The civilian commission charged with oversight of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department announced Thursday it will undertake a “full-scale investigation” into alleged deputy gangs operating within the agency.
“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,'' Sean Kennedy, chair of the Civilian Oversight Commission and executive director of the Loyola Law School Center for Juvenile Law & Policy, said in a statement.
“Despite years of documented history of this issue, the department has failed to eliminate the gangs.”
The news comes days after the county's Inspector General, Max Huntsman, reported that he had identified 41 deputies who allegedly belong to active gangs within the department -- 11 belonging to the Banditos group at the East Los Angeles Station and 30 to the Executioners group at the Compton station.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva has repeatedly denigrated Huntsman's work as politically motivated at the behest of the county Board of Supervisors, with which the sheriff has often clashed on budget and policy issues.
He has long insisted that reports of such deputy “cliques,” as Villanueva has described them, have been overblown, and said he took firm steps after being elected to discipline and reassign deputies with ties to the alleged groups.
He blasted Thursday's announcement, saying in a statement that Huntsman's office has been carrying out such a probe for three years and “not one deputy ‘gang member’ has been identified.”
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“Almost 6,000 pages were provided to the OIG on this subject almost a year ago, and LASD.org has an entire webpage dedicated to this topic,” he said. “There is nothing new.”
He called the announced investigation a “fishing expedition'' and “political theater.”
“I can see this for what it is -- the weaponization of government in order to influence the outcome of an election, nothing more,” he said.
According to the Citizens Oversight Commission, its investigation will be carried out with a team of volunteer attorneys, and the panel “will use its full subpoena power” and gather testimony during regular monthly meetings.
The probe will analyze “the continued existence and impact of deputy gangs and evaluate what is needed to eradicate them.”
“The investigation will determine which stations deputy gangs currently operate out of, as well as the gangs’ adverse effect on the community and the department itself,” according to the commission.
“The evaluation will assess the effectiveness of the department's existing policies as well as the commission's proposed policy that explicitly prohibits deputy gangs.”