‘Deputy gangs’ hearing opens with testimonies

When Sgt. Jefferson Chow began investigating a fight between deputies assigned to the East LA sheriff’s station. He was assigned by a supervisor to interview witnesses about groups of deputies who behaved something like street gangs.

But, within a few weeks, this instruction changed. The sergeant was told that questions about the Banditos or other similar groups in the department need not be part of his investigation, according to a diary kept by Chow.

The late 2018 about-face came as newly elected sheriff Alex Villanueva began to exercise control over the department.

Portions of Chow’s diary were released Tuesday on the first day of public hearings that are part of an investigation into “deputy gangs” launched by the Civilian Sheriff’s Oversight Commission, which oversees the sheriff’s department.

“I believe the manner in which this matter was investigated and presented amounted to a cover-up – essentially an obstruction of justice,” Inspector General Max Huntsman said during the hearing.

Chow, who did not testify on Tuesday, was assigned to the Office of Internal Criminal Investigations at the time, a unit that investigates criminal misconduct by deputies. The district attorney’s office declined to press charges in the case, but Huntsman said prosecutors don’t know the full story because Chow’s investigation didn’t meaningfully examine allegations that the deputies who started the fight were members of Banditos.

Along with Huntsman, three others – Lt. Larry Waldie, who once headed the Compton Sheriff’s Station, retired Cmdr. Eli Vera, who is running against Villanueva for the position of sheriff, and an unnamed member of the sheriff’s department assigned to the East LA station — testified under oath at Tuesday’s four-hour hearing. They were interviewed by Bert Deixler, a former federal prosecutor who is leading the commission’s investigation.

For decades, the sheriff’s department has been troubled by allegations that the groups flout multiple stations, controlling commanders and glorifying aggressive policing tactics.

In a statement posted on social media, Villanueva said the hearing involved “extremely unconstitutional and bizarre staging.”

“This scripted and well-rehearsed political stunt was designed to influence the outcome of the election. No judge, no opposing counsel, no objections, no cross-examination, real kangaroo court,” he said.

He took credit for addressing the groups by instituting a policy that prohibits MPs from joining groups that promote behavior that violates the rights of others.

“The term ‘deputy gang’ has become a racist whistle, a factless straw man argument designed for political purposes and financial gain,” he said.

The testimonies and exhibits on Tuesday focused primarily on two groups: the Banditos at the East LA Sheriff’s Station and the Executioners at the Compton Police Station.

The anonymous employee testified using voice distortion technology. The person said there are about 12-15 Banditos currently at the East LA station, and about a year and a half ago 10 new Banditos were “inked”, receiving the matching tattoos that would signal membership.

The person also alleged that the Banditos called for a work slowdown last summer after deputies felt they were being unfairly disciplined.

Waldie said there were around 10 to 15 executioners assigned to the Compton station – none were women or black – when he was acting captain in 2019.

He identified the leader of the group as Jaime Juarez, who he testified had previously been taken off patrol and placed in a role where he had ‘no contact with the public’ because he had been involved in several shootings. Deixler presented documents showing Juarez participated in four shootings from 2006 to 2015.

Waldie testified that when Deputy Sheriff Tim Murakami cleared Juarez to resume his patrol duties, Juarez suggested a list of people to replace him as planning assistant, a powerful assignment.

Waldie told Juarez he was going to choose a planning assistant who had no affiliation with a tattoo “for community equity.”

“I said, ‘Thank you, but no thank you,'” Waldie said. Juarez then told him that he and others would begin a work slowdown, meaning deputies would do less proactive police work and take longer to respond to calls for service, Waldie said. Over a four-week period in March 2019, crime increased and arrests decreased, Waldie said.

In one instance, he said, it took MPs 45 minutes to respond to a disturbance. And when an MP who refused to participate arrested someone for a firearms offense during that time, the MP was reprimanded by an executioner, Waldie said.

Deixler featured text messages between Waldie and another member of the department discussing the downturn at the time.

On Friday, Juarez was second on an eligibility list to be promoted to detective, according to a promotion list presented by Deixler. Juarez could not immediately be reached for comment.

A few months after the downturn, Waldie said, the executioners were going to a bar in Fullerton to celebrate a shooting in which two deputies had been involved. When Waldie reported the celebration to his supervisor, the supervisor told him that “it shouldn’t be a problem.”

Waldie testified he was particularly concerned about the celebration because an uninvolved bystander had been killed in the shooting – and the deputies who launched the chase which led to the shooting had someone being held in the back seat from the patrol car during the chase.

Los Angeles Times

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