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Criminal Justice

Lawyer Says Deputy Gang Witnesses Claim Unmarked Sheriff’s Cars Followed Them Home

LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva speaking at a podium at a news conference.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva.
(Screenshot from LASD Facebook video)
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Two Sheriff’s Department officials who testified publicly on deputy gangs last month were followed home afterwards by what appeared to be unmarked department cars, according to the attorney leading the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission’s investigation into the secretive groups.

Attorney Bert Deixler told the panel Friday that the incidents are the latest examples of the fear and intimidation surrounding the panel’s hearings on gangs, which have been going on since May.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Jefferson Chow, who testified last month about allegations that Sheriff Alex Villanueva blocked an investigation into the Banditos gang of deputies from the East L.A. station, saw the alleged undercover car following him and parking directly in front of his house, according to Deixler.

“If engaged in legitimate surveillance, I am informed by reliable police sources the car would have been parked unobtrusively,” he told the commission.

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The same thing happened to Sheriff’s Capt. Angela Walton after her testimony, Deixler said. Walton took a picture of the car’s license plate and urged the commission to find out if it is a department car, he said.

“Captain Walton has asked me to publicly inform the commission of these facts and to assert that she will not be intimidated,” Deixler said.

The Sheriff's Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Two unnamed sergeants were scheduled to testify Friday, but both backed out, Deixler said, adding that they both feared retaliation.

One of the sergeants was scheduled to speak anonymously over an internet phone line about possible reforms at the department that would eliminate deputy gangs.

“Last night, the sergeant called me and emotionally said that he had spoken with his spouse and concluded that because a hoped-for promotion might be forthcoming, that even anonymously and with a voice distorter, the fear of retaliation was too great to take a risk and testify,” Deixler said.

Several other department personnel have also cancelled their appearances at the last minute, fearing damage to their careers or physical retaliation.

A retired LAPD division chief who was supposed to discuss possible reforms also backed out Friday, worried he would look “too political” testifying during the sheriff’s re-election campaign, Deixler said. Villanueva faces former Long Beach Police Chief Robert Luna in the November election.

Former LAPD Assistant Chief Sandy Jo MacArthur was the sole witness at Friday’s hearing. She discussed reforms implemented under that department’s consent decree that improved transparency and accountability.

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Villanueva has said deputy gangs are not a problem at the department and condemned the hearings as political theater orchestrated by his enemies.

Search Of Supervisor's Home Criticized

Also Friday, the oversight commission voted unanimously to condemn Sheriff’s deputies’ searches of the home of one of its members and a county supervisor last week as part of a public corruption probe involving a Metro contract.

“LASD searched the homes of Commissioner Patti Giggans and Supervisor [Sheila] Kuehl in an attempt to besmirch their reputations and embarrass them in the press,” the resolution stated. “The latest stunt by the LASD and sheriff should be called out for what it is — a brazen abuse of power.”

Giggans and Kuehl are two of the sheriff’s sharpest critics.

California Attorney General Rob Bonta has taken over the investigation from the Sheriff’s Department amid concerns the sheriff is targeting enemies.

The resolution also called on Villanueva to disband his Public Corruption Unit, which some have called his “secret police.”

What questions or concerns do you have about civics and democracy in Southern California?
Frank Stoltze explores who has power and how they use it at a time when our democratic systems have been under threat.