LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) – A new report from the Los Angeles County Inspector General on Monday accused L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva of promoting a “code of silence” around secret deputy gangs within his department.
The IG’s report on a deputy group identified as the “Banditos” alleges that roughly 30 members of the clique disrupt day-to-day operations at the East L.A. Sheriff’s Station by creating tension between deputies who are members and those who are not.
“Substantial evidence exists to support the conclusion that the Banditos are gang-like and their influence has resulted in favoritism, sexism, racism and violence,” according to the report, which calls on the LASD to thoroughly investigate all internal criminal allegations and compel statements from witness deputies.
According to the report, Villanueva has failed to discourage participation in deputy secret societies, despite multiple requests from various oversight agencies to do so.
The FBI has reportedly opened its own probe into the Banditos, according to the IG report. Villanueva in the past denied to CBSLA there is an FBI investigation.
Villanueva lashed out at the report in a statement Monday night calling it “purely politically driven and an attempt to undermine the department.”
In mid-August, Villanueva announced that he had suspended or terminated 26 deputies accused of being part of secret cliques at the East L.A. station.
“I’m adopting a zero-tolerance policy,” Villanueva said in an Aug. 13 news conference. “If you form a group, you mistreat people, yes, we will seek to make sure you are no longer a member of the department.”
According to the report, tensions between the Banditos and non-members led to an assault on younger deputies by veterans of the department following an East L.A. station party at Kennedy Hall in September 2018. One deputy was allegedly choked and began to lose consciousness, while another required stitches to his lip. A third told investigators that an older deputy threatened his family.
Four deputies were relieved of duty as a result. However, the IG’s report alleges that internal investigators ignored evidence and neglected to ask tough questions of witnesses to the alleged assault.
Some younger deputies allege that the older deputies have ties to the Banditos, who allegedly “used their influence, and sometimes force and violence, to push deputies out of the station for failing to live up to the Banditos’ work ethic,” according to the report.
A civil complaint filed by the deputies who were assaulted says the Banditos are about 90 deputies strong, though some are retired, and all are tattooed with a mustachioed skeleton wearing a sombrero and carrying a pistol and bandolier. About one-third of the group work at the East L.A. station and control it “like inmates running a prison yard,” according to the complaint.
The sheriff disputed the part of the IG’s report that said investigators did not conduct a thorough investigation into the Kennedy Hall fight.
“Both criminal and administrative investigations were conducted where investigators interviewed over 70 involved parties and witnesses in the case.
The D.A.’s office declined to file charges for battery or criminal threats against the four deputies allegedly involved in the Kennedy Hall incident, citing insufficient evidence of a crime.
Villanueva said immediately after he took office, he relieved the East L.A. Station captain of his command and overhauled the command structure at the station.
Deputy cliques or gangs are not new. The IG report acknowledges that they date back to at least 1970.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. City News Service contributed to this report.)