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Sheriff Moves To Fire Or Suspend 26 Employees Related To 2018 Brawl

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Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva at the graduation ceremony for the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Academy class 433 at East Los Angeles College, Friday, January 4, 2019. (Kyle Grillot / LAist)
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L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva announced today he’s moving to suspend or terminate 26 employees after an investigation into a deputy-on-deputy melee at an off-duty party in 2018.

“We are holding our employees accountable to the rule of law, and we will not tolerate any group of employees who mistreats any member of the community or another member of the department,” he told a news conference.

The 2018 attack was allegedly carried out by members of the “Banditos” deputy clique, based at the East L.A. patrol station. A lawsuit filed last year by several East L.A. deputies claimed Banditos members attacked fellow deputies during the brawl, leaving two unconscious and sending them to the hospital.

The department’s investigation found “several policy violations, from conduct toward others, general behavior, failure to report the incident to supervisors, from several parties,” said Commander April Tardy, a commander at the central patrol division.

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The sheriff said he can’t name names or break down how many officers the department seeks to fire or suspend, because they have a right to privacy as they appeal their discipline.

“I am absolutely sickened by the mere allegation of any deputy hiding behind a badge to hurt anyone,” said Chief Matthew Burson, head of the department’s professional standards division.

The Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, the union that represents deputies, said in a statement that its members involved in the case "are complainants, witnesses, and now, accused." The union "does not condone unprofessional conduct," it said, while noting that its priority is ensuring a fair process for all concerned.

Burson said the department has asked the FBI to assist its investigation of a deputy's recent allegations about an “Executioners” deputy clique at the Compton station. At the same time, he said, “our intent is to examine the department in its entirety.”

Compton Mayor Aja Brown echoed the Compton deputy's allegations last week, claiming deputies' behavior has left her community "terrorized."

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As it did in East L.A., the department is transferring employees from the Compton station, “to protect not only the employees involved, but those witnesses who may come forward and feel comfortable doing so,” said Tardy.

Inspector General Max Huntsman said his office and the Civilian Oversight Commission haven’t been allowed to monitor the Compton inquiry.

“All these bodies designed to have a check and balance on the law enforcement, they’re still shutting them out and keeping what they’re doing secret,” he said.

Huntsman has long battled with Villanueva over the sheriff’s reluctance to share as much information as the inspector general wants.

The department has faced allegations of out-of-control deputy cliques for decades.

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While he previously dismissed cliques' bad behavior as “hazing run amok,” Villanueva now prohibits deputies from joining groups that violate the law or department policy.

“I’m adopting a zero tolerance policy,” he said today. “If you form a group, you mistreat people, yes, we will seek to make sure you’re no longer a member of the department."

Chief Burson said he would update the Civilian Oversight Commission on Friday.

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