LA Sheriff's Oversight Panel Calls For Removal Of 'Culturally Insensitive' Fort Apache Logo

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

By Paul Glickman and Frank Stoltze

The Los Angeles Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission Tuesday condemned the controversial "Fort Apache" logo Sheriff Alex Villanueva reinstated at his department's East L.A. Station and called for its immediate removal.

LAist first reported in April that the sheriff revived the logo, which features a riot helmet atop a boot and the words "Fort Apache" and "Low Profile."

The oversight panel approved a resolution that says many in the community find the logo "offensive and culturally insensitive," and that it "serves as a constant reminder of the real and perceived tension between the community and the East Los Angeles sheriff station."

The Commission is an advisory body, so it can't compel the sheriff to take action.

The panel acted despite a surprise appearance by Villanueva. He said the logo is in places not visible to the public, like the station's back door.

The sheriff also accused the commissioners of ignoring those who support the logo, saying he'd met with a group of East L.A. residents who support it but felt too intimidated at the commission's recent town hall to speak up.


BACKGROUND: A Controversial East LA Sheriff's Station Logo Was Banned. Sheriff Villanueva Just Brought It Back


The Fort Apache logo in the central hallway of the East L.A. Sheriff's Station minutes before a work crew removed it last fall. It had been carpeted over for two years. (Frank Stoltze/LAist)

Besides being printed on the station's back door, the logo is portrayed in a tiled mosaic in a central hallway, flies on a flag above the station, and appears on station walls, shirt pins and squad car bumper stickers.

The logo "may suggest that the East L.A. station "is a lone outpost where deputies are at war with the local communities that they serve," the resolution says.

Fort Apache was the name of a 1948 John Ford western about an isolated U.S. Army post in the 1800's in the midst of Apache territory.

While acknowledging "the symbolism for Fort Apache would be a lone outpost," East L.A. Station Capt. Ernest Chavez maintained in an April interview with LAist that "it has no negative connotation. I think it was just something that stuck because of some of the incidents that were taking place throughout the community."

Former Sheriff Jim McDonnell ordered the logo's removal from the station in 2016 "to address longstanding internal and external concerns about the divisive impact of the seal and to correct misimpressions about the East Los Angeles sheriff station that the seal conveyed to members of the public," according to the resolution.

ORIGINS IN THE 1970 CHICANO MORATORIUM

The Fort Apache logo had its origins in violent clashes between East L.A. deputies and anti-war protesters during the 1970 Chicano Moratorium.

Then-Sheriff Peter Pitchess responded to the violence by ordering deputies to keep a low profile, prompting one to design a patch with a riot helmet sitting on top of a boot and the words "Low Profile." Longtime Detective Leo Sanchez told LAist deputies assigned to the East L.A. station took those words to mean, "Do your job quietly and don't draw attention to your accomplishments."

It wasn't long before deputies started calling their station Fort Apache and the name was added to the logo, said retired East L.A. Deputy William "Pico" Rivera. The logo was a source of pride and camaraderie, he said.

Rivera explained the meaning behind the words "siempre una patada en los pantalones" on the logo — Spanish for "always a kick in the pants."

"As terrifying as some of those incidents are," he said, the job was also "fun, always a kick."

"WHAT? HE'S CRAZY!"

When informed in April that Sheriff Villanueva had restored the logo, longtime East L.A. activist Carlos Montes reacted with shock.

"What? He's crazy! How can he bring it back?" he told LAist.

"We definitely will oppose it," he said. "We'll protest it."

The logo's return also troubled oversight panel member Sean Kennedy.

He argued it's no coincidence that the station with the Fort Apache logo was home to the department's first deputy clique, or as he calls it, gang.

"It probably explains why to this day we are having so many problems related to the East L.A. Station and the proliferation of deputy gangs," he said in April, calling Villanueva's stance on logos and gangs "a real step backward."

Eight deputies from the East L.A. station have filed legal claims against the department, saying they were beaten up by colleagues who were members of the station's Banditos clique, deputies who sport tattoos of a skeleton with a sombrero, bandolier and pistol.

Villanueva has said "hazing run amok" is the problem, not deputy cliques or logos, although he has been drafting a policy that would forbid deputies from joining "any group which promotes conduct that violates the rights of employees or members of the public or otherwise encourages conduct that is contrary to department policy."

Detective Sanchez strongly objected to the idea that the Fort Apache logo means he sees the community as the enemy.

"I fished in that pond," he said, pointing toward Belvedere Park Lake, which is a stone's throw from the East L.A. station. "I went to high school down the street. My parents live just blocks from here. So this is home to us."

UPDATES:

3:00 p.m. July 23, 2019: This article was updated to include the results of the Oversight Commission's vote.

This article was originally published on July 22, 2019.