Federal Lawsuit Targets Vicious Gang Composed Of… Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputies
from the keeping-the-crime-rate-down-by-hiring-criminals dept
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department is a law enforcement agency known mainly for its criminals. Yes, it oversees the largest jail system in the world, but even that can’t hold all the criminals the LASD associates with. The Department hires (and re-hires) criminals to staff itself. It has 300 employees on the LA District Attorney’s “Brady list” — the list of officers prosecutors feel are too untrustworthy to testify in court due to past misconduct and lying.
For an entity that prides itself on policing gang activity in East LA, the Department has shown no similar willingness to police itself. The Department has been the home to several gangs over the years, composed of deputies and jailers willing to break the law in order to enforce the law.
The LASD has rolled out of one federal investigation and right into another one. Former Sheriff Lee Baca ran a corrupt jail system presided over by a racist deputy gang that hid an FBI informant from his federal handlers and allowed (another) white supremacist gang to run the prison. Deputies were so sure they were untouchable they openly threatened FBI agents. Seven convicted deputies later, Sheriff Baca — himself convicted of obstructing an investigation — was out of a job.
You’d think a change in management would have resulted in some internal housecleaning. It didn’t. Baca’s replacement, Sheriff Alex Villanueva, did nothing while pretending to do something. Taking credit for employee turnover he had almost nothing to do with, Villanueva claimed he had rid the department of its toxic deputy “gangs.”
A recently-filed lawsuit says otherwise. It also says the LASD protects it most violent and racist members, many of whom belong to a deputies’ gang known as the “Banditos.” Ali Winston of The Appeal reports on the good cops who are hoping to take down the department’s many bad cops.
A 63-page civil lawsuit, filed on Sept. 18 in California Superior Court, alleges that the gang’s power stems from its close ties to Sheriff Alex Villanueva, who was elected in 2018 on the promise to “reform, rebuild and restore” the scandal-plagued department. Since then, however, disillusionment with Villaneuva has grown over several of his decisions, including deactivating misconduct investigations. In July, Los Angeles Magazine dubbed him “the Donald Trump of L.A. Law Enforcement.” And the eight deputies allege in their complaint that Villanueva protects the Banditos and other deputy gangs, even rehiring deputies fired for misconduct.
According to the lawsuit, the approximately 90-member Banditos maintain a “stranglehold” on the unincorporated communities east of downtown through a reign of unlawful policing, violence, and intimidation from their base at the East Los Angeles station. Members sport tattoos featuring a pistol-wielding, sombrero and bandolier-wearing skeleton with a thick mustache and a unique number for each member.
The tattoos should make the Doe defendants a bit easier to identify. Sheriff Villanueva and a handful of Bandito members are listed as defendants in the lawsuit [PDF], along with an unknown number of unnamed Banditos. It paints a very vivid picture of what happens to deputies who cross LASD’s most powerful clique.
Commencing in 2016, the Defendants harassed the Plaintiffs based on their race and ethnicity. In 2017, the Defendants began retaliating against the Plaintiffs by withholding back up on dangerous calls. By 2018, the atmosphere at the East Los Angeles Station had become so hostile, the two veteran Plaintiffs, Deputies Zaredini and Granados, blew the whistle on the Banditos gang, and reported it to the Defendant County. However, instead of properly investigating the matter and protecting its deputy employees, the County informed the Banditos that the Plaintiffs had blown the whistle on them. Subsequently, the incredibly hostile environment became unbearable as the Banditos stepped up its retaliation against the Plaintiffs, and repeatedly withheld back up on dangerous calls.
And, as if creating a dangerous and hostile workplace wasn’t enough, the Banditos decided to physically assault the deputies they believed were blowing the whistle.
On September 29, 2018, at Kennedy Hall, the Defendants came to a department party and savagely attacked the young Latino Plaintiffs. Unprovoked, the Defendants pushed, hit, kicked, and stomped on the Plaintiffs, punching one of them unconscious and chocking and strangling another one unconscious three times. After the attacks, the County failed to take steps to protect the deputies and end the hostile work environment.
The lawsuit points out internal gangs have been a problem for years, dating back to the 1960s. The department has faced multiple investigations by city and state authorities and has ignored every finding, recommendation, and order handed down. Deputy gang members went unpunished. One — Paul Tanaka — was even promoted to undersheriff. Like Baca, Tanaka was convicted of obstructing a federal investigation.
The gangs continue their 50-year run at the LASD with the chief’s tacit approval. And his explicit approval. Sheriff Villaneuva secured the endorsement of the local union by promising consequence-free employment for all deputies.
What’s worse is Sheriff Villanueva, when he was a candidate for the position, won the support of ALADS, the peace officer’s union, while pledging to rehire every single deputy of the 196 fired for wrongful conduct over the last 4 years. This was regardless of offences committed by the disgraced deputies, be it excessive force, false imprisonment, filing false police reports, dishonesty, planting evidence, domestic violence, etc.
The lawsuit accuses LASD brass of covering up severe wrongdoing by Banditos, including a deputy’s killing of two children with her police vehicle when she ran a red light and collided with another car. In another case, Bandito leader Rafael Munoz allegedly ran over an elderly immigrant. This was handled by other Banditos who arrested and deported the immigrant so he would be unable to press charges against Munoz.
This is only the tip of a very sordid iceberg. The lawsuit traces the history of the gang and its actions, which include falsifying evidence and narrative to support unconstitutional arrests, stealing property from arrestees and inmates, threatening members of the public and other deputies with physical retaliation, as well as harassing deputies who choose not to become members of the clique. This harassment included overloading deputies with calls at the end of the shift and refusing to provide backup.
If this lawsuit results in an overhaul of the LASD, it will be the first time this has happened. The plaintiffs, however, likely know that a ruling in their favor may result in no change at all. The LASD has ignored a number of outside authorities over the years and it’s unlikely to change its ways just because this time it’s a federal court. But the positive side effect is further outing of the LASD’s malignant internal culture, which increases the chance citizens’ accusations of misconduct and excessive force will be heard and believed.