USA

Deputies accused of being in secret societies cost L.A. County taxpayers $55 million, records show

Los Angeles County has paid out roughly $55 million in settlements since 1990 in cases in which sheriff’s deputies were alleged to belong to a secret society, records obtained by The Times show.

The figure comes from a list that includes payouts in dozens of lawsuits and claims involving deputies associated with tattooed groups accused of glorifying an aggressive style of policing. The report, prepared by L.A. County attorneys, lists nearly 60 cases, some of them pending, and names eight specific cliques.

The county has paid out nearly $21 million in cases that began in the last 10 years alone.

The high cost underscores how these deputy groups — with monikers such as the Vikings, Regulators, 3000 Boys and the Banditos — have operated out of several Sheriff’s Department stations for decades, exhibiting what critics have long alleged are the violent, intimidating tactics similar in some ways to criminal street gangs.

Over the years, a succession of elected sheriffs have failed to bring the subgroups under control despite multiple internal investigations and more recently, a federal probe by the FBIfederal probe by the FBI. Many civil liberties advocates and county watchdogs have accused the Sheriff’s Department of turning a blind eye.

The Board of Supervisors requested the list of payouts last year after The Times reported that members of the Banditos, which operate out of the East L.A. station, were accused of assaulting other deputies during an off-duty party in 2018. One deputy was knocked unconscious.

Sheriff Alex Villanueva has said that he put measures in place in February that prohibit deputies from participating in cliques.

Inspector General Max Huntsman said last week that he is “aware of no implementation whatsoever” of the policy and that his office can’t effectively investigate the secret societies “because of the obstruction of the Sheriff’s Department.” Huntsman said the criminal investigation in the off-duty beating amounted to a “cover-up,” noting that more than 20 deputies present during the incident were not required to give statements.

Defenders of the groups say they represent hard work and boost morale by fostering camaraderie.

Sean Kennedy, a member of the Civilian Oversight Commission and professor at Loyola Law School, said last week that he and his students have identified at least 17 gangs — some of them historical — in the department.

The largest payout on the list — $10.1 million — went to Francisco Carrillo Jr., who spent 20 years behind bars before having a murder conviction overturnedmurder conviction overturned in 2011. Carrillo, who was 16 at the time he was charged in 1991 in a fatal drive-by shooting, maintained his innocence through two trials and in prison.

He sued later, claiming that deputies had improperly influenced witnesses to pick his picture from a photo lineup and that deputies involved in the case were members of the Lynwood Vikings, a white supremacist gang within the Sheriff’s Department.

Another lawsuit involving a bicyclist shot and killed by deputies in South L.A. was settled for $1.5 million in 2018 in part because one deputy had probably committed perjury when he denied that he was a member of the Regulators operating out of the Century station, officials said.

More recently, a sheriff’s deputy filed a claim alleging that the Executioners clique, which is not named in the county report, essentially runs the Compton sheriff’s station.

Austreberto Gonzalez’s claim, the precursor to lawsuit, alleges that the group numbers about 20 deputies, while 20 more are prospects or associates. Many work at night, the claim says, and communicate through WhatsApp. Black and female deputies are not allowed in the clique, the claim says.

The claim says the group sports tattoos of a skull with Nazi imagery and an AK-47 and celebrate deputy shootings and the induction of new members with “inking parties.”

In recent years, the claim says, its members were involved in illegal arrest quotas and threatened work slowdowns — which involve ignoring or responding slowly to calls — when they did not get preferred assignments.

Gonzalez alleges in his claim that members of the gang retaliated against him after he reported fellow deputy for assaulting a colleague.

On Tuesday, Compton Mayor Aja Brown called on state Atty. Gen. Xavier Becerra and the U.S. Justice Department to investigate whether Compton deputies have engaged in misconduct, excessive force, discriminatory policing and improper stops, searches or arrests. The city has a $22-million contract with the Sheriff’s Department for patrols and other law enforcement services.

“We demand the same treatment that deputies provide to the residents of Malibu, Rancho Palos Verdes and other affluent communities. And, according to the size of our contract with the Sheriff’s Department, we have $22 million reasons to expect it,” Brown said in a statement.

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