Today, Sheriff Alex Villanueva said he will suspend or fire 26 Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department employees associated with a brawl at a party in 2018. Some of those deputies were reportedly involved with one of several alleged LASD gangs, which have cost the county millions of dollars.
The party in question happened on Sept. 28, 2018, at Kennedy Hall in East Los Angeles. A group of deputies said they were harassed and attacked by members of the Banditos, a clique of deputies based out of the East L.A. station who all sported matching tattoos.
Villanueva noted that this incident occurred before he was the sheriff, but said that when he was sworn in, he relieved that station’s captain, installed a new unit commander and leadership team and transferred 36 sworn personnel out of the station.
During today’s briefing, LASD Commander April Tardy explained how the department’s investigation process works.
When the department receives an allegation of misconduct against its personnel, the captain conducts an inquiry. The findings are given to the captain of the Internal Criminal Investigations Bureau. If it is determined that the incident is criminal in nature, the bureau launches an investigation.
“Unlike most agencies, we do not run concurrent investigations, which means we cannot start the administrative process until the criminal process has been resolved,” Tardy said.
After the investigation concludes, the case is presented to the district attorney’s Justice System Integrity Division for filing consideration. If the DA rejects the case, the investigation is sent to the Internal Affairs Bureau for policy violations. They have one year to complete an investigation.
In the case of the Kennedy Hall party, the criminal investigation launched on Oct. 1, 2018. Villanueva took office in December. The case was presented to the DA’s office in June of 2019. In February of 2020, the DA’s office rejected the case, citing insufficient evidence. To that end, Inspector General Max Huntsman has called the investigation a “cover-up” because several deputies were not compelled to make statements.
The Internal Affairs Bureau then picked up the case, and Villanueva ordered an expedited investigation, Tardy said. More than 70 people were interviewed, and now the department will take administrative action against 26 people found to have violated department policies.
Those policies covered general behavior and conduct toward others as well as failure to report the September 2018 incident to supervisors, Tardy said. Punitive measures include suspension and termination, but Tardy declined to say how many of the 26 employees would be fired.
Tardy said the investigation found that employees at the East L.A. station were “shot callers” as opposed to “team leaders.”
“A team leader is someone who is promoting positive behavior in the community, the department and the station,” she said. “A shot caller is someone who is trying to manipulate and direct people and control the dialogue of what’s going on at the station.”
Those “shot callers,” she said, were trying to control the station’s scheduling and events.
Chief Matthew Burson of the LASD’s Professional Standards Division said that the Internal Affairs Bureau is currently investigating allegations of a clique known as the Executioners at the Compton station, but that the intent is to examine the whole department. They’ve also called on the FBI to help with that investigation.
“The department has also implemented a new policy prohibiting participation in any subversive groups,” Burson said.
However, that doesn’t mean deputies can’t form any groups at all. Villanueva said that due to the First Amendment, he can’t tell deputies not to make groups or get tattoos, adding that he can only intervene in instances of misconduct. He continues to claim that most deputies who hang out with one another aren’t doing so to behave badly and are no different from social groups among the military, sports teams, college fraternities and other organizations.
It’s worth noting that it was after this party at Kennedy Hall that the L.A. County Board of Supervisors asked for a list of all the payouts the county has had to make due to lawsuits involving alleged members of these so-called LASD gangs. That report found that the county has shelled out $55 million since 1990. Villanueva said that deputies accused of misconduct in the future will be asked about affiliations with LASD cliques. Huntsman told the L.A. Times that if the LASD does “that in all discipline cases going forward, that will be historic,” but added, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”