LOS ANGELES—Witnesses testified May 24 that so-called “deputy gangs” are still active in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department (LASD) during an LA County Civilian Oversight Commission special hearing. But LA Sheriff Alex Villanueva quickly condemned on social media the proceeding as “wildly unconstitutional and bizarre theatrics.”
The special hearing opened with witness testimony alleging that deputies have formed gangs that set up “work slowdowns,” by not answering calls in a timely manner, among other things, disciplining colleagues who fail to fall in line.
The commission announced an investigation into this matter earlier this year, although there were no judges present during Tuesday’s hearing. Villanueva was invited to the hearing, but did not attend.
One witness, a current deputy in the East Los Angeles division, spoke by telephone anonymously about one of the internal gangs called “Banditos.”
Roughly 12 to 15 deputies are tattooed members of the Banditos at East LA, according to witness testimonies, with an additional 10 to 15 considered associates.
Villanueva said the hearing was a “scripted and well-rehearsed political stunt” to “influence the outcome of the election.”
“I was the first and only sheriff in fifty years to take positive action, including firing, disciplining, and transferring employees found responsible for misconduct,” Villanueva wrote on Twitter May 24. “On two separate occasions, claims of deputy gangs have been thrown out of court for lack of evidence.”
Another witness, Sheriff’s Lt. Larry Waldie, admitted to being an internal gang known as the “Gladiators” when he was a deputy at the Compton station. He told the panel he had run-ins with another gang, the “Executioners,” when he became the division’s captain.
Witnesses also said members of deputy gangs would celebrate deputy shootings.
“The term ‘deputy gang’ has become a racist dog whistle, a fact-free straw man argument designed for political purposes and financial gain. If anyone has real evidence of misconduct, please share it so the LASD can take appropriate lawful action,” Villanueva wrote on Twitter.