, “failing to identify all members.” But he added that “California’s new gang law addresses discrimination based on race and gender and gives inspectors general enhanced authority to collect evidence.”

“We’re using that authority to complete the investigations by directing deputies to show their tattoos and tell us who else has them,” he said.

An anonymous survey of LASD deputies found that 16% had been asked to join one of the gangs. Huntsman’s letter follows the creation of a new Office of Constitutional Policing in LASD by recently elected Sheriff Robert Luna. [See: PLN, May 2023, p.1.].

A February 2023 report from county Civilian Oversight Commission’s (COC) Special Counsel counted more than a half-dozen illegal gangs or cliques of LASD deputies, which also include such colorful names as the Regulators, Spartans, Gladiators, Cowboys, Vikings and Reapers. Huntsman said these groups meet the definition of “Law Enforcement Gang” under newly adopted California Penal Code § 13670.

The COC report exposed how these gangs run their stations, undermining the chain-of-command and authority of sergeants, lieutenants, and captains legitimately charged with the duty. Lt. Larry Waldie testified to COC that he became a “tattooed member” of the group known as the Gladiators during his initial assignment at Compton Station. Then another deputy gang took control of the station. That group, the Executioners, was the remnant of an earlier gang known as the 3000 Boys because they had worked on the third floor at Men’s Central Jail, where patterns of excessive force included staged gladiator-style fights between jail detainees.

Waldie testified that while he served as Acting Captain of Compton Station, Deputy Jaime Juarez was the “shot caller” there. Juarez, himself a member of the Executioners, was the Scheduling Deputy, responsible for scheduling workdays and vacation time for other deputies, their assigned patrol areas and their time on patrol.

Juarez gave preferential treatment to other Executioners. When he was removed from patrol – after being involved in four shootings – Juarez reportedly told Waldie that the next Scheduling Deputy must be another Executioner. After Waldie refused Juarez’s instruction, Juarez led the Executioners in a work slowdown and coerced non-Executioner deputies into honoring it. During the slowdown, the number of arrests plummeted, citizen calls were responded to slowly (if at all), proactive policing initiatives did not occur, and crime rose significantly, according to the report.

The report also revealed that deputies assigned as Training Officers were often members of these gangs. Over and over, COC heard evidence that gang-member Training Officers “taxed” trainees, requiring them to buy meals for Training Officers and contribute money to support gang-sponsored events. One witness testified that he was required to pay $100 to buy a reproduced photo of Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack.

Training Officers also encouraged trainees to falsify reports, making up reasons to justify illegal stops and searches or lying about consents to search. One deputy witness testified that he was ridiculed for not shooting a suspect who was “completely out of it” – sitting in a car near a gun he was unaware of. A deputy belonging to the Reapers reportedly told the witness he should have shot the suspect and then falsely claimed he did so in self-defense because the suspect had reached for the gun.

Dozens of witnesses testified on condition of anonymity, due to fear of retaliation and reprisals. It was widely reported that deputies who refused to join the gangs or who complained about their activities were ostracized. COC heard from witnesses who testified that due to their complaints about the gangs, their calls for backup and assistance went unanswered. There was a well-known incident at Kennedy Hall, where senior deputies who were members of the Banditos severely beat junior deputies. There was also testimony regarding an argument in a station locker room that resulted in a Bandito pointing his gun at the head of a non-Bandito fellow deputy.

The deputy gang activity also directly imperils the community. Recently released body camera footage shows Deputy Justin Sabatine – a member of the Reapers – repeatedly threatening to shoot an African-American civilian seated in his own car and committing no crime. Each of the gangs is known to encourage officer-involved shootings, celebrating with parties and encouraging members to add insignia to their tattoos commemorating the shooting. See: Report and Recommendation of Special Counsel to Sheriff, L.A. Cty.Civilian Oversight Commission (2023).

At least one union, the Los Angeles Association for Sheriff’s Deputies, provided members a form letter to send Luna, asking for specific legal clarification about duties owed in reply to Huntsman’s “threat.” Luna followed up six days later, on May 18, 2023, with a letter to deputies ordering them to comply with Huntsman’s directive.

Additional source: Los Angeles Times