Los Angeles County Sheriff Alex Villanueva says he is working to rebuild the leadership team at the East L.A. Sheriff’s station and address denounced rogue activity by a deputy “clique” called “Los Banditos.”
According to KABC 7, a new captain at the East LA station aims to hold supervisors accountable for behavior that is out of policy.
“We want to make sure that everything they see that is right and what they see is wrong they either correct or praise,” Capt. Ernie Chavez, who took over the station in January, told the news outlet.
Last month, Sheriff Alex Villanueva unveiled a department directive that prohibits participation in “any group which promotes conduct that violates the rights of employees or members of the public or otherwise encourages conduct that is contrary to department policy.”
Between 34 and 38 deputies have transferred out or have retired from working at the East L.A. station. In March, the Los Angeles Times reported that seven junior deputies filed a claim against Los Angeles County, alleging harassment by members of Los Banditos. The “clique” is composed of predominantly Latino deputies who wear matching tattoos of a skeleton with a sombrero, bandolier, and gun.
According to the allegations, members of Los Banditos assaulted young Latino officers as deputies watched at a department-sponsored party at Kennedy Hall in East L.A. last September.
Four deputies alleged to be a part of Los Banditos are currently on paid administrative leave as the district attorney has begun to weigh potential criminal charges for the individuals involved, according to the Sheriff’s Department.
Villanueva, who was elected in November, told KABC that previous supervisors at the East L.A. station failed to rein in the rogue deputies.
“It became toxic – and they did not do their job as supervisors. They just kind of looked the other way,” said Villanueva, a department veteran who was stationed in East LA for part of his career.
The deputy clique and a recent deputy-involved shooting that left a teen dead were brought up at a Town Hall meeting called by the Sheriff for Wednesday at Garfield High School.
According to news reports, the meeting did not attract a large audience.
On Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the FBI is investigating alleged criminal activity by Los Banditos and other gang-like deputy groups within the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department. Unnamed sources told the newspaper that agents have interviewed several deputies.
Asked about the probe, Sheriff Villanueva told a Times reporter on Wednesday that he could not comment. An FBI spokesperson also declined to confirm the investigation.
Claims filled in March are not the first to be brought up against Los Banditos, who have been the focus of previous lawsuits and reports. In 2014, a settlement of $1.5 million was paid to a female deputy assigned to the station after she claimed to have been physically and mentally harassed by members of the clique for not complying with its traditions.
Editors note: This post was updated on July 12 to add information about FBI probe.