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County Watchdog: LA Sheriff's Dept. Failed To Adequately Investigate 'Banditos' Deputy Clique

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L.A. County’s inspector general says the Sheriff’s Department failed to sufficiently investigate claims that an East L.A. deputies’ clique acted like a violent gang and was involved in a 2018 off-duty brawl with other deputies.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva insists the investigation into the incident was thorough, and that Inspector General Max Huntsman’s assertions are “purely politically driven and an attempt to undermine the reputation of the [Sheriff’s] Department.”

In a 32-page report released this week, Huntsman analyzed the investigation by the department’s Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau into the off-duty fight. Several deputies claimed members of the "Banditos" clique attacked them, which they have asserted in a lawsuit is one of numerous examples of how the clique dominated the East L.A. station like a gang.

Investigators spoke with more than 70 witnesses, but 23 refused to give statements, according to Huntsman, who said the department violated its own policy by failing to compel them to talk.

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The inspector general said investigators “almost completely ignored” evidence of the Banditos’ role in the fight.

“Minimal questions were asked about the Banditos and in the interviews during which the witnesses brought up the Banditos by name, very few follow-up questions were asked,” Huntsman’s report said.

The investigation "maintained the Code of Silence which has protected deputy secret societies for decades," it added.

The internal review was passed to the District Attorney’s office, which declined to prosecute anyone, citing “insufficient evidence.”

In a statement, Sheriff Villanueva pointed out that he fired or suspended 26 employees involved in the incident, ousted the leadership of the East LA Station and transferred a number of staff.

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He also pointed out that he has instituted a policy that forbids department personnel from joining groups that violate the rights of employees or members of the public.

Huntsman and Villanueva have repeatedly clashed over a variety of issues, particularly the inspector general’s claim that the sheriff is not sufficiently transparent.

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