LOS ANGELES — Rep. Maxine Waters on Wednesday requested that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate allegations that a violent gang of deputies called the Executioners runs operations at the Los Angeles County sheriff's Compton station.
"I ask that the DOJ take two immediate actions: launch an independent investigation into the existence of the 'Executioners,' both at the LASD Compton station and within the greater LASD community, and launch a pattern or practice investigation into the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department for potential civil rights and constitutional violations," Waters, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to the Attorney General Merrick Garland and Assistant Attorney General Kristen Clarke.
Secret groups of deputies with matching tattoos — and names like the Vikings, Regulators, 3000 Boys and the Banditos — have plagued the agency for decades.
The Los Angeles Times first reported on the Compton clique in 2018, when a deputy admitted under oath to having a tattoo on his calf depicting a skull with a rifle and a military-style helmet emerging from flames. The letters "CPT," for Compton, appear on the helmet.
At least two other deputies later testified in depositions to having the tattoo, an attorney representing a man suing for excessive force said during a court hearing last year. One said he got his tattoo, which was covered up, in solidarity with his deputy friend who had cancer and the other said his tattoo's No. 40 was a reference to his retirement in 2040.
The Compton station came under scrutiny again last year after a deputy fatally shot 18-year-old Andres Guardado five times in the back and a whistleblower from the station came forward alleging that the Executioners were involved in setting illegal arrest quotas and threatening work slowdowns — which involve ignoring or responding slowly to calls — when they did not get preferred assignments.
The whistleblower, Deputy Austreberto Gonzalez, said under oath that after a shooting, members will have a party at a bar and call it a "998 debrief," referencing the code for a deputy-involved shooting. Some say it's to celebrate that a deputy survived, he said. But often, Gonzalez said, after the party, the deputy and his partner will get tattooed. Gonzalez said he'd never been invited to or attended one.
Waters cited Gonzalez's testimony, Guardado's killing and the Nazi imagery featured on the Executioners' tattoo in her request.
"There exists a clear pattern and practice of LASD deputies affiliating with white supremacist, militant police gangs, with the Executioners being only the latest example," Waters wrote.
The deputies involved in Guardado's shooting, Miguel Vega and Chris Hernandez, were relieved of duty in December in an unrelated case in which a skateboarder says the deputies kidnapped and threatened him before Vega crashed the patrol car, leaving him injured.
Gonzalez identified the pair as prospective members of the Executioners. Their attorneys have said that those allegations are false.
Sheriff's officials have presented their investigations into both the Guardado shooting and the alleged kidnapping incident to the L.A. County district attorney's office.
Prosecutors have yet to make a decision on whether to file charges against the deputies in either case.
Before he was elected, District Attorney George Gascón singled out Guardado's case as one of several police shootings in L.A. County that he had concerns about, saying the fact that Guardado was shot five times in the back "raises serious doubts" about whether deadly force was necessary.
The Sheriff's Department has been aware of secret groups of inked deputies for decades but has struggled to crack down, despite repeated internal and independent investigations and instances in which members are accused of misconduct.
L.A. County has paid out at least about $55 million in settlements in cases in which sheriff's deputies accused of wrongdoing have been alleged to belong to a secret society, according to a report prepared by county attorneys that lists nearly 60 cases, some of them still pending, and names eight specific cliques.
Sheriff Alex Villanueva implemented a policy banning deputies from joining illicit groups — the first sheriff to do so — but has been criticized by department watchdogs for a lack of enforcement.
The Sheriff's Department is already under investigation by the California attorney general. The state's probe is looking at whether the largest sheriff's agency in the country routinely violates people's constitutional rights.
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