LA sheriff probes deputy-gang claim, seeks to punish dozens

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department said Thursday it has launched a “comprehensive investigation” into allegations that a renegade group of deputies calling themselves The Executioners have taken control of the department's Compton station through threats, intimidation and harassment.

The announcement came at a news conference in which Sheriff Alex Villanueva and others also said letters ranging from orders of suspension to termination have been sent to 26 employees involved in a fight two years ago that allegedly also involved members of similar deputy gang.

“I am here to strongly denounce alleged deputy subgroups and cliques commonly known as deputy gangs,” said sheriff's Chief Matthew Burson, adding that the department is conducting an investigation into the so-called Executioners gang at the Compton station.

“However, our intent is to examine the department in its entirety,” he said, rattling off the names of several deputy gangs that have surfaced over the years. He said the FBI is aiding in the investigation.

Villenueva said while it is not uncommon for sheriffs, police and fire departments, as well as military units, to create informal groups and identify themselves as members with tattoos, his department will not tolerate any criminal activity, rule-breaking or harassment of deputies or members of the general public.

“We cannot prohibit people from joining a group in and of itself. We cannot prohibit people from putting ink on their bodies,” he said. “When it crosses from their creating a group or creating a symbol to misconduct, then I have the right to intercede and that is exactly what we’re doing."

Sheriff's Deputy Austreberto Gonzalez filed a claim against the department in June, saying members of The Executioners retaliated against him for anonymously reporting a fellow deputy for allegedly assaulting a coworker in February to further the reputation of the gang.

The veteran sheriff's deputy and former Marine said soon after he made the report, he received a text message calling him a rat. Months of harassment followed.

He said gang members identify themselves with matching tattoos showing a skull with Nazi imagery holding an AK-47.

He accused the gang of threatening work slowdowns by disregarding radio calls or responding to them slowly and instituting illegal arrest quotas if members did not receive desired schedules or assignments.

Villanueva said the disciplinary letters sent to employees this week are the result of a fight that broke out on Sept. 27, 2018, weeks before he was sworn in as sheriff. Members of the department's East Los Angeles station were involved.

The fight resulted in Villanueva relieving the station's captain of his command, transferring three dozen people out of the station and instituting a policy banning employees from any group that promotes misconduct.

Commander April Tardy said punishment for those cited range from suspension to dismissal. She declined to say how many employees the department seeks to fire and said all those facing discipline still have the right to appeal.