LA County Leaders Say 'Violent, Gang-Like' Deputy Cliques Are A Huge Liability — And They Want Names

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputy sits in a patrol car in a file photo from 2016. (Photo by Maya Sugarman/KPCC) (Maya Sugarman/KPCC)

It's now no secret that secret cliques within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department have been a major source of controversy over the years.

The L.A. County Board of Supervisors fired the latest salvo Tuesday, unanimously voting for an exhaustive accounting of liability tied to behavior by known clique members.

The motion by Supervisors Sheila Kuehl and Hilda Solis calls for staff to compile a "chronological list of all claims, lawsuits, and other settlement agreements" brought against deputies who are alleged to be members of a clique or secret society, dating back to 1990.

The county counsel's office must note the amount of any settlements or jury awards in cases that went to trial. It must also provide a detailed accounting of each incident, including deputies' names and which clique they allegedly belonged to, along with descriptions of any known tattoos or disciplinary actions taken against them.

The report is due within 90 days.

Kuehl, Solis and Supervisor Janice Hahn stressed the importance of informing the public about how much misconduct on the part of clique members is costing the public.

The report will help the board determine its next steps in the effort to deal with cliques, said Kuehl. She expressed hope that the supervisors will work with Sheriff Alex Villanueva and his senior staff, who she said have indicated interest in the issue.

'GANG-LIKE GROUPS'

The motion also sharply criticized Villanueva and his predecessors for failing to deal with "violent, gang-like groups" of deputies it said have fostered a "toxic dynamic" within the sheriff's department.

The nine-page document reads like a history lesson on the department's long and troubled history with these groups. It also offers six different definitions of the groups, from "cliques" to "secret societies."

The motion calls out behavior described as "intimidating" and "gang-like," involving reports of the "use of street-gang lingo, flashing hand symbols and violence in the communities they serve."

The motion names eight current or historical groups: Banditos, Little Devils, Vikings, Regulators, Grim Reapers, Jump Out Boys, 2000 Block (or Boys), 3000 Block (or Boys) and identifies more than $12.5 million in payouts tied to behavior by members of the cliques.

"Unfortunately, LASD management through the years has not been particularly effective in investigating, or thwarting the rise of sheriff gangs," the motion reads, "and this ambivalence has likely enabled their continuation and expansion."

CONCERNS ABOUT LACK OF URGENCY

The oversight commission has sought to confront the issue of alleged deputy gangs since former Sheriff Jim McDonnell's tenure. While the commission was frustrated with what its members saw as a lack of urgency on the then-sheriff's part, McDonnell did take steps to tamp down on the cliques.

The Fort Apache logo on the back door of the East L.A. Sheriff's Station. (Frank Stoltze/LAist)

Three years ago, McDonnell banned a controversial logo on the East L.A. station that portrayed riot gear and the words "Fort Apache," words that suggested links to the 1948 John Ford Western about a lone U.S. Army post in Native American territory. In April, newly elected Sheriff Alex Villanueva restored the logo, despite its association with violent clashes with civilians during anti-Vietnam War protests.

Villanueva has acknowledged the deputy cliques, but referred to the behavior as "hazing run amok" amid "intergenerational rivalry."

Last month, deputies who work out of the East L.A. station filed claims against the county alleging a hostile workplace. Specifically, the seven deputies said they'd been harassed, bullied, intimidated and physically attacked by fellow deputies who are members of the Banditos.

Last week, a member of the oversight commission argued that the First Amendment does not protect deputies' right to form cliques or wear tattoos associated with those cliques.

The oversight commission continues to seek public input. On Tuesday night, they're asking members of the public to share their thoughts about and experiences with the sheriff's department at a town hall in Carson Tuesday night. The meeting is being held at the Carson Community Center at 801 E. Carson Street from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

UPDATES:

2:21 p.m.: This article was updated with the vote.

This article was originally published at 12:15 p.m.

READ THE SUPERVISORS' MOTION BELOW:

UPDATES:

2:10 p.m.: This article was updated with information on the supervisors' vote on the motion.

Megan Garvey, Ryan Fonseca and Paul Glickman contributed to this story.