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Alleged gangs in the LA Sheriff's Department to be investigated by oversight panel

Sheriff Alex Villanueva of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Patrick T. Fallon
AFP via Getty Images
Sheriff Alex Villanueva of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Last year, journalist Cerise Castle authored an investigation into gangs within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department. She detailed the long history of these gangs and how prevalent they still are in Los Angeles, in an investigative series published by Knock LA.

"There are at least 18 gangs within the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department," according to the investigation, and they are allegedly tied to the deaths of at least 19 people, all of whom were men of color. Castle's reporting includes a database of names of deputies reportedly involved in these gangs. The department did not speak to the journalism outlet for the series.

This week, the civilian oversight board charged with keeping tabs on the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) announced it's launching an investigation into the prevalence of deputy gangs within the department.

The announcement of the committee's investigation comes roughly a year after Knock LA published Castle's investigation.

"It was quite a full-circle moment for me to see that an independent investigation into these deputy gangs is being pursued," Castle told NPR of the news.

Since her project was released, Castle said, she has seen multiple occasions where LASD deputies, along with the gangs they are a part of, "take egregious actions" against civilians in LA.

"Many stories do not make it into the news," she said.

Her investigations into LASD deputy gangs continue.

These kinds of gangs have created decades of problems within the department and with how it deals with the citizens of Los Angeles, according to the civilian oversight board. Those problems include claims of discrimination, excessive force and even murder.

"Deputy gangs have fostered and promoted excessive force against citizens, discriminated against other deputies based on race and gender, and undermined the chain of command and discipline," said Sean Kennedy, the commission's chair, in a statement. "Despite years of documented history of this issue, the Department has failed to eliminate the gangs."

Sheriff Alex Villanueva wrote on Facebook that inquiries into his department over alleged gangs are just a "fishing expedition" and "political theater."

He wrote, "Not one elected official, or their political appointees, have provided me even one name" of a deputy involved in gangs.

The investigation is set to take five to six months to complete. The commission aims to determine which stations these gangs operate out of, as well as the scope and impact these groups have had on the communities that deputies are meant to protect.

The county's inspector general also launched an investigation into the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department this year.

In a letter sent to Villanueva, LA County Inspector General Max Huntsman demanded documents from the department that are still owed to investigators.

In this letter, Huntsman said at least 41 Los Angeles County deputies have been identified as being tattooed members of the Banditos or Executioners gangs.

California lawrequires that law enforcement agencies maintain a policy prohibiting such "law enforcement gangs." Yet numerous reports have shown the existence of these deputy gangs within the county's sheriff's department.

California's legislature has defined law enforcement gangs as "peace officers within a law enforcement agency who may identify themselves by a name and may be associated with an identifying symbol, including, but not limited to, matching tattoos." Lawmakers have said the problem appears to be most prolific in the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Jaclyn Diaz is a reporter on Newshub.