Posted on March 12, 2023

Gang Members Hold Positions at ‘Highest Levels’ of LA Sheriff’s Department, Investigation Reveals

Tim Dickinson, Rolling Stone, March 7, 2023

A blistering new official investigation decries violent, lawless “deputy gangs” that continue to wield extraordinary power within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. The report delivers a call to action for new Sheriff Robert Luna: “It is time to eradicate this 50-year plague upon the County of Los Angeles.”

The report identifies at “least a half dozen” active gangs and cliques — and names them: the Executioners, the Banditos, the Regulators, the Spartans, the Gladiators, the Cowboys, and the Reapers.

These groups pose a threat to the general public — deputies hoping to prove themselves worthy of gang membership routinely seek out violent encounters with the public, the investigation reports — as well as to the internal command-and-control structure of LASD. The gangs “undermine supervision, destroy public trust, are discriminatory, disruptive, and act contrary to … professional policing,” the report concludes.

Perhaps most alarming, the investigation reveals that in recent years “tattooed deputy gang members” have risen to “the highest levels” of department leadership. It calls out recent former Sheriff Alex Villanueva (who lost his 2022 reelection bid) for betraying promises of reform by installing gang members as his right-hand men. Villanueva, the report says, “at minimum tolerated, if not rewarded deputy gangs.”


LASD gangs are based out the department’s geographic precincts, which the report calls out for operating as quasi-independent “fiefdoms.” {snip}

The report insists that the gangs operate “much like the Mafia” and that only “made” members are entitled to the tattoo. Deputies eager to join a gang are notorious for “chasing ink” — or engaging in violence toward county residents, as a means of proving their moxie “in the hope of becoming members.” This has led to a rash of “excessive force or other forms of unconstitutional policing,” the report says.

It describes one “chasing ink” episode in which deputies transporting a shooting victim to the hospital allegedly took an “off-route” detour and instead “assaulted the victim.” Other deputies “chasing ink,” the investigation states, have actively tried to “get into shootings.” {snip}

The gangs pose a double threat, the report states. Internally, they exercise unwarranted power, with clique-member “shot callers” exercising authority that should be reserved for department brass. “Deputy cliques run the stations or units where they exist,” the investigation states, “as opposed to the sergeants, lieutenants and the captain who are charged with the duty.”

The gangs themselves are openly discriminatory — creating precinct in-groups defined by race, ethnicity, and gender — with non-gang members often subject to scorn and abuse. These range from a failure to send back-up to violent crime scenes (leaving unaffiliated deputies dangerously exposed) up to “assaultive behavior against fellow deputies.” The presence of gangs and cliques is also anathema to transparency and trust: The investigation underscores that members not only “operate in secrecy” they will even “lie in reports to protect each other.”

The gangs also pose a clear-and-present danger to the public. “Most troubling,” the investigation reports, “they create rituals that valorize violence.” This includes holding “shooting parties” to celebrate member-deputies who open fire on suspects, as well as “authorizing deputies who have shot a community member to add embellishments to their common gang tattoos” — think: adding plumes of “smoke” to the muzzle of a tattooed gun. The report describes myriad other “harmful acts” by deputy gang members, including “falsified police reports, unlawful searches and seizures, [and] discriminatory enforcement of law.”