LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – Concern is growing over a supposed secret clique of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s deputies who brand their members with matching skull tattoos.
The revelation this week that a deputy admitted to getting inked two years ago as part of a ritual within the ranks at the LASD Compton station has raised concerns that deputy cliques, long part of a controversial agency subculture, have persisted despite the department’s reform efforts, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.
Some members of the Sheriff Civilian Oversight Commission (SCOC) are calling on LASD to investigate the issue. Hernan Vera, who serves on the SCOC, said the deputy’s admission in a lawsuit over a fatal shooting that he and as many as 20 others have the signature tattoos was “thoroughly disturbing,” The Times reported.
The latest revelations, detailed this week by the Times, center on a deposition given in May by Deputy Samuel Aldama, who described under oath a tattoo on his calf featuring a skull in a military-style helmet bearing the letters CPT, for Compton, along with a rifle, encircled by flames.
He said he got the tattoo in June 2016, about two months before he was involved in the fatal shooting of Donta Taylor, The Times reported. Aldama’s then-partner Mizrain Orrego was also involved in the shooting. Taylor was unarmed at the time of his death.
Attorneys John Sweeney and Steven Glickman are representing Taylor’s family in a wrongful death lawsuit against L.A. county.
At a news conference Friday, the lawyers said they are putting up billboards all over L.A. with a photo of Aldama accompanied by the words, “Know Anyone Arrested by This LA County Deputy Sheriff?”
“We need to shine a light on what’s been going on in Compton,” Glickman told reporters Friday.
In a May deposition about Taylor’s shooting, Sweeney asks Aldama, “Do you have any ill feelings, in general, against African-Americans?”
After about 45 seconds of silence, Aldama allegedly replied, “I have feelings.”
He later recanted, saying he misunderstood the question, the Times reported.
Sheldon Locket spoke at the news conference, claiming Aldama and Orrego called him the N-word as they severely beat him during an arrest in January of 2016.
In a statement, Sheriff Jim McDonnell said that for the last year, the department has been examining deputy tattoos, logos and symbolism within the organization, but he hasn’t launched a new investigation into the Compton station deputies. He said there is also a separate administrative investigation into the shooting, which may address the deputy’s admissions.
“We share the same concerns as all of law enforcement, the military and the private sector have about how to balance the constitutional right of free expression with what may, or may not be, an indicator of something more serious,” McDonnell wrote.
McConnell tweeted Friday Taylor’s death has been under investigation since it happened.
Orrego left the the sheriff’s department last year, while Aldama is currently assigned to desk duty.
The department has a history of clandestine groups with names like the Regulators, Grim Reapers and Jump Out Boys that have been accused of promoting highly aggressive tactics and perpetuating a code of silence among members. Nearly 30 years ago, a federal judge said the Vikings club was a “neo- Nazi, white supremacist gang.
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