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Criminal Justice

Sheriff’s Deputy Testifies Dead Rat Was Warning From Colleagues

A sizable rat lies dead near the corner of a wooden patio
This photo of a dead rat left on one deputy’s patio was shown inside the hearing room at Loyola Law School.
(Courtesy Civilian Oversight Commission)
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An L.A. sheriff’s deputy testified Friday that they believed a dead rat left outside their home was a warning from members of the Banditos gang of deputies that operates at the East L.A. station.

The deputy testified anonymously over an internet phone to the Civilian Oversight Commission out of fear of retaliation. They said such warnings were issued when deputies cooperated with department investigations into deputy misconduct.

“They leave dead rats in front of people’s homes or in backyards,” they told the panel. As the person testified, a photo of a dead rat that had been left on one deputy’s patio was shown on a screen inside the hearing room at Loyola Law School (see above).

The deputy said it happened multiple times to them.

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Fear Of Retaliation

The person, who said they been a deputy for eight years, did not offer further details to protect their identity. They said they feared both physical retaliation and harm to their career.

Their testimony came as part of the commission’s investigation into deputy gangs inside the nation’s largest sheriff’s department. This was its fifth public hearing.

The commission has subpoenaed Sheriff Alex Villanueva but he has refused to comply. He faces a contempt hearing on Sept. 7.

The sheriff has dismissed the panel’s inquiry, calling it a “fishing expedition and political theater.” The investigation, which is being led by a group of pro bono lawyers who work for the commission, is “the weaponization of government in order to influence the outcome of an election,” Villanueva has said.

Previous Findings

A Loyola Law School report issued last year found there have been at least 18 deputy gangs or subgroups operating over the past 50 years within the sheriff's department.

Some have encouraged violence against residents, jail inmates and even fellow deputies who challenge them, according to the report, which cites some of LAist's own reporting on the matter. Testimony before the commission has backed that up.

A 2021 RAND survey of deputies found nearly one in six deputies who responded said they have been invited to join a subgroup at some point in their career, although it notes that new deputies are less likely to be invited. In its conclusion, the report said “[a]t their worst, subgroups encourage violence, undermine the chain of command, and gravely harm relationships with the communities that LASD is dedicated to serve.”

The Banditos

Much of the focus has been on the Banditos of East L.A. after a 2019 lawsuit by eight deputies that accused colleagues of harassing and physically attacking deputies who did not support the group.

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In their testimony to the commission Friday, the deputy said members of the group threatened to withhold backup — an accusation that echoed the lawsuit. They worked at the station for two years.

“It was very difficult working a car by myself in East L.A. and have to go to certain calls by myself having to worry about backup,” they said. “I felt tired, burned out and the point of the Banditos was that — to make you tired and burned out so that they could run you out of the station.”

The deputy noted there were no women or Black people who were Banditos.

The Grim Reapers

Captain Angela Walton also testified at the hearing. She described being confronted by a member of a deputy gang called the Grim Reapers at the now-closed Lennox Station when she was a patrol deputy.

The deputies out there who are not part of this cancer — they need to come forward.
— Commissioner Robert Bonner

She said he told her the gang did not want her to hold a coveted position as training officer at the station. The deputy served as the dispatcher and was retaliating against her by overwhelming her with radio calls, Walton testified.

“I’m just going to tell you we didn’t want you back here,” Walton quoted another member of the gang telling her. “We don’t like what you are doing. We don’t like how you are allowing your trainees to eat.”

Walton said that like other deputy gangs, members of the Grim Reapers wanted her to haze rookie deputies.

The lead investigator for the commission said he continues to have trouble getting deputies to testify publicly. He said one that was scheduled to testify dropped out Wednesday out of fear of retaliation.

“The deputies out there who are not part of this cancer — they need to come forward,” Commissioner Robert Bonner said. “It’s time now that everybody summon up all of the courage they can.”

The commission expects to issue a report later this year.

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